Genesis of SignWriting

Honza honza at RUCE.CZ
Wed Nov 6 19:05:40 UTC 2013

Hello Val,

thank you very much for sharing this. I haven't heard about Disney system.
It seems very similar to DanceWriting to me.
I see there at least one more connection. Stokoe, Prilwitz and others were
linguists, but you and Bébian not ;)

Yes I am very interested in that. If you scan it and post it somewhere I
will be very happy.
Val, please could you scan for me pages 293-324 from “I See a Voice" as
well for me?


On 6 November 2013 17:53, Valerie Sutton <signwriting at> wrote:

> SignWriting List
> November 6, 2013
> Hello Honza and everyone -
> Thank you for starting this interesting thread, about the “genesis” or the
> background and history not only to SignWriting, but to writing sign
> languages throughout history. There is a lot to discuss.
> Regarding Roch-Ambroise Auguste Bébian…
> I first heard about Bébian’s system in September 2007, when my friend
> Shane Gilchrist (hi Shane!) suggested that I purchase a book called “I See
> a Voice” by Jonathan Rée. I ordered it from and then enjoyed
> skimming the chapters related to writing sign languages, from page 293-324.
> It was there that I first learned about Bébian, but I was immediately
> attracted to his system and his feelings about writing sign languages and
> felt a “connection” (you know what I mean - almost a spiritual feeling that
> we were on the same plane, so to speak). And there are many other
> interesting stories and information in the book which makes me think I
> should read the book more carefully - I confess I have only skimmed the
> book.
> But yes, Honza, I see the connection, but no, I did not know about Bébian
> at the time of my first writing Danish Sign Language and a South Pacific
> Sign Language back in Denmark in 1974, 1975 and 1976.
> I was a little different than the other developers of writing systems, in
> that I did not come from a knowledge of any sign language, nor did I have a
> desire to learn linguistics. I loved languages in general, but that is not
> a linguistic interest. I was already writing the dances of the Bournonville
> tradition at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen with my invention in 1974, and
> when I started writing the movement of both hearing people and Danish Sign
> Language from a video at the University of Copenhagen starting in 1974, I
> was sharing my time between writing dance at the Royal theater and writing
> sign language movement and hearing-person’s gestures at the University - I
> saw myself as a movement notator and not a sign language writer at the
> time…but overtime, as I wrote more of Danish Sign Language on the video, I
> became aware it was a real language…I self-published two booklets on
> writing sign languages - one on writing Danish Sign Language, and the other
> on writing signs from a South Pacific Island with Rolf Kuschel. These two
> booklets are mentioned on this web page, and I could scan them and post
> them on the web if you wish…would you like to see these old historic
> documents?
> My influence was definitely Friedrich Albert Zorn (
> ), and Walt Disney’s
> animation that places movement in drawings frame by frame by frame from
> left to right on a five-lined staff that can fit under music… That was my
> starting point…
> Then I started writing sign language in stick figures at the University go
> Copenhagen… Later I learned about Dr.Stokoe and his research…
> I think starting visual with stick figures, with no linguistic judgements,
> had great value, and I still believe in the visual, but it is the writers
> we work with, like yourself, Honza, and in my case, the Deaf Action
> Committee, that had the greatest influence on our writing expressively, in
> vertical columns, without full stick figures…the way we write today…and the
> internet had a big influence…where I and others meet people like yourself -
> as we write we influence each other...
> I bet there were many other writing systems for sign languages before and
> after Bébian, that we have not heard of, because everyone needs a way to
> write signs… Adam tells me that most signers have developed their own way
> of writing their language from time to time…Adam developed his own system
> too, before starting to work with SignWriting, and I have also met other
> Deaf signers who have done the same - Bernard Bragg is one -
> If Bébian had done his work during the age of the internet, we might be
> writing his system worldwide now - smile -
> Val ;-)
> -----
> On Nov 6, 2013, at 7:18 AM, Honza <honza at RUCE.CZ> wrote:
> Hello Valerie,
> recently I researched history if writing sign languages and I realized
> that the very first writing system developed by Roch-Ambroise Auguste
> Bébian (French) is in some way similar to SignWriting.
> Did you know about Bebian's writing system by the time you developed
> SignWriting on the basis of DanceWriting and were you inspired by his
> system or not?
> It is known that Stokoe created his notation system on the basis of
> Bebian's..
> It is very interesting fact.
> It interests me because I teach about writing sign languages at
> University, but I haven't found enought detail about this.
> Thank you.
> Honza
> ________________________________________________
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