Order of writing

Valerie Sutton signwriting at MAC.COM
Tue Nov 21 16:30:15 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
November 21, 2006

> Jason Hopkins wrote:
>>  I tend to follow this order:
>> Head, Face
>> Shoulders
>> Hand shape, Orientation
>> Movement Direction, Arrow Choice

Hello Jason and everyone -
Interesting topic. Thanks for bringing it up!

Your sequence of writing listed below is very close to my natural  
order of writing too...There is history behind this that might be  
interesting to you...The reason it is natural to think of the Head  
and Face first, is threefold...First, facial expressions are  
powerfully important to all signed languages...second...there is  
oftentimes contact with the head and face and writing the location  
where the contact will occur provides a natural center to the  
sign...and third, the Head and Face are at the top of the body, and  
writing down in vertical columns is more natural to writing signed  
languages, because our bodies are vertical...so starting at the top  
of the body, and writing down is what you are doing naturally, and I  
believe that is the natural flow of writing...

some reasons why people write top to bottom...
1. facial expressions are important
2. the face establishes the center of the sign
3. writing from top to bottom flows naturally with our vertical bodies

There is another related history about this fact, in relation to the  
Sign-Symbol-Sequence, the IMWA. The symbols are placed in 8  
Categories as you know:

1 Hand
2 Movement
3 Face
4 Head
5 Upper-Body
6 Full-Body
7 Space
8 Time & Punctuation

Although these categories determine how dictionaries are sorted by  
Sign-Symbol-Sequence, and technically have nothing to do with which  
order you personally choose to write in, there is still a connection  
to what might be taught someday in schools....

Originally, back when I was first developing the Sign-Symbol- 
Sequence, I had planned on using this Sequence:


This means that you would not be looking signs up by handshapes in  
dictionaries! You would be looking up by Facial Expressions...and  
because signers wanted to look-up by handshapes, I changed the  
sequence to what we have today...

So this means that the writing-sequence you are talking about, is not  
completely in coordination with the way we look-up signs by Sign- 

This means that writing SignWriting is different than writing spoken  
languages with the Roman alphabet...because when we write English  
words, we are writing in the sequence of the look-up order...but in  
SignWriting, we would have to write starting with handshapes to write  
in the look-up order...

But it feels better, as you say, to start with the Face and Head...so  
I understand!!

So I have been experimenting lately, just to see if I could write in  
the look-up order of the Sign-Symbol-Sequence by writing the  
handshapes first and then writing the rest of the sign... sometimes I  
can do it well, and other times it does not feel natural, but I am  
still experimenting to see if it could be taught to write starting  
with handshapes...I suspect we need to leave that to the individual  

Val ;-)


Jason Hopkins wrote:
>  I tend to follow this order:
> Head, Face
> Shoulders
> Hand shape, Orientation
> Movement Direction, Arrow Choice
> I don't follow this like a checklist, it just happens to be the  
> order I use when constructing a SW image.  Some symbols are clearly  
> not needed for a specific sign in order to convey full meaning, so  
> I don't worry about them.
> For example, when I create the SW image for "ponder", I first think  
> to myself, in this case I need a head ad a face.  On the face I  
> need eyebrows and a mouth.  I don't even think about not needing  
> shoulders, it doesn't even come up.  I then determine the hand  
> shape and orientation, and where to put them in relation to the  
> face.  Then I think about movement direction and what arrows will  
> best show it.
> I'm curious, is this the type of thought process that others use?   
> Do you use this order or something different?
> -Jason Hopkins
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