USA Informing ASL Teachers About SignWriting

Barbara O'Dea odeab at UNM.EDU
Mon Jan 30 19:01:38 UTC 2006

Hi Steve,

I didn't expect to post anything else on this thread, but ....

I would be careful about relegating the resistance of Deaf people to 
ignorance, pride, and politics. We are involved with deep-rooted 
cultural influences of oppression that continue to haunt the Deaf 
community (especially in language and education).
If we think of the problem as one of ignorance, pride and politics that 
can be overcome with information, explanations and descriptions, we may 
be on the wrong road to change. I expect that a change in cultural 
views, that have evolved in a milieu of oppression and paternalism, will 
take a great deal more than providing information. I thing the task of 
getting Deaf communities to accept a written system for their signed 
langauges must include dealing with those deep-rooted cultural mores.


Steve Slevinski wrote:

> Hi Val,
> 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.
> So I was trying to understand how someone could deny such a plain 
> truth.  I came up with 3 possibilities: ignorance, pride, and politics.
> 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!
> 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.
> 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.
> 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?"
> 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!
> Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that have been on my mind,
> -Steve
> 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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