Report on the Workshop at Gallaudet University

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue May 24 20:45:40 UTC 2011

The work of Rachel Channon using not only SignWriting but her own Sign Type 
system and a way to describe the features of HamnoSys into a massive corpus 
program containing most of the world's sign language transcription systems would 
be fantastic. 

At the last TISLR, SignWriting had the largest corpus represented, while 
HamnoSys was a close second.  


From: Adam Frost <icemandeaf at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Tue, May 24, 2011 4:16:20 PM
Subject: Report on the Workshop at Gallaudet University

As several of you already know, I gave a presentation on SignWriting at a 
workshop at Gallaudet this past weekend. The title of the workshop was "Building 
sign language corpora in North America". A corpus is essentially a collection of 
data, or in this case a collection of data on Sign Language in North America 
that can be called upon for various researches in Sign Language Linguistics. 
There were a good number of people from various parts of the world including 
Spain, Germany, and Australia. There were about 50 people in attendance, most of 
whom had some work in the field of linguistics.

The presentation that I presented was called "Sign Language Corpus with 
SignWriting". I gave a short history on SignWriting and how it has been used in 
various capacities in various countries writing the world's sign languages. 
Because SignWriting is based on the features of Sign Languages, I explained how 
it can be used to build a corpus so that features of Sign Languages can be 
searched and not only limited to signs as a whole. I then gave an example with a 
short part of the Cat in the Hat showing how this could be done with Handshapes, 
Movements, etc. The reason this was possible was because of the work with UTF-8 
code that is available with SignPuddle. This also makes it possible to work 
seamlessly with a program that many linguists in the US already use, ELAN. The 
only problem is that as of now they cannot see the actual symbols without some 
sort of plug-in, but it is still very searchable regardless. 

I then explained that there are some differences with daily writing versus 
writing for analytical use. For example, there are symbols that can be used to 
encode location that are not used in everyday writing because the relations of 
the symbols imply the location. I also mentioned that there are times that 
beginning or ending hands or even contact symbols are not written in everyday 
writing because it is understood, but would most likely be necessary for 
analytical purposes. 

Some comments that I got from those in the audience were: Why SignWriting isn't 
more widely used as a written form for ASL in the US, since it has been around 
for over 30 years? It is obviously a very powerful tool. My response was that 
written forms take many years, if not generations, before it is accepted. Take a 
look at English, which had many illiterate users for many generations regardless 
of it been written for so many generations. There was also another commenter who 
felt that I was suggesting that SignWriting be the only thing used in a corpus. 
My reply was quite the opposite. I explained that there might be some research 
that will greatly benefit from the analytical power that SignWriting has to 
offer while others might not gain anything from it. My suggestion was to have a 
place within the corpus for SignWriting as a tool available for those who will 
benefit from it.

Overall, it was a very good workshop and my presentation was received very well. 
The people who put together the workshop have also created a blog for those who 
want to know more about what happened. For those 
who would like to take a look at the Power Point that I used, I will send it to 
the list in my next message.

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