USA Informing ASL Teachers About SignWriting

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Mon Jan 30 17:16:54 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
January 30, 2006

Dear SW List Members and Steve!
Thank you for this great message, and also all the messages from  
Stuart and Cherie and others, explaining to the ignorant that there  
is a way to write now...

Of course we are writing everyday...thousands of people are writing  
signs all over the world daily now. It is this very fact that bothers  
some of our fellow countrymen, Steve, because they are not aware of  
it, and some of them are people who have used ASL all their lives,  
and they haven't even looked at it...They think writing ASL is a  
foreign language that is different than ASL, and they don't  
understand that we are just writing the language as it is...they  
think we are changing the language...they are saying these things  
without having ever looked at SignWriting...they dismiss the new idea  
without looking at it...

Of course this is ignorance and it is sad, and we should all be aware  
that these attitudes exist in the uninformed, but on the other hand,  
by my facing it, and explaining it to them, and by Stuart and Cherie  
and others explaining it day after day after day, in time more people  
will start to use SignWriting and the misinformation will die down  
and when lots of people start using it, a lot of others start using  
it too...

So that is why I am choosing to explain SignWriting to those who have  
closed their minds...

Steve Slevinski wrote:
> These messages asking if sign languages can be written have really  
> troubled me.  Every day people are reading and writing a multitude  
> of sign languages around the world.  There is no way to deny that  
> sign langauges are written.

You are absolutely correct! I am sorry to have troubled you. Your new  
SignText program will be one of the many things you have done for us,  
that will solve this the more you do with software, the  
more you are helping us solve the problem...I am so looking forward  
to the new SignText!

> So I was trying to understand how someone could deny such a plain  
> truth.  I came up with 3 possibilities: ignorance, pride, and  
> politics.

Exactly! They have never looked at SignWriting...and now they hear  
that people are writing their language and they panic and get angry,  
because they know nothing about they are afraid that one  
more time, some hearing people are going to hurt ASL...they don't  
understand how much we love ASL and want to preserve it...

> The first reason is ignorance.  They just don't know about the  
> existence or extent of SignWriting.  This is the most common reason  
> and the main obstacle that we are trying to overcome.  The best  
> course of action is to read, write, and share.  What we do best!

And to create your software! The SignText program that will allow us  
to create SignWriting documents on the web, without using any glossed  
words, but creating directly in the movements of signed  
languages...that is a big step forward that shows we are not  
dependent on English...

> The second reason is pride.  Many signers take pride in their  
> language, and they should.  But once they realize that it is  
> possible to write the language that they are so proud of, they must  
> admit that they are illiterate in the langauge they love.  Becoming  
> literate in sign languages takes time and effort.  If you consider  
> yourself fluent in a sign language, it can be easier to dismiss  
> literacy than admit you have a lot to learn.  This is a very real  
> problem and what you may have experienced on the Teach ASL List.   
> We need to appeal to their love of the language.  We need to  
> express the view that we sign writers are not superior.  We need to  
> reach out to them and let them know they are desperately needed to  
> help improve the existing writing.  Future generations of writers  
> will be influenced by the writing we do today.  If we are to have  
> good writing we not only need people who are literate, but people  
> who are fluent.

Beautifully stated! I am reaching out to them, Steve, along with so  
many others on the List...and you are reaching out to them by  
creating your wonderful SignPuddle and SignText!

> The last reason is the most insidious: politics.  Some signers take  
> the view that it is better if their language is not written.  They  
> consider it a defining characteristic.  Other signers reject  
> SignWriting because it wasn't invented by someone who was deaf.   
> For these people, we need to discuss the benefits of writing.  We  
> also need to explain the history of SignWriting and how the deaf  
> have been involved from day one.  SignWriting is not a system that  
> was developed in isolation and then handed to the deaf from on  
> high.  It is a living writing system that has been developed in a  
> spirit of cooperation that not only included deaf and hearing, but  
> signers from all over the world.

Exactly!! That is explained well...

This takes time for people to choose to listen and look at it...

> And so we come to the reason I become involved with SignWriting  
> many years ago.  I love literacy.  The question for me isn't "Can  
> we write?" but "Why do we write?"  and "What are the benefits of  
> writing?" and "Why do we read?"  and "What are the benefits of  
> reading?"

SignPuddle has brought new people to SignWriting! On the web, it is  
free and anyone can try to write something and add it to the  
dictionary...It has increased the number of SignWriting users around  
the world...Your contribution to SignWriting spreading is quite  
obvious, Steve, because we can send email in SignWriting, and now,  
with the new SignText, we can say that no glosses are required to  
prepare SignWriting documents...this is soooo you are  
helping the process!

> One of my favorite books is "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer J.  
> Adler, Charles Van Doren.  It discusses the 4 levels of reading:  
> elementary, inspectional, analytical, syntopical.  .  Being able to  
> make out the symbols and understand the syntax and grammar of  
> language is only the first level of reading. There is so much more  
> to learn and experience.  But for the higher levels of reading we  
> need more to read.  So let's get writing!

With SignPuddle and SignText freely available on the web, in modern  
operating systems, we are encouraging writing, and in time it will  
change...But we will always have the job of informing the uninformed...

> Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that have been on my mind,
> -Steve

Wonderful thoughts and all true! I am sorry I burdened you with the  
issues that bombarded us this week on these other Lists...but at  
least you all know that there are some people who do not know what  
SignWriting is, and so you will not be surprised if you meet someone  
like that someday...

Thanks for all you are doing with software, and what do we call the  
new SignText that is coming?...SignText 2.0?

It will be used immediately by me, I assure you! I can't wait to be  
able to save my SignWriting documents in my own special SignWriting  
storage area, so I can retrieve the sentences I create any a gift!

No pressure though...I know it is hard to program and take all the  
time that you need...

Have a splendid day everyone!!

Val ;-)

> Valerie Sutton wrote:
>> SignWriting List
>> January 29, 2006
>> to a List member who thought SignWriting was a foreign language  
>> and  not a writing system for ASL...and who mentioned Dr.  
>> Stokoe...Here  was my reply:
>> ----------------------
>> Val wrote:
>> I can see that you truly love ASL, and I do too. I respect it so   
>> much, that I want to write it on paper, just as it is, without   
>> changing ASL at all, but preserving in on paper so we can learn  
>> the  grammar of ASL on paper...A little like a video that captures  
>> ASL  just as it is, we are writing those ASL videos on paper, so  
>> we can  analyze the movements and try to understand ASL  
>> better...Writing ASL  is not another language. ASL is the  
>> language. Writing it with symbols  is simply a doumentation of the  
>> same language.
>> It is the same with written English...written and spoken English  
>> are  not two separate languages...they are just two forms...the  
>> written  and the spoken...
>> I was very fortunate to know Dr. Stokoe a little. My first   
>> presentation on SignWriting in the USA in 1977 was with Dr.  
>> Stokoe.  We shared the podium together at a conference in Chicago.  
>> He would  write a sign in his system. And then I would write the  
>> same sign in  SignWriting. We presented to a full room that was so  
>> jammed, people  were standing in the back, pushing to get in...It  
>> was a great memory...
>> Dr. Stokoe told me that he did not invent his system for everyday   
>> was for his linguistic work. SignWriting, on the other  
>> hand,  was invented specifically to record storytelling, giving us  
>> ASL  Literature, novels and books, used by people outside of the   
>> linguistic fields...SignWriting started with facial expressions,  
>> but  the Stokoe system did not have facial expressions when it  
>> began, and  cannot write facial expressions and mime the way  
>> SignWriting can...
>> So Dr. Stokoe agreed with me, at this presentation, that our two   
>> systems were not developed for the same reasons, and therefore  
>> should  not be compared, since their purposes are totally different -
>> Val ;-)

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