Wikipedia article

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Jun 4 12:42:00 UTC 2011

My experience in teaching SignWriting to a group of Deaf and hearing instructors in Ohio needs to be interjected here. The organizers of the event for teachers of ASL seemed hopeful, but when the very first words were "and how will this additional writing system help MY students to read English" was the immediate barrier.

I found myself tongue-tied and unable to pursue a useful conversation because every response in the room was stacked against me. All of them wanted the Deaf to read English in all circumstances, and honestly refused to see SignWriting as a writing system for any signed language, a true writing system to produce one's own language parallel to the larger population's spoken language.  For more than an hour, my lecture was peppered with questions of "why should I ADD to the burden of the Deaf" as if Deaf student were somehow the personal possession of the teachers, and they MUST use English in the long run, so why teach them to write and read their own language. 

This is in a state where Oberlin Conservatory teaches Dance Writing, recognizing that Dance itself is a language, and you cannot describe choreography in English or any other language without a way to write in a diagramatic written form. 

When people have asked me over the years who invented SignWriting, a Deaf or hearing person, I say neither, she is a Dancer, and Dance is a language of movement, so that both the Deaf and the Hearing can be fully enfranchised in using gesture based languages on an equal footing.

Although one can write Russian using the Roman alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet is the writing system of choice because of history and education. 

One can write the many mutually unintelligible languages of China using a written language of pictographs which are pronounced any number of ways whether one is speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, Sechuan, or Mongolian dialects, it remains itself a pictographic system not really dependent on any one of them. 

One can write Hindustani using the Roman alphabet, but the alphabet of choice is Sanskrit, used for more than 3000 years. 

So now we have SignWriting, able to be used for all movement based languages, I believe, in a way that is much better than any other as it is iconographic so that it is not dependent on spoken language to be read. 

From: Trevor Jenkins <bslwannabe at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Saturday, June 4, 2011 7:11 AM
Subject: Re: Wikipedia article

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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