SignWriting Terminology

Ingvild Roald iroald at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 21 22:56:00 UTC 2006

An alphabet is not just an ordered set of symbols - first, it the set of 
these symbols, called  letters. These are used for writing a language. The 
ordering is a secondary thing.

Then, to my knowledge, all alphabets can be used to write more than one 
language. Even if the Hebrew alphabet is mostly used for writng Hebrew, it 
can also be used for writng other languages spoken by Jews throughout the 
diaspora. The alphabet used to write Russian is alsp used for other slavomic 
languages, and so on.

I think we need to distinguis between

1) the set of symbols used for writing

2) the ordering sequence of these symbols

3) the actual way symbols are put together to give a meaningful entity (a 
word or a sign)

4) the way these meaningful entities can be put into a sequential order and 
be looked up in a dictionary

For the Roman and the Hebrew and the Greek and the Russian and the Arabic 
and other alphabbeths that write the symbols one at a time in a linear 
order, number 4 folllows from number 2. For SignWriting that is not so easy, 
because the symbols are not written linearly but in two dimensions. I do npt 
know how rthis is solved by other writing systems like the Chinese or the 
Japanese, but I am sure that they do have solutions.

For SignWriting there are established solutions too, both for the sequence 
o.f the symbols themselves (no 2) and for the sequence of the symbols in a 
weitten sign to put into a dictionary. I am sure Val will explain these 
rules in a little while. In the meantime, you can look up the ordering in 
SignBank and get a good feeling.


>From: "Valerie Sutton" <sutton at>
>Reply-To: sw-l at
>To: sw-l at
>Subject: Re: [sw-l] SignWriting Terminology
>Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2006 14:13:06 -0800
>SignWriting List
>March 21, 2006
>Stephen Slevinski wrote:
>>>alphabet is a sequence of ordered symbols.
>Steve! I think I know where your confusion is....The definition you  wrote 
>above is for the word ALPHABET, but not specifically for the  ROMAN 
>There are many alphabets in the world..
>GREEK Alphabet
>ROMAN Alphabet
>RUSSIAN Alphabet
>I guess all Alphabets place symbols in a sequence or order...that is  for 
>sure, and that is why SignWriting is considered an alphabet too...
>But what makes the ROMAN alphabet ROMAN? The symbols themselves look  
>different than the symbols in the GREEK alphabet...
>And there is another thing that is unique to the ROMAN alphabet...the  
>Roman Alphabet is used to write MORE than just one spoken  language...GREEK 
>writes GREEK, but is not used to write Spanish, but  the Roman Alphabet is 
>used to write Spanish, French, English and many  other western spoken 
>languages...that is why SignWriting is more like  the ROMAN ALPHABET than 
>other alphabets...because it writes multiple  signed is a 
>description I wrote years ago:

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