USA Informing ASL Teachers About SignWriting

Steve Slevinski slevin at SIGNPUDDLE.NET
Mon Jan 30 19:41:35 UTC 2006

Hi Barbara,

Yes, you are correct.  I was wrong to lump culture into politics.  


Barbara O'Dea wrote:

> 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.
> odeeodee
> 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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