signs in different cultures

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Tue Jan 17 04:04:45 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
January 16, 2006

Liz Harvey wrote:
>> I also have a question:  I have noticed that (being the cultural   
>> animals that we are), people from other cultures are adapting the  
>> SignWriting system to work with their native sign languages.  If  
>> this is indeed the case, won't signs change from culture to  
>> culture?  In other words, won't the same sign in ASL possibly mean  
>> something different in  Dutch sign language?
>> Does that not impede the international utility of the SignWriting  
>> system?  What I particularly liked was the idea that one system  
>> could be read world- wide, but if people are changing the meaning  
>> of the symbols, does that not negate some of its universal benefits?

This is a misunderstanding of what SignWriting is....

SignWriting is not a language itself. It is an alphabet that writes  
body movement. So it writes the way the body looks when we sign. But  
signed languages themselves have existed for centuries, and will  
exist whether we write them or not...So we are not changing any  
language that already exists. We are just writing the way the body  
looks, when people use those already established Sign Languages...

People who know those languages will know what those movements mean,  
because they have been signing them all their lives, with their Deaf  
parents, their Deaf friends, their teachers and students...

So what has SignWriting done? It has given a whole group of  
languages...namely Sign Languages...a way to be written on paper. For  
the first time, signers can write a message in the Sign Language they  
know, to another person who knows that Sign Language, and they can  
understand each other, without having to see them in person...

That is what A, and B and C does...A,B and C are not languages  
themselves...they are just symbols that represent sounds that are  
then applied to writing a whole group of European spoken A, B and C do not carry meaning in themselves...they  
just record the way something is pronounced and then those people who  
know that spoken language, like English or French or German...they  
will know what the words mean because they already speak the language...

Sorry for being so long winded!

Val ;-)

Valerie Sutton
Sutton at

1. SignWriting
Read & Write Sign Languages

2. SignBank
Sign Language Database Software

3. SignPuddle
Create Signs in SignWriting Online!

4. MovementWriting
Read & Write ALL Body Movement

5. DanceWriting
Read & Write Dance Choreography

6. SportsWriting
Read & Write Different Kinds of Sports

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