Stokoe Notation compared to SignWriting

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Wed Mar 1 18:23:05 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
March 1, 2006

Hello Frank!
Thank you for this message!

> The "Basic ASL Dictionary" is my planned title.  I'll post Appendix  
> two
> to you today, if I remember.  Do you suppose that your "Absent  
> Mindedness"
> is contageous?  Via my "ViewSonic" PC screen ?(I would have said  
> Monitor,
> but I can't spell it).

Ha! Contageous? Oh dear. I hope not!

> The concepts I chose to include in my dictionary were my "Sample  
> space"
> Val.  The ASL vocabulary is the field, Signs I drew and wrote, "The
> ChosenOnes"; these were my "Samples" of the total vocabulary list.   
> Of the
> area of signing,I chose a smaller space to stuff into my glorious  
> endeavor.

you know, I fear that you think I have seen some diagrams from your  
work, but I could not see any diagrams I am not sure what  
you are referring to, but that is ok, Frank...let's wait...I am  
swamped with work, just as I know you are...

I mailed our American Sign Language dictionary in SignWriting to you  
yesterday, so you should receive it in the mail in a few days...

>    The Linguist C.K. Ogden proposed his Basic English ("Basic English,
> International Second Language") for an International language--to  
> help unite
> the world in a family and stop fighting.  Roosevelt and Churchill  
> praised
> Basic English.   The acquisition of a second language is my  
> interest Val;
> the way people learn and how to encourage language acquisition  
> effectively.
> When I learn English, I'll consider teaching it.

Wow. Your English sounds excellent to me! ;-))

>    I'm surprised you're not a master with Stokoe Notation; Surely
> competitors should know whom they strive with to use his strengths  
> and avoid
> his faults.

Ah. That is where you are wrong. I am not a competitor of Dr. Stokoe!  
Neither Dr. Stokoe nor I wanted to do the same thing. We had  
conversations together about this... So please do not assume that I  
am trying to compete with Dr. Stokoe...I am not a linguist nor would  
I ever want to be...I leave that to other Dr. Stokoe!

  I can imagine that our SignWriting, DanceWriting and  
MovementWriting web sites, with our thousands of pages, are a bit  
overwhelming...We do have a history of the writing system there,  
which explains that I did not base Sutton Movement Writing on any  
other writing system...I was asked to write the movements of Danish  
signs from a videotape by researchers at the University of Copenhagen  
in 1974, while teaching the Royal Danish Ballet my DanceWriting I knew nothing about signed languages or the world of  
linguistics when I first wrote what I saw on the Danish Sign Language  
videotape...I was writing the signs as a movement notator...and from  
that work, I personally became inspired to see if we could take a  
general movement notation system, like Sutton Movement Writing, and  
apply it to creating a visual writing system for any signed language  
in the world, based on writing the facial expressions and movements  
of the body, rather than based on any linguistic principles...This  
has created a flexible tool that is not based on ASL at all, since we  
write body movement in general.

Later I found out, when working with others in the signed language  
professions, that there was something called Sign Language  
Linguistics, and at that later time I learned about Dr. Stokoe. I was  
surprised at the abstract nature of his writing system...where were  
the visual facial expressions? And using a letter from the Roman  
alphabet, like the letter Y, to represent a handshape used to show  
the letter Y in the American Manual Alphabet would only be confusing  
for someone writing another signed language, that does not use the  
American Manual Alphabet. What about Russian Sign Language, that does  
not use the Roman Alphabet? How would Stokoe write handshapes that  
have no connection with any spoken language? How would he write  
gesture or mime, as we do in SignWriting?

So I did not first write ASL. Our first signed language was Danish  
Sign Language, and we now write around 40 signed languages...based on  
how the body looks when we sign...

> I've been continually struck with similarities in the analysis
> of SW, Stokoe and Labanotation.

Ha! That's great. I didn't realize that, but that is  
interesting...Too bad Laban had to be so abstract...I do not know  
many dancers who enjoy reading Laban...but it is excellent for  
analysis I know and I know you are very skilled...Did you know that  
Ann Hutchinson Guest included Sutton DanceWriting in a comparison of  
notation systems in a bound book? It was wonderful to be included and  
I am grateful to her...have you seen that book?

>   The greatest real difference is the manner
> of symbolization.  Because your own analysis and that of Bill  
> Stokoe is so
> similar, I'd suspect you're actually ambilanguagous; I fear  
> bilingual might
> imply you hold your pen in your teeth, so I hesitate to write  
> bilingual.
> Besides, SW only involves the tongue if you cluck while you write.
>    I drew the dictionary because I needed it, Val.  No single  
> respected
> source of ASL information had all the concepts I most often thought  
> and
> espressed myself with.  I made abstracts of commended dictionaries,  
> compared
> what they said, and consulted the Deaf Community to fill in the  
> spaces these
> resources (eg Costello, Sternberg and Riekehof) did not speak to.   
> My first
> edition, then, is eclectic, it immortalizes aspects of the visual  
> language
> ASL drawn from sources in Utah (Wilson), Lexington , Mass  
> (Sternberg) and
> Gallaudet Univ. (Stokoe), etc.

Wonderful! It sounds exciting. I look forward to seeing it!

> Your plump yummy pictographs have restored
> me to the world of reality.

Thank you Frank! I am glad you are enjoying looking at  
SignWriting.... I am a realist too. I know you enjoy writing with  
other systems, but I appreciate your interest in looking at least, at  
what we are doing!

Many blessings to you!

Val ;-)

Valerie Sutton
Sutton at

1. SignWriting
Read & Write Sign Languages

2. SignBank
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3. SignPuddle
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4. MovementWriting
Read & Write All Body Movement

SignWriting Literacy Project
The DAC, Deaf Action Committee
Center For Sutton Movement Writing
an educational nonprofit organization
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038, USA

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