Joe Martin's Research on SignWriting University South Carolina 2007

MARIA GALEA maria.azzopardi at UM.EDU.MT
Wed Jan 11 01:04:51 UTC 2012

Thank you for posting this article Val a little while ago - I enjoyed
reading this Joe, thank you and have found it useful. Does the article
come with a date please, as I will very probably be referring to this
article soon.

> SignWriting List
> October 11, 2011
> Joe also gave us a short write up on SignWriting Terminology that he
> thought might be interesting to share, since years ago people discussed
> terminology relating to SignWriting all the time - I remember reading some
> really heated discussions about what terms to use when discussing the
> reading and writing of sign here is Joe's old paper on this
> topic, which is now posted at:
> SignWriting Terminology
> by Joe Martin
> SignWriting is so new, and so radically different, that the words in our
> ordinary vocabulary don’t apply to it.  When people see it for the first
> time they are often confused about what it is.  A new language? A new
> alphabet?  Finding the right words to explain this can be hard.  Even many
> linguists are not familiar with the terms we need to discuss SignWriting,
> but such words do exist.  It’s important that we look for them, and that
> we all agree on the right words to use, because we all want to give
> accurate information.
> We can say SignWriting is a notation.  Notations are any system for
> writing things down; not only languages but also things like music scores
> or the e=mc2 of mathematics.  If we want to limit ourselves to writing
> only languages, we can call the notation a script.  Scripts are writing
> systems for languages, and traditionally there are three kinds.  The
> alphabet is one kind of script, and the other two kinds are the syllabary
> and the logography.  Since the alphabet is the only one that is familiar
> to most of us, it is tempting to say that SignWriting is an alphabet for
> writing signed languages.  That, however, is not correct.
> By definition an alphabet uses symbols (letters) to stand for the smallest
> sound segments (phonemes) of the language. The spoken language is broken
> up into segments, and the symbols are used to represent them.  For example
> the four symbols <e>, <o>, <r>, and <x>, are used for the six
> sound-segments heard in the word “xerox.”  Then we use some system to
> relate the symbols to the order we hear the sounds.
> A syllabary is the same as an alphabet except that instead of just sounds,
> the symbols stand for whole syllables, usually a consonant plus a vowel.
> For example the Cree language uses a syllabary.  In writing Cree, the
> symbol <  > stands for the syllable “ni” and <  > stands for “pi.”  The
> Cree word for water, nipi, is written <  >.  The important thing is that
> these letters, sounds, and syllables are all what linguists call segments.
>  This means they are sequential units that occur one after another.
> SignWriting does not work like this, so it is neither a syllabary nor an
> alphabet.
> In one way SignWriting is like the third type of script, a logography.
> This type of script uses a different symbol for each word.  Many of the
> characters used for writing Chinese are like this.  Like these Chinese
> characters, each word written in SignWriting has its own unique form.  The
> dictionary tells us that “character" just means any written symbol, and
> the term character seems to fit quite well for these SignWritten words.
> For the smaller elements that make up the character we can keep the word
> symbol.  (Technically, these smaller units are called graphs, but to avoid
> another new term, we can just call them symbols.)  A Chinese character
> though, is made up of just lines and dots that have no phonetic meaning.
> By contrast, the handshapes, movement arrows, and other symbols that make
> up a SignWriting character most definitely do have phonetic values.  So
> SignWriting is not a logography either. It is not any of the three kinds
> of script.
> Otto Jesperson (1889) described a fourth type of script.  He called it an
> antalphabetic system1.    The idea was to use, not arbitrary symbols, but
> symbols that would show how the speech sounds are made.  Any written
> character is composed of smaller elements like dots and lines.  Speech
> sounds are also composed of smaller elements.  They are what linguists
> call phonetic features--tongue placement, voicing, lip rounding.  Several
> of these features combine to make one speech sound.  Jesperson’s
> antalphabetic script linked these phonetic features with the lines and
> dots of the written character. The symbols in such a script don’t stand
> for sounds but for these smaller elements of the sounds.  It takes several
> of these feature-symbols to make up one character.  That is the definition
> of an antalphabetic script.
> Geoffrey Sampson (1985) described some real scripts that indicate phonetic
> features.  One is Pitman Shorthand, which uses a dark line for voiced
> sounds and a light line for unvoiced sounds.  Which way the line slants
> shows where the sound is made, and the straightness of the line shows how
> it is made.  His other example is the script used in Korea.  Some of its
> symbols use a horizontal line for the roof of the mouth, and where a
> second line contacts this one shows where in the mouth the sound is made.
> The shape of the second line tells how the sound is made.  The script adds
> an extra line to the symbol for the “tense aspirated” sounds that are
> common in Korean.  A diagram of the mouth indicates sounds made with the
> lips.
> Incidentally, notice how these symbols are not just arbitrary.  Their
> creator designed them to be schematic diagrams of the body parts that make
> the sounds.  Linguists find this very impressive.  Because of this
> characteristic and because it is featural, the Korean script is often
> called the world’s best writing system.  Both these characteristics
> though, are much more present in SignWriting.
> However, both the Korean script and Pitman Shorthand are only partly
> featural.  Samson cites the feature grids used by linguists as purely
> featural, but notes that these grids are “too cumbersome” to use as a
> script.  He stresses that any scripts “used in real life are not really
> pure, textbook examples of one or another of these categories”(42).  So up
> till now the world has had no good examples of this featural, or
> antalphabetic fourth type of script.  Abercrombie 1967 defines it as a
> script that “represents each segment by a composite symbol made up of a
> number of signs put together”(112).   This describes SignWriting
> perfectly.  It is a featural, antalphabetic script.  SignWriting is an
> antalphabet.  We can say it is an antalphabet used to write signed
> languages, just the same as an alphabet is used for spoken languages.
> A set of rules telling how to use a script for any particular language is
> called an orthography.  Spanish, English and Vietnamese are all written
> using the same alphabetic script, but the rules are different.  Vietnamese
> doesn’t use the letter < f >;  Spanish does.  Spanish writes < ll >;
> English writes < y >.  Spanish puts a question mark in front of a
> sentence; English puts it at the end.  Each language has its own rules for
> how to use the script.
> Different languages written with SignWriting also have different
> orthographies.  Spanish Sign Language uses SignWriting’s contact symbol.
> Danish Sign Language doesn’t.  Nicaraguan Sign Language underlines proper
> names.  American Sign Language doesn’t.  These languages are written in
> SignWriting script, but with different orthographies.
> To talk about signed languages some people still think that we shouldn’t
> use the terms phonetic, phonemes or phonology.  This is because the
> “phon-“ in these words came for the Latin word for “sound.”  Also, many
> people think phonemes are sounds. This is not accurate.  The phoneme is
> just an abstract theoretical idea, neither a sound nor anything visible.
> It happens that they were always expressed in sound, but there was always
> a theoretical possibility of them being something else.  Then sign
> language came along, and now we see that they can be expressed in signs or
> sounds, and possibly even in touch.
> Many people confuse phonemes and cheremes.  Originally these were thought
> to be equivalents, but research has clearly shown that they are different
> things.  Cheremes are the handshapes, movements and such that make up a
> sign.  They happen at the same time. That’s impossible for phonemes, since
> by definition phonemes happen one after the other.  So cheremes and
> phonemes are two different things.
> If “chereme” was going to replace a word used for speech, the word would
> be “parameter”, not phoneme. Parameters are what we use to describe vowels
> {height, frontness...}, consonants {manner, place...} and now signs
> {movement, location...}.  Chereme and parameter refer to exactly the same
> thing, although nobody uses either one of these terms, except linguists.
> ASL was recognized as a language when scientists proved it has all the
> levels of linguistic structure.  Phonology is one of these levels, along
> with syntax, morphology and phonetics.  If it didn’t have them, it
> wouldn’t be a language.  The terminology doesn’t refer to what form the
> linguistic units (segments) may take, but to how they are organized.
> However the units may look or sound, they are organized the same way.
> By now every important phonological theory has been used successfully with
> sign language. In other words, theories developed to describe spoken
> language all describe signed languages just as well. This is what we
> expect, since all languages have a phonological, and a phonetic,
> structure.  There is no shortage today of papers, books, and even
> international conferences discussing aspects of sign language phonetics
> and phonology, where people use these words without any qualifications.
> They have become standard terms.  The fact that the name “phon-” is Latin
> for sound shouldn’t bother us any more than the fact that “phony”
> originally meant a gold-plated ring; or that Greenland is mostly ice.
> SignWriting is an antalphabet that shows us the phonology of signed
> languages in just the same way as our alphabet shows us the phonology of
> speech. Its written characters are made up of symbols that show phonetic
> details. Like the alphabet, it is a type of notation and uses different
> orthographies for different languages. It is a way to read and write any
> signed language, just as the alphabet is one way to read and write spoken
> language.
> Abercrombie, D. 1967. Elements of General Phonetics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh
> University Press
> Anderson, S.R. 1993. “Linguistic Expression and its Relation to Modality”
> in Phonetics and Phonology: Current Issues in ASL Phonology
>  iconicity p116 , also the best argument against using the term phonology
>    HV2474.C87
> Coulmas, Florian. 1996. Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Oxford,
> U.K.:Blackwell.
> Daniels, Peter T. 1996. “The Study of Writing Systems”  in Daniels, Peter
> T. & Bright, William (eds) The Worlds Writing Systems. NY:
> Oxford.		P211.w714
> DeFrancis, John. Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems.
> Honolulu: U of Hawaii Press.							P211.d36
> Gelb. 1980. “Principles of writing systems within the frames of visual
> communication” in (ed) P. A. Koler, M. E. Wrolstad & H. Boumas, Processing
> of Visible Language Vol II. NY: Plenum.
> Harris, Roy 1995. Signs of Writing. NY: Routledge.
> Jesperson, Otto. 1889. The Articulation of Speech Sounds. Marburg.
> Sampson, Geoffrey. 1985. Writing systems: a Linguistic Introduction.
> Stanford: Stanford U Press.								P211.s36
> ------------------------
> On Oct 11, 2011, at 3:21 PM, Valerie Sutton wrote:
>> SignWriting List
>> October 11, 2011
>> Dear SignWriting List Members, and Joe -
>> Early in 2011, Joe Martin sent me some files on his research on
>> SignWriting, to post on the web and on this List.
>> Thank you, Joe, for sharing your work with us. Your files are now posted
>> on the web here:
>> SignWriting in Linguistics
>> Joe received his Masters Degree in Linguistics at the University of
>> South Carolina in 2007.
>> Both the Abstract and the full thesis are now posted on the web for
>> download. I also placed the Abstract inside the thesis.
>> Abstract
>> Writing and Signed Languages
>> Masters Degree Thesis
>> Writing and Signed Languages
>> Joe is a member of this List...
>> Writing and Signed Languages
>> by Joe C. Martin
>> Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
>> Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
>> in the Linguistics Program
>> College of Arts and Sciences
>> University of South Carolina
>> 2007
>> The idea of a written form for signed languages has been controversial,
>> and this paper presents a series of experiments designed to provide
>> answers. The findings:
>> writing a signed language is in fact possible, using SignWriting, but
>> not using another script.  (experiments 1 and 2)
>> a script for signed languages must be arranged in the nonlinear fashion
>> employed by SignWriting and not in the linear manner of scripts for
>> spoken language. (experiment three)
>> our brains process SignWriting in the same manner they process scripts
>> for spoken language. (experiments 4 and 5)
>> Conclusion: reading and writing is the same for both sign and speech,
>> and SignWriting is just another writing system like any other.
> ----------
> Val ;-)
> Valerie Sutton
> SignWriting List moderator
> sutton at
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