Details about the sign symbols

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Mon Aug 25 15:30:44 UTC 2008

SignWriting List
August 25, 2008

Hasna Hocini in French-Canada wrote:

> Hello!
> I'm Dr. Zaremba's student, Hasna, and for our project, we need a  
> document that can help us understand SignWriting symbols in detail.

Hello Hasna and Dr. Zaremba! Hope your project is doing well....and of  
course I am happy to help you learn SignWriting symbols.

> I understood that there is no document yet to document all the ISWA  
> symbols? is right?

The International SignWriting Alphabet (ISWA 2008) is in beta right  
now, as you know. It has not been released yet, in its "official  
form". We are not yet using it, in SignPuddle. Right now SignPuddle  
1.5, our current version, is using the IMWA, which is an older  

All of the SignWriting symbols that we use right now in the IMWA, will  
also be in the new ISWA, when the day comes that we "switch from the  
IMWA to the ISWA", and the conversion will be automatic. The documents  
that you already have written in SignWriting, will look just the same,  
but working with the new ISWA design will make finding the symbols  
easier, and there will be more symbols that are needed to write  
SignWriting around the world...

So of course we have not finished the new documentation of the new  
ISWA, since the ISWA itself is not finished yet! One step at a time.

Meanwhile, you are using the IMWA right now, and we have plenty of  
documentation for the current symbols. I am happy to help you learn  
the symbols.

> We found those documents on the web for the IMWA symbols:
> sw0008-About-SignWriting.pdf
> sw0116-Lessons-SignWriting.pdf
> Lessons-SignWrit-2002.pdf
> SignSpelling-2004
> sw0147-sss2004-Category1.pdf ... sw0147-sss2004-Category8.pdf
> sw0158-sss2004-50-Groups
> sw0190-IMWA-Categories

Those are very good choices, especially the sw0116-Lessons- 

That is the "Lessons in SignWriting Textbook". Did you know you can  
read the book in French and French-Swiss Sign Language? Many thanks to  
Anny in French-Switzerland, for these wonderful documents in French:

Lessons in SignWriting in French

So I would suggest reading the books and literature found on the above  
web page.

> But, we need to learn more about the SignWriting symbols... The  
> detailed meaning of each symbol. specially category 5, 6 and 7 :  
> Dynamics, Punctuations and advanced sorting.

Sure. I will be happy to teach you Dynamics and Punctuation.

> Do you have please any document that can help us more?

Yes. In the Lessons in SignWriting Textbook (English version) (sw0116- 
Lessons-SignWriting.pdf), go to:

Chapter 13: Dynamics
Chapter 14: Punctuation

If you have more questions specifically as to what a sign means, with  
those symbols, attach a picture of the sign you cannot read to an  
email message and send it to the List with your specific question...

> And in the SignSpelling-2004 document, it is said that location  
> Markers are for research use.  Can you tell us please which research  
> has worked on that markers?

The Location marker for research use are the SAME as the "advanced  
sorting" category in the new ISWA. We are just calling them "Advanced  
Sorting" now...

We do not write signs with these Advanced Sorting symbols....they are  
solely for placing detailed information to improve the accuracy of  
sorting dictionaries by SignWriting symbols...sometimes two signs can  
have the same SignSpelling, except for one tiny difference...maybe one  
sign has the hand slightly higher than the other sign. We can see that  
difference when we write, by simply placing the handshape a little  
higher in the sign, and the reader reads that visually without needing  
any special is read quickly and simply. But when the  
computer wants to sort these two signs by Sign-Symbol-Sequence, the  
height-difference needs to be stated for the computer to know which  
one comes first and which one should come second in the dictionary, so  
these Advanced Sorting symbols, such as Height Location, are used in  
the computerized SignSpelling Sequence data to state which one comes  
first and which one comes second in the listing of signs of  

This has nothing to do with Translation work between languages...the  
Advanced Sorting symbols are ONLY used for sorting dictionaries by  
Sign Symbols...

I hope this helped -

Val ;-)
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