SignWriting Terminology

Steve Slevinski slevin at SIGNPUDDLE.NET
Tue Mar 21 22:12:23 UTC 2006

We do write with the IPA, but just in dictionaries.  I think the IPA is 
for daily use, (or at least as often as I open a dictionary).  I do not 
know the entire IPA, but I do know the IPA symbols that are used for 

There are 3 parts to any word (or sign). 

The spelling is what we read.
The sort order is how we sort.
The pronunciation is how we pronounce.

English writing combines the spelling and the sort order.
Pronunciation is only used in dictionaries.

ASL writing combines the spelling and the pronunciation.
Sort order is only used in dictionaries.

We can use the Roman alphabet for spelling and sorting, but not for 
We can use the IMWA for spelling, sorting, and pronunciation.

In time, we will discover what symbols are needed for each sign 
language.  Then we will have the ASL alphabet, the BSL alphabet, ...  
But for now, we are using the International Movement Writing Alphabet.

When I think of the IMWA, I think of an ordered set of symbols (an 
alphabet).  When I think of a symbol in the IMWA, I think about the 
symbol image and its id number (01-01-001-01-01-01).  This id number 
makes sorting possible.

An alphabet is just an ordered set of symbols.  A system is a group of 
things that combine to form a whole.  When we learn SignWriting, we are 
learning more than just a bunch of symbols and their order.  We are 
learning about all of the lessons, rules, and best practices.  The 
alphabet of SignWriting is only one small part of the SignWriting 
universe.  SignWriting is so much more... 


Valerie Sutton wrote:
> SignWriting List
> March 21, 2006
>> Steve Slevinski wrote:
>>> 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.
> Hello Steve and Everyone!
> Yes. I know you are confused, and that is why I have started this 
> conversation. And put the blame on me, for not explaining this properly!
> Do you know about the International Phonetic Alphabet? It is called 
> the IPA.
> The IPA is a long listing of symbols that are used to record the exact 
> sounds that we make when we speak, and is used for very detailed 
> writing of speech...It uses many more symbols than just the Roman 
> Alphabet...And we do NOT write with the IPA when we write this email 
> message in English..
> so generally...
> 1. The Roman Alphabet is for EVERYDAY USE and is specified for each 
> language it writes. This email message is written with the Roman 
> Alphabet, but the Roman Alphabet, when writing English, is also called 
> the English Alphabet....but it is the Roman Alphabet nonetheless.
> 2. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) provides MORE symbols 
> than are needed to write ONE spoken language. It is EVERY sound, used 
> for research and phonetic pronunciation guides in dictionaries. This 
> email message is NOT written with the IPA.
> so in the same way...
> 1. The SignWriting ( a kind of Alphabet) is for EVERYDAY USE. Each 
> Sign Language only uses a certain number of symbols to write their 
> language.
> 2. The International Movement Writing Alphabet (IMWA) provides MORE 
> symbols than are needed to write ONE sign language. It is EVERY 
> movement, used for a variety of things...research, phonetic writing, 
> even mime and it is huge!
> NO ONE uses all the IMWA symbols when writing...but they can refer to 
> it, for choosing the symbols they need to write with...
> I named the IMWA after the IPA...that is where I got the name IMWA 
> from...was basing it on the IPA name...instead of Phonetic Alphabet, 
> it is Movement Writing Alphabet...same for sounds and one 
> for movement...both are MORE symbols than needed to write for everyday 
> use...
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