Handwriting of British Sign Language

Valerie Sutton signwriting at MAC.COM
Sun Mar 11 21:21:26 UTC 2007

SignWriting List
March 11, 2007

Hello Everyone and Sandy -
I look forward to working with you more on your work, Sandy...later  
after the conference...wish you could come to the conference!

To give you immediate feedback on your writing by hand...I can see  
much time and effort has been focused on writing and that is a  
privilege for me to see that! Thank you for sharing it with us...(see  

When I look at your linear writing, I see the way we wrote back in  
1982 in Denmark...the reason SignWriting looks as it does now...the  
reason that we write in visual units or clusters...is we learned  
through decades of experience that linear writing cannot capture the  
grammar of signed languages, so you are throwing out grammar points  
that are very important...but I understand where you are coming from,  
since I was there once myself... That is the way we started...

Take a look at this writing from Denmark in 1982...Don't you think  
that it looks a little like your writing?

Danish SignWriting 1982

Whenever I see linear SignWriting I think of the early 1980's when we  
wrote like that...and I also guess that the writer is probably  
hearing or at least new to Sign Language or SignWriting...like I was  
back in the 1980's!

The reason that literature in SignWriting is written vertically is  
that it is natural for Deaf and skilled signers to read the human  
body vertically. Hands naturally fall below the head, and the  
movement up and down from the head to the chest naturally flows down  
and up and so the vertical writing is just an extension of the way  
signing really occurs in real life...

When I sit down and read SignWriting...like a children's story, or  
the Bible passages, I read it like i would read any other book in  
spoken language...I think in Sign Language as I read...or should I  
say...I think in the visual movements I see jump out at me, from the  
page...and those visual movements are based on a vertical body...and  
so reading is faster when the writing is vertical...

Did you know that we have one novel written in SignWriting? It is in  
Madrid Sign Language...In time I hope we will have thick books  
written in BSL and ASL too, and when that happens, if the writing is  
vertical, it will be read with more ease by skilled signers...

But I know you know this, because your poetry is written vertically...

Poetry in British Sign Language

So maybe you are just playing with new ideas for your software?...so  
let's talk more in April about it...remind me!

Val ;-)


On Mar 11, 2007, at 11:43 AM, Sandy Fleming wrote:

> Hi Val!
>> I am glad you developed the software design you designed years ago
>> Sandy. Obviously you didn't feel impeded years ago to do that and I
>> am only sorry there was no one to give you financial support in the
>> effort to continue it at that time...have you continued developing
>> your software? If so, you are free to do so!!
> Well, as others have done I used my common sense and decided that
> someone who devises a new writing system probably doesn't want to
> inhibit its development. Not everyone who reads your pages has common
> sense, though, some people need to be told things!
>> I am very grateful to work with Steve Slevinski and I am honored he
>> is devoting so much time to developing SignPuddle and SignText...I
>> consider our collaboration golden in the history of SignWriting
>> development...they are brilliant programs...thank you, Steve!
> These programs are amazing, and you don't even have to install them on
> your machine! It's one thing to write demonstration and proof of  
> concept
> programs like I've done so far, quite another to actually put in the
> time and dedication to make them fully usable like SignText is.
> Yes, I'm still working on writing software for SignWriting but it's  
> been
> an adventure! Part of my problem is that I'm only learning BSL, but of
> course this has improved a lot since a couple of years ago and as I  
> get
> more confident at BSL I write more, and I'm now beginning to  
> understand
> enough about the structure of signs to be able to think about how to
> help the users by not asking them to do things that the software  
> can do
> for them. One thing I learned from the prototype program I wrote two
> years ago was that people found the keyboard difficult to learn, even
> though I thought I'd made it as easy as possible! I've put a lot of
> though into how to make it even easier, and I think I'm almost there!
> So, that's the talk, maybe this year we'll see about the walk  :)
> In thinking about SignWriting structure I've devised some interesting
> ways of writing it, including linearly! The BSL example in the
> attachment says, "Hello, Val! This writing, think what? Read easy,
> difficult, which? Sandy FLeming."
> I don't think you'll find it difficult to read, you just need to know
> that the vertical bars, like "||" are extra bits of arrow shaft to add
> to the previous arrow to lengthen it (in your head!), and when an  
> arrow
> is placed before the head in a sign, it shows a body shift (as in the
> signs for "easy" and "difficult". Oops, I should have written those as
> general arrows, not right-hand arrows. One day I'll get it right  :)
> Sandy

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