Wikipedia article

Trevor Jenkins bslwannabe at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 4 11:11:26 UTC 2011

A better comparison for the content of the SignWriting page on the English
language WikiPedia page would be the pages for Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese,
Japanese, Linear B, Klingon, Na'vi and other *orthographic systems*. We need
to be clear that SignWriting is nothing more than a writing scheme for
signed languages. In the same way that Chinese calligraphy is a writing
scheme for spoken Chinese and similar for other spoken languages with
non-Latinate orthographies.

Personally I consider SignWriting to be closer in purpose to IPA
(International Phonetic Alphabet) than to written English. Lexicographers
might disagree with me and suggest that Stokoe notation is the obvious
parallel to IPA. Though here as a native English speaker and second language
British Sign Language speaker I would contend that the reliance on ASL
fingerspelling shapes names in Stokoe, and the use of Latinate symbols in
IPA for that matter, are a hinderance to learning the notation. There is, of
course, a similar problem with SignWriting as many of the training materials
are written using ASL as an exemplar. The iconic nature of SignWriting
allows one to get around the problem, which a non-Latinate reader would not
be able to do with IPA. I could just as easily say that HamNoSys is the IPA
of signed languages but the point is that the written critical form of
spoken languages often bears no relation to the way strings are actually
pronounced. (One only has to consider the lyrics of the Gershwins' song
"Let's call the whole thing off" to see what a mess standard English
orthography makes of pronounciation.)

However, in one sense I agree with you; the use of an ASL story gives the
wrong impression of SignWriting ... that it is solely for ASL. As Val has
pointed out (thanks Val for correcting my poor history of the genesis of
SignWriting) this orthography is applicable to all signed languages and
manual communication systems.

On Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 11:21 PM, George Veronis <george.veronis at>wrote:

> A number of people responded to my suggestion about signwriting (SW).  Only
> two of them understood where I was coming from and why I made the suggestion
> that a simpler, more straightforward piece is called for in the Wikipedia
> article.  Valerie Sutton mentioned the origins of SW and how it arose from
> someone without a background in sign language.  I think that all of the
> respondents should read and think about what she wrote because at the time
> she was also not involved in SW as it has developed.  The other person who
> made very pertinent remarks is Stuart Thiessen, who went through the same
> experience that I have, viz., very little knowledge at a very early stage of
> learning ASL.  He, too, needed responses to questions that arose from very
> little experience with ASL
> I think that communication itself must be handled with care.  One has to
> take the time and trouble to understand the basis and the reason for remarks
> made and questions asked.  The article in Wikipedia is in the English
> language and the topics contained therein are intended for English speaking
> people.  I wrote as an English speaker and relatively ignorant ASL user who
> was trying to understand an esoteric
> topic.  All of you must have been confronted with "Why signwriting - why
> don't they just use the text?".  That's a very understandable question for
> someone with little or no training in sign language and with no experience
> with deaf people. I have attended a total of 12 classes in ASL; for my final
> exam I decided to try to convey to the class that something called
> signwriting exists.  No one in a class of fifteen, not even the teacher, had
> ever heard of signwriting.  So those of you who have been involved with SW
> for a long time should keep in mind that there is a world of people who
> might want to know about SW and who will probably ask very simple and
> elementary questions, as I did.
> Given what I just wrote, I would like to suggest that a statement like the
> one that Adam Frost made:
> Having a literal translation will actually be seen as an insult, especially
> to native users, and will make SignWriting seem to be an oppressors tool to
> limit how Sign Language is used  must be directed to an audience very
> different from the vast majority of users of Wikipedia.  I was completely
> perplexed by it
> and it was only after thinking hard about how in world anyone could
> misconstrue my simple suggestion that I realized how delicate the issue of
> communication is and how hard we have to think about the source of the
> question.  Without giving the issue serious consideration, the two sides,
> experienced SW users and those seeking to understand what SW is all about,
> will never make contact and that would be a pity.  But as long as people
> like Thiessen and Sutton are involved, there is hope that the issue will not
> get too far out of control.
> With serious good intentions,
> George Veronis

Regards, Trevor.

<>< Re: deemed!
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