When are Sign Languages considered written languages?

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Jan 27 12:04:58 UTC 2006

Just for comparison.  You'd be hard pressed to say that Brazilian sign language is not a written language with more than a dozen Web sites devoted to it, five dictionaries, an encyclopedia, and the backing of FENEIS (the Brazilian national association of the deaf) endorsing it, and having it taught in Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Pelotas, and Florianopolis schools for the deaf.  

Adam Frost <icemandeaf at YAHOO.COM> wrote:  I totally agree with you about English. That is a very good point because people considered Enlish as a written language during the Middle Ages. It was the majority that was illiterate. So that is what it is, the majority of the deaf are illiterate in ASL. They may not be illiterate in English, but that doesn't mean the are skilled with English. ;-)
-----Original Message-----
From: "Valerie Sutton" 
Date: 01/26/06 07:05 PM
To: sw-l at majordomo.valenciacc.edu
Cc: albert_bickford at sil.org
Subject: Re: [sw-l] When are Sign Languages considered written languages?

SignWriting List
January 26, 2006

Dear SW List Members:

Today, a native ASL Deaf signer wrote to ask this question...Is ASL 
really a written language yet?

That is an interesting question...How many people have to read and 
write a language, before the language can be called a written language?

And this question was then discussed very nicely on the Sign Language 
Linguists List today...smile...

Here are my thoughts on this topic...

When Sequoyah, the Cherokee Indian chief, wrote letters to his 
daughter in the symbols he invented, and she understood his messages, 
and they wrote back and forth...they were using a written language 
that no one else in their tribe used...over time, more and more 
people started using the writing system....but even when it was only 
the two of them, it was still a written language...for them 
only...not for others who didn't want to write.

If there are only two people writing to each other in ASL, then for 
them, it is a written language...maybe others will never choose to 
read and write, and maybe it will change enormously in the next 
decade, or maybe no one will ever use it, or maybe it will become 
widespread...I have no idea...but I do know that there are some 
people writing to each other in ASL right now, and for those people, 
it is a written form...

I know of hundreds in the US and I know of thousands world wide who 
read and write signs daily...and so for a very few people...there is 
a writing system that is working and is being used as a part of their 

So when people say that ASL is not written, that is not accurate...It 
may be the truth for the majority, but the minority who DO write have 
a right to be acknowledged too...

So for me, a language can be a written language, even when only a few 
are reading and writing it...English was only written by the educated 
elite for centuries...Everyday people, in the Middle Ages, did not 
know how to write. But English was a written language in the Middle 
Ages, nonetheless, even though only a small group knew how to read 
and write...

My thoughts for today...smile...and I would love your feedback!

Val ;-)

Valerie Sutton
Sutton at SignWriting.org

Tech support by voice or video...
Make an appointment by email ;-)

1. SignWriting
Read & Write Sign Languages

2. SignBank
Sign Language Databases

3. SignPuddle
Create & Share Signs Online & Offline

4. MovementWriting
Read & Write All Body Movement

SignWriting Literacy Project
The DAC, Deaf Action Committee
Center For Sutton Movement Writing
an educational nonprofit organization
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038, USA

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around 

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/sw-l/attachments/20060127/66f27586/attachment.html>

More information about the Sw-l mailing list