Stokoe Notation compared to SignWriting

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Wed Mar 1 05:28:10 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
February 28, 2006

Hello Frank!
Thank you for this message...

>> On Feb 28, 2006, at 7:15 PM, Frank wrote:
>>> I'm beginnning to read your symbols more easily, and infer theory  
>>> behind
>>> symbols.  Now I've finished entering reference citations for my  
>>> dictionary
>>> sample space, I have more time to sample your work.

I feel honored you have taken the time to look at SignWriting. I  
believe you told me before that you are skilled in writing both  
Labanotation in the dance notation world, and the Stokoe Notation in  
the linguistic profession...It is rare to meet a person with two such  
skills...very impressive indeed...

Tell us more about your it titled "Sample  
Space"?...What does sample space mean?

And did you tell me that your book will be used to teach English? I  
was not sure I understood, so I hope you will tell us more about it...

And thank you for taking the time to inform us about the Stokoe  
system below...I appreciate

We can talk more about Dr. Stokoe and the reasons why he and I  
invented different systems, but first I want to know more about your  
work the Sample Space dictionary...What inspired you to create such a  

>>> Personally, I found transitioning to think with you in terms of your
>>> symbolization a bit ragged.

Ha! I am not surprised. The messages on the List have been confused  
lately...I have been quite overwhelmed with too many an absent-minded professor - ha!

Plus we never really communicated about our different  
now we

>>> Somehow I didn't notice, in your web site, an
>>> intro passage that conditioned my thinking to see what you've  
>>> done and how
>>> you think when you write.

Sure. I can see how that would take some getting used to, once you  
know Labanotation and Stokoe notation...two very different approaches...

>>> I've included an intro passage of the type I
>>> referred to above to show you what I mean.  Its the first page of  
>>> my:
>>>                                                                    A 
>>> ppendix
>>> 2
>>>                                                   Dr William C.  
>>> Stokoe Jr.
>>> ASL Script
>>> You'll forgive me,I hope, for not having Dr. Stokoe's symbols I  
>>> left spaces
>>> for in this passage. My scanner's on my laptop; the desktop I  
>>> write with
>>> doesn't have the soft (grey) ware yet to recognize what the  
>>> scanner the
>>> scanner sees.  I bet you could fill in the blanks from memory.

Oh. I am sorry to hear about your scanner...machines can be very  
annoying. But I am not following how I could fill in the blanks from  
memory? I never studied the Stokoe system. I didn't even know it  
existed when I first invented SignWriting and the two notation  
systems have no connection. It is true that I have seen his  
dictionary, and when we met we discussed some of these things...he  
gave me a copy of the dictionary, and we met several times....but I  
do not know his book by memory - I am on another planet, so to speak...

Both Dr. Stokoe and I openly said, to our audience, when we presented  
together in 1978 in Chicago at a national conference, that our two  
writing systems had no connection to each other, nor were they  
invented for the same reasons, or had the same goals...but we  
compared them, in front of everyone, and that was a great memory for  
me...a true honor...

Thanks so much for the writing is very interesting!

In the next message I will show the SW List a comparison between the  
two systems...

Hope you will tell us about your new book, Frank - I am interested...

Val ;-)

>>> Appendix  2
>>>                                                   Dr William C.  
>>> Stokoe Jr.
>>> ASL Script
>>>      Dr. Stokoe's notation for ASL, like the Basic English word  
>>> list, can be
>>> written on one side of a sheet of paper.  The symbols he used are
>>> pictographic and easily remembered, once seen and used.  Refer to  
>>> the
>>> symbols on page 3 as you read this explanation.  Notice the four  
>>> columns,
>>> labeled Tab, Dez, Sig and Writing Conventions, with 12, 19, 24  
>>> and 20
>>> symbols respectively.  The total is 75 symbols.  This seems to be  
>>> a large
>>> number of symbols until examined.  Nineteen symbols are simply  
>>> the alphabet
>>> letters.   The following capital letters are not used by Dr.  
>>> Stokoe:  Disc
>>> Jockey MeN Probably Question STUdenZ .  He chose to use the other  
>>> 16 letters
>>> of the alphabet, excluded DJMHPQSTUZ.  He included with the alphabet
>>> letters, two numbers and a
>>> symbol for an allocher of the letter Y,  O .
>>>   Notice that Dr. Stokoe includes 5, 3, and O with the alphabet  
>>> letters.
>>> You know the signs for  5,
>>> 3, and the alphabet.  O    is an allocher, a variation of the  
>>> letter Y sign,
>>> perhaps with the middle
>>> finger extended as when you sign prefer,              , or with  
>>> the index
>>> finger extended while making
>>>  the Y sign, as in the sign for  "I love you".  The remaining  
>>> symbols are
>>> engagingly simple, as
>>> for whole head,          upper head,          lower  
>>> head,          nose,
>>> torso,          upper arm and
>>>           lower arm.  Subtracting the 19 symbols cited leaves  
>>> only 56
>>> symbols to consider.  My glossary with definitions, pages 4,5,6  
>>> of this
>>> appendix shows the meanings of all  the symbols.
>>> For directions like up          ,down          ,  
>>> left           ,right
>>> , you probably recognize meanings from their shapes.  When the  
>>> number of
>>> obvious  symbols are, subtracted, 47 symbols  remain to
>>> consider, symbols like            , for nodding, as when YES is  
>>> written,
>>> ,  or           for circular
>>> movement as in writing ALL,                                ; but  
>>> even these
>>> are easy to recoginize after being seen and used once or twice.   
>>> The order
>>> of symbols in notations is Tab Dez and then Sig from left to right.
>>> Variations in signing exist; but location of signs is relatively  
>>> constant.
>>> Dr. Stokoe notes this by saying, for example, boy or man is signed
>>> , near the upper head,
>>> and ADVERTISEMENT is signed                            , in the  
>>> neutral
>>> space before the body.  The 12
>>> Tab signs,           ,           , etc., show areas where signs  
>>> are located.
>>>    When the 19 alphabet and the 12 Tab signs are deducted from  
>>> the 74 total
>>> ,we have remaining
>>> 44 signs to learn.  These signs show movement and relationship,  
>>> for example,
>>> is the notation for sweet.  The G hand brushes down across the  
>>> lower face
>>> (lips),  Notice the form; Tab, Dez Sig.  This is the order  
>>> elements of a
>>> sign are written in.  Tab, Dez, and Sig refer to Place, Hand  
>>> Shape, and
>>> Movement. These are three elements of a particular sign in the  
>>> gestural
>>> language we call Sign.
>>>    The TABula shows the location, DEZignator gives hand shape,  
>>> and SIGnation
>>> shows movement. Conventions of writing modify the Tab,Dez,Sig and  
>>> express
>>> relatonships.   That's the alpha to omega of Stokoe notation.   
>>> It's easy to
>>> use.  In the Stokoe script for beautiful,
>>> the 5 hand circles the face, closing (      ) to an A hand.  The  
>>> writing
>>> convention that separates
>>> two parts of a sign is           .  The dot,          , over the  
>>> A  (A)
>>> shows the thumb is prominent.  The
>>> thumb is prominent in the sign for girl,             .  Notice  
>>> that some
>>> writing convention symbols,
>>>        ,        ,         ,         , are the same as SIGnation  
>>> symbols,
>>> contracting,          , as in beautiful,
>>> for example.
>>>    This notation is not perfect; but the analysis of placement,  
>>> handshape
>>> and motion is powerful.  Using the index of meanings, page three,  
>>> and my
>>> drawings now, compare the notations below my drawings to see how  
>>> Stokoe
>>> notation can be used to write ASL signs.  Is there only one way  
>>> to write a
>>> sign?  Ask  Erskine Caldwell, James Joyce and Hawthorne to  
>>> describe a scene,
>>> and compare what they say.  Right!  There are at least two ways  
>>> to write
>>> every sign.  This is one power of Dr. Stokoe's notation  you can  
>>> write the
>>> sign as you do it, and then compare this to how
>>> your best authority says sign it.  Like English, symbols often  
>>> have several
>>> meanings,          for
>>> example may mean repeat, as in frequently                      ,  
>>> pominent
>>> thumb as in girl,
>>> , or emphasis as in                 , strict
>>>    I believe you'll find this notation easy and simple to use.   
>>> It records
>>> enough information to cause remembering a sign without being  
>>> bulky and
>>> unmanageable, and expresses units of information in Sign much  
>>> like our
>>> alphabet expresses words, units of information in our spoken  
>>> language.  If
>>> you carefully read this introduction again, and each definition  
>>> of meaning
>>> for the symbols, you'll discover, I believe, this sign notation  
>>> system is
>>> quite usable.  When writing a sign new to you, include a gloss  
>>> (English
>>> meaning) with notations until the sign is comfortable in your  
>>> memory.  ASL
>>> Notations, like our alphabetic writing, are intended to cause  
>>> recall of
>>> what is already known to us, not, usually, to introduce new  
>>> concepts.
>>> Refering to the symbol definitions as you examine the script  
>>> under  drawings
>>> of  signs may sometimes be helpful  in gaining a rapid mastery  
>>> off this ASL
>>> script.  Dr.Stokoe's Dictionary (see my Bibliography) and some  
>>> other of his
>>> works also present his ASL script in a detailed fashion.
>>>    Just as a dictionary does not present a full gramatical  
>>> analysis of the
>>> language it lists morphemes of (units of meaning, words), I will  
>>> not include
>>> the full range of writing conventions of
>>> Dr. Stokoe here.  Several,         , for example, as in the  
>>> script for
>>> BEAUTIFUL, and        , as in the script for girl are worth  
>>> mentioning.
>>> When the 5 hand closes in the sign for "BEAUTIFUL" ,  
>>> "contracting",  it may
>>> close to the form of an A or an O.  The bracketed A shows that A  
>>> is the
>>> final hand shape.  Sig symbols that are written one over the  
>>> other one show
>>> relationships and  movements that are done together.  The touch  
>>> and the down
>>> movement, in the script for girl is an
>>> example of this,                .  A symbol near the Dez shows a  
>>> starting
>>> position, as in THIN,                  when the "G"  hand  
>>> straddles the nose
>>> to start, and then moves downward during the sign.
>>> WITH
>>>   Sincerely yours, Frank
>>>    ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: "Valerie Sutton" <sutton at>
>>> To: <sw-l at>
>>> Sent: Tuesday, February 28, 2006 5:14 PM
>>> Subject: Re: [sw-l] MOUTH Cheeva and Cha
>>>> SignWriting List
>>>> February 28, 2006
>>>>> Adam Frost in California wrote:
>>>>> 4 is a smile and 6 is an open smile. I think that 5 is a smile  
>>>>> that
>>>>> is forced? At least that is what it looks like to me.
>>>> Correct! The second row, reading from left to right, are
>>>> 4. Closed Smile
>>>> 5. Closed Smile with wrinkles at the sides of the mouth
>>>> 6. Open Smile
>>>> Number 5 is interesting. Why does a person have wrinkles at the  
>>>> side
>>>> of a smile? If they are young and have good skin (smile) they
>>>> probably are a little tense while smiling, or otherwise there would
>>>> not be wrinkles at the side of the by adding  
>>>> wrinkles, you
>>>> add the feeling of a little more tension or emphasis on that
>>>> smile...I used those wrinkles near a smile for some of the poetry
>>>> where Kevin was smiling, but establishing a classifier in space and
>>>> there was a little tension on his smile, to show that anchoring...
>>>> The next row of faces is the same except it is a frown instead of a
>>>> smile...
>>>> The fourth row....Adam...How do you read the fourth row?
>>> -------------------------------------------------------------------- 
>>> --------
>>> ----

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