SignWriting Terminology

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Tue Mar 21 22:59:47 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
March 21, 2006

Hello Steve and Everyone!
THANK YOU, Steve for giving us the blessing of using the IMWA...It  
has been amazing to have the IMWA at our fingertips and I am grateful  
to you for it!

This is fun... a long answer below! at the end I realized maybe NO  
terminology would be the least confusing - ha!!!

Thanks for the great discussion, Steve!  read below...

On Mar 21, 2006, at 2:12 PM, Steve Slevinski wrote:
> We do write with the IPA, but just in dictionaries.

I do not know the IPA! I have never written a letter to a friend with  
the IPA! Nor would I want to learn it...

Sure. The IPA is used...but it is not necessary for me to learn the  
IPA to write English...I just need the English alphabet to write  
English, and I leave the IPA to the researchers...

I have never seen a document written in the IPA...have you? Is Gone  
With The Wind written in the IPA? smile...of course not! But it is  
written in the Roman Alphabet, also called the English  
alphabet...that is what SignWriting is for me...a daily writing  
system to write literature in Sign...

I guess the word WRITE is the key here...I consider writing a daily  
thing..and I really don't think people write with the IPA for daily  

So I guess how I saw it is....

I do not write documents in the IMWA...I write them in SignWriting,  
choosing from symbols that happen to be listed in the IMWA...The IMWA  
is a big list of symbols that provide us with the Sign-Symbol- 
Sequence, or alphabetical order (01-01-001-01-01-01) ..but we do not  
use all those symbols to write Goldilocks and the Three Bears...

When we write this email message in English, we are not taking  
symbols from the IPA...we are taking symbols from the Roman Alphabet  
which is more finite set of symbols...

The IMWA is just a list of symbols, it is not the writing  
system...SignWriting is the writing system...Thats the way I was  
seeing it

> 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 English.

Actually, I do not believe that is true. Does the IPA write English?  
I thought it wrote speech sounds...there is a big difference for  
me...I didn't realize we specified it for English...

> 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.

No. I disagree, and I believe if I am given a chance, you will see  
what I mean...

The spelling is more than what we read. It is also how we choose to  
write it...and what symbols we choose to use to represent the sounds  
we are saying...

So there are TWO parts to spelling...1. The symbols we choose to  
represent the sounds and 2. the order of those symbols within the  

When a child asks, how do I spell the word PHONE in English?

There are TWO parts to the answer...

Part 1.
First, you determine the letters in the Roman Alphabet that you feel  
best represent the sounds made, while pronouncing that word:

You could choose PH for the first sound, or you could choose F for  
the first sound...

Part 2.
Second, which symbol comes first in the word? The P comes first if  
you choose to spell it PHONE, but the F comes first, if you choose FONE.

Once you have the sequence of which letters come first, second and  
third inside the word (Spelling-Sequence or Spelling-Order), then you  
can place the word in alphabetical order grouped with all the other  
words in the dictionary that start with that letter...

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

English combines three things...1. the choices of symbols within one  
word,  2. the order of those symbols inside that word, and 3. and the  
alpahbetical order of the symbols, so the words are sorted in large  
groups in a certain way...

And the Roman alphabet does provide pronunciation...maybe not as  
detailed as the IPA...but it definitely provides pronunciation in a  
more relaxed way...we see the symbols and we can pronounce them....if  
we know the language (smile)...

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

Just like in English...

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

The Roman Alphabet gives us pronunciation! We learn to sound out  
words from reading words with the Roman Alphabet..just not as  
detailed as the IPA...

> 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.

Absolutely - and THANK YOU, Steve for giving us that blessing...It  
has been amazing to have the IMWA at our fingertips and I am grateful  
to you for it!

> 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.

That numbering system....01-01-001-01-01-01...that is called the Sign- 
Symbol-Sequence - a term that I have trademarked to mean that  
numbering system

So the IMWA is just the complete SSS, but the other older computer  
programs like SignWriter DOS etc, they were using a more limited  
SSS...that is all...before the IMWA was developed we did not have as  
many symbols...

> 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...
> -Steve

You are so wonderful, Steve! Thank you!

Well...maybe we should use NO terminology in English - ha!!

Who cares what we call it...Let's just use it!!


Thanks for this interesing conversation...

Val ;-)

Valerie Sutton
Sutton at

1. SignWriting
Read & Write Sign Languages

2. SignPuddle
Create Signs in a Dictionary Online

3. SignText
Create Sign Language Documents

4. SignBank
Create Sign Language Databases

5. DanceWriting
Read & Write Dance Movement

6. MovementWriting
Read & Write All Body Movement

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