USA Informing ASL Teachers About SignWriting

Ingvild Roald iroald at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 30 19:58:25 UTC 2006

I have to agree with you there. And I think that we need three tings:
1: patience and time
2: humility,at least for the non-deaf among us
3: more written stuff published. The more the signed languages are written, 
and the writing becomes available through paper or web, the more accepted it 
will be. The written stuff ought be either original writings by 
native/fluent/recognised signes, or transcripts from videos made by such 
signers. All the stuff that we non-deaf can make, should be marked as 
'attempts by a on-deaf person' or something like that. We need to know that 
the deaf people have been downtrodden and paternalised for so long and to 
such a degree that we have to take hurt feeling for real.


>From: "Barbara O'Dea" <odeab at UNM.EDU>
>Reply-To: sw-l at
>To: sw-l at
>Subject: Re: [sw-l] USA Informing ASL Teachers About SignWriting
>Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2006 11:01:38 -0800
>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 
>>Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that have been on my mind,
>>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 
>>>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 
>>>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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