SignWriting Terminology

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Mar 21 20:53:43 UTC 2006

I asked the same question Steve as I am sorting for a multilingual dictionary in ASL, Libras, English, and Portuguese.
  I started with my corpus of 750 signs and began to sort them using the Sign Writing for Everyday Use as a guide, and Valerie's article as part of the process.  In so doing, we will need:
  1) A set order of handshapes within the basic 10 groupings.
  2) A set order of orientations within the basic 6
  3) A set order of rotations within the basic 8.
  4) A set order of contacts
  5) A set order of movements
  6) A set order of spatial locations
  7) A set order of body contacts
  8) A set order of facial expressions
  And imbedded in the above, what one does with two hands in a sign, presumably start with the dominant hand, sort through the above, add the second hand, and sort through the above.  I did that with my corpus of 750 and was able to get down to granular between the sign "confusao" and "complicado" where the only differences are intensity and speed.  In my dictionary, I placed smooth before quick, but others might do differently.  
  complicado   confusao

Steve Slevinski <slevin at> wrote:
  Hi Val,

Thanks for starting a message on terminology. I'm not using the 
terminology correctly, so this is very helpful.

I'm a bit confused by equating the roman alphabet to SignWriting. The 
roman alphabet is a sequence of ordered symbols. SignWriting is a 
system for writing signed languages. I think the roman alphabet is 
similar to the IMWA. And I think that SignWriting is similar to what is 
taught in English class.

I'm confused by what SignSpelling actually means. Is SignSpelling what 
you use, what you do, or what you get? Is SignSpelling for writing or 
sorting? I thought that SignSpelling was a subset of SignWriting that 
encompasses how to write sign and how to sequentially list the symbols 
in a sign for sorting.

The word spelling has 2 definitions. 1) The act of the person who 
spells a word. 2) The way a word is spelled. It seems to me that 
SignSpelling is the system of rules that a person uses while he is 
spelling(1) a sign which results in a spelling(2) of a sign. Spelling 
is both his action(1) and his result(2), but he uses the rules of 
SignSpelling for guidance while he works. 

Many definitions of "spell" mention the sequential order of the letters, 
but that is because of cultural bias. The word spell comes from older 
words that mean "to talk" or "to relate".
Middle English /spellen
/Old French /espeller/
Old English /spellian/

It is interesting to note that "gospel" is derived from "good talk".

If I was reading a document, I would hope that the words (or signs) were 
spelled correctly. With most spoken languages, a word's spelling is 
used for sorting because words are spelled sequentially. However, the 
symbols in a signs do not appear sequentially, but in 2 dimensional 
space. I consider this 2 dimensional representation of a sign to be the 
sign's spelling. If we had a Sign Spelling Bee, the contestants would 
watch a person perform a sign and would probably use a blackboard to 
write the sign.

But this brings us to the question of how to sort signs in a 
dictionary. We need a way to write the symbols of a sign in a 
sequential order. The SignSpelling Guidelines 2004 is a great reference 
for this 

And that's why I was using the terms spelling and sequence when talking 
about a sign. A sign's spelling is what you would find in a sign 
language text. A sign's sequence (or sort order) is a list of a sign's 
symbols that can be used for sorting.


Valerie Sutton wrote:
> SignWriting List
> March 21, 2006
> Dear SW List Members!
> Recently someone asked me to explain SignWriting Terminology (the 
> English words I use to describe different aspects of SignWriting).
> So I will create a chart of the terms I use in English. I hope we can 
> translate these terms into other spoken languages later.
> Here is a beginning...More will be coming later...continued next 
> message...
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