AW: Teaching Signwriting to deaf children in Tunisia A PROPOSAL FOR ALL

Stefan Woehrmann stefanwoehrmann at GEBAERDENSCHRIFT.DE
Sat Jan 4 07:09:55 UTC 2014

Good morning Valerie and sw-list members, 


thank you very much to take the time to read my message about the way I use
SignWriting with my students every day. Well it it as Erika already
mentioned. She came to our school, stayed for several weeks and day by day
the students made us curious about the question “what are they doing with
their mouth (lips) “ while they sign. The results are surprising... and I
would not believe that this could happen before. ..and Erika you see that
there is still more to look at ...big smile. 

Now reading your message the same principles might be true for
fingerspelling movements. At least my students (most of them) would not
think of letters (as we do) if they sign with hand shapes derived from the
fingerspelling – ABC ...But thanks for this idea, I will try to find out
next week when holidays are over. 


And yes Valerie, my students are at age about 20 years and they are doing
great ..and the feedback about their achievements makes me feel proud and
happy. . ..But of course this is not just about me ...They are just
wonderful people.    


Have a great weekend everybody







Von: SignWriting List: Read and Write Sign Languages
[mailto:SW-L at LISTSERV.VALENCIACOLLEGE.EDU] Im Auftrag von Valerie Sutton
Gesendet: Freitag, 3. Januar 2014 19:56
Betreff: Re: Teaching Signwriting to deaf children in Tunisia A PROPOSAL FOR


SignWriting List

January 3, 2014


Hello Stefan -

THANK YOU, for the in-depth message below, which you wrote before Christmas,
to the List. I confess I just read it this morning - but I am so glad that I
 I really enjoyed reading it, and as always, I am impressed and amazed
at your work, and grateful to you too, for using SignWriting all these years
with your Deaf students. 


If I remember correctly, you have already graduated one class of Deaf
students, who used SignWriting for over a decade in your classroom? 
now you have a new young crop of Deaf students, who are the second class to
learn SignWriting for a decade, or at least will - smile - is this correct?
I think this is important because I am curious how your students who
graduated already (now that they are older and out in the world) 
 how are
they doing? I am sure your attentive teaching style gave them a great
foundation to base their adult lives upon, in this complex world of today -


I was interested to learn of your idea for further research on how signers
read mouth movements that are connected with spoken language words, that are
mouthed while signing
A research study of the future could try to
investigate if Deaf people connect spoken language with mouthing, or is it
really just a part of the signing experience?


The same research-style question could arise related to ASL fingerspelling.
ASL signers use a lot of fingerspelling, and for hearing people like myself,
(I am not skilled at reading fingerspelling), I have been amazed at my lack
of ability to connect fingerspelling with my own native language, English.
It also seems surprising to me that Deaf people read fingerspelling so well,
when some of them are not necessarily English-focused 
so there seems to be
a disconnect between signing along with using mouthing or fingerspelling,
and reading a spoken language on paper.


I think Deaf Education is very hard, because each school, and indeed each
classroom, is like its own little culture, with a set of circumstances that
is unique to itself. It is impossible to judge a teacher or student without
being there in the classroom and seeing all the communication that
transpires. What matters, I would assume, is to educate and inspire
students, and I would also assume that teachers have to take into account
how their school administrators feel, how their fellow teachers feel in that
specific school, and most important, how the parents and home-life of each
student “feels” to that student.


Seeing it from this perspective, it makes one realize that no matter how
idealistic we are, about wanting “pure ASL” or “pure DGS” for Deaf students,
the truth is that we all live in a hodgepodge of languages and cultures now,
because of globalization and also the internet and so many other
multi-tasking influences, and “pure” ANY language is rare and difficult to
find today - People are using Texting spelling when writing English for
example and I am left behind at times, since I have never texted - and Deaf
students need to adjust to so many more factors than hearing people - it is
mind boggling to think about what they have to learn in such a stressful,
multi-tasking world -


That is one of the reasons why I am glad that with the SignWriting script we
can preserve and write the sign languages of the world, in their purer
forms, as they are signed right now, so that future generations can see how
signing was done in past generations, since languages continually change - 


I hope you get great joy out of teaching and writing and creating new
documents and ideas and art in 2014!


Val ;-)





On Dec 22, 2013, at 3:58 PM, Stefan Wöhrmann
<stefanwoehrmann at GOOGLEMAIL.COM> wrote:

Hi Erika, James, Val and friends...


Thank you Erika for your comment. I am afraid that my English is not good
enough to describe what I have on my mind and I appreciate your message as a
comment about your first-hand experience in my classes over the years...;-))


Well James,


1)       It is as Erika explains it perfectly. You honestly will not assume
that I do not know the difference between Signed German and DGS (German Sign
Language) – and as I started with my privous message: The first step is to
assure that teacher  and student and students among each other can
communicate. Within a group of deaf people this communication is done in
SignLanguage  ( not Signed German).  


At the end of this learning adventure any student should be able to switch
between the two systems Signlanguage and Spoken Language. Some of my
students develop a high motivation to work hard to improve their
articulation – others do no like to speak. Nevertheless all of them are
exspected to become competent in both Languages (Sign Language and Spoken
Language)  This is definitely not only a BI-MODEL methodology – as you call
it but a bilingual approach.


“Use it if you must; but recognize it for what it is.”  Hm – in between the
lines I can see the frown on your face. Signed German ... you never would
use that. Am I right? – smile -  It is as Erika might be able to explain
much better. The step in between the start and the end of our learning
procedure is to support deaf students with Signed German. Experience has
shown that the students achieve bilingual competence so much faster if they
get the chance to read and “translate” written documents that show signs
written in the grammar of Spoken German.

Next step will be to demonstrate the contrast between Signlanguage and
Spoken Language. They understand much better and in the end it is a pure
bilingual approach and the students translate from one system inot the other
in both directions. .


Thanks to our delegs-editor – the most effective tool for building the
bridge between Spoken Language and Signlanguage  - you can do this back and
forth thing so easily.  It is your job to write any document within seconds
in whatever style you want to. If you want to create SignLanguage document –
just write the words that pick the signs from the dictionary – edit the
signs to appropriate DGS oder ASL and hide the words afterwards. Same thing
with Signed German documents. ...I am so gratefull that it has become so
easy to offer lots and lots and lots of documents every day with this
brilliant DELEGS – software.




2)      Hi James – when I referr to name-signs in SignWriting as pictograms
– I cannot see any negative aspect in this. My experiments in this field
show clearly that you and me and other experienced scribes look at these
arrangements of single symbols which we take out of the big ISWA –box with
other eyes. And we read the given signs in a analytic way. We understand the
meaning of the single symbols. Many well written signs seem to become a
“Gute Gestalt” and the deaf child and some beginners who start to read
SignWriting do not analyze and even do not know ( and do not have to) about
all the decisions the scribe has made while he choose to write the sign in
this way. It is amazing – and funny at the same time – to see that a well
known sign – ( a sign that is identified within part of a second) can be
changed (in the sense of misspelled) and the deaf child would not hesitate
to “read” it the same way as before... I did some private research on this
and it is really tremendously interesting. Hi Erica - .... smile!


“ that logic, showing the kid his written German name is also using a
pictogram” – yes of course – as long as the child has no idea about any
method to interpret the graphems in any way as options how to encourage
somebody to speak what is written – and that is of course a long journey
especially for deaf kids.


“-- a jumble of otherwise pointless letters whose order must be memorized.”
In order to change this I invented this new notation system for sound-based
symbols. “Mundbildschrift” = “Woehrmanns Speech-Writing”


This exactly is the basis why I invented my “Speech-Writing –System” ... but
this is a whole other story and people get confused because of two different
systems  - a VISUALLY PHONETIC system (as used in my mouthgestures
“Mundbilder” in Signwriting) and an  aural based phonetic code  in this case



3)      “German employs an aural based phonetic code..”  ..ha...yes ....
well there are a lot of problems beause this matching of letters and sounds
does not work in German... too many exceptions... This causes problems in
the context of lipreading, It is a severe fault to tell a hearing child –
just write what you hear – it does not work. You better should say look at
the spelling of this German word (just as a string of letters) and listen to
me. You hear the way we pronounce this word. Just accept that and obey the


>From my point of view deaf students expand their vocabulary of Spoken German
much better if they get the chance to associate with given words some kind
of tongue, mouth, lip –movement – feedback. How does it feel if you
pronounce the word Reagenzglas, Universalindikator, Koordinatenkreuz,
Baden-Württemberg.  A combination of reading the word, looking at the
appropriate sign in SignWriting along with the mouth-gestures as you find
them constantly in the German SignPuddle allows deaf students to speed up
with the aqcuisition of new terms.


Deaf students can read SignWriting documents at high speed even if they do
now know about the meaning of the (isolated) symbols.  I am still in the
beginning to understand this and to accept this and to arrange experiments
in order to find more about that.


When Erika did her research project in my classes it has been almost like a
mystery to both of us that deaf students move their lips or read a sign in
GebaerdenSchrift with Mundbilder – and nevertheless do not associate these
mouth movements with German words as we do.  We referr in this case to some
association of the spoken word – while a deaf child might perform this part
of the sign just as a movement part of the lips not knowing that the
lipreading would lead to a quick identification of the German word. ...
There is probably still lots of room for research – right Erika? You are
very welcome to visit us again any time. You want me ask if you can rent the
appartement again? Your research and the way you expalin these questions to
me are a very welcome source for greater attention.



Hope this helps – sorry for my English ;-(


All best Stefan   








Von: SignWriting List: Read and Write Sign Languages [mailto:SW-L at LISTSE
<mailto:SW-L at LISTSERV.VALENCIACOLLEGE.EDU> ] Im Auftrag von Erika
Gesendet: Sonntag, 22. Dezember 2013 23:18
Betreff: Re: Teaching Signwriting to deaf children in Tunisia A PROPOSAL FOR


Hi James - Stefan can of course speak for himself, but since I'm at the
computer I'll just briefly note from my observations in his class he does
use both German Sign Language and Signed German - and clearly treats them as
different codes (i.e., SG is framed as German in a different modality not as
a sign language). I think he was focusing on his use of Signed German in his
earlier message to highlight the ways in which he thinks SW can be useful
for teaching a spoken language. I'd never been comfortable with the use of a
signed version of a spoken language in other educational settings I've
observed, but the way that Stefan distinguishes it from German Sign Language
and uses each to different ends - or as a means to compare grammatical
structures between the two codes- was really interesting.

Stefan, please correct me if I'm misframing anything you do.


On Sun, Dec 22, 2013 at 5:08 PM, James Shepard-Kegl <kegl at>


I think you and I are going to have to respectfully disagree.

I would point out some issues for all:

1)  The methodology that Stefan has described is not a BILINGUAL approach;
rather, it is a BI-MODEL methodology.  Signed German is not a language
different from German; it is a manual form of German.  Use it if you must;
but recognize it for what it is.

2)  Referring to name-signs in SignWriting as pictograms may be appropriate
for a Deaf child on his or her first day of school, but know this:  by that
logic, showing the kid his written German name is also using a pictogram.

3)  It truly is more difficult to write a sign than to recognize one.  But,
that is true of written English and German, too.  Both othorgraphic systems
are phonetic systems: German employs an aural based phonetic code;
SignWriting is, if you will, a VISUALLY PHONETIC system.  Most hearing
children use a whole word approach when learning to read, but understand
that the code itself is based on sounds that are put together to form words.
AND HERE IS MY POINT:  To Deaf chidren, a written German word is a pictogram
-- a jumble of otherwise pointless letters whose order must be memorized.
But, when shown how SignWriting works, these children can immediately
appreciate the concept that writing systems use a code.  In the case of
SignWriting, that code is merely symbols for handshapes, movement and
direction, contact, location, etc.  Only when a Deaf child recognizes this,
can he or she solve the mystery of how hearing people can so consistently
spell words in German so accurately
 .  You see, as a hearing person I can quickly relate to the concept that
SignWriting is a visually phonetic code.  First, I am not blind, so I can
see that it is.  Second, I am already comfortable with the notion of an
aurally phonetic writing system.  Alas, the Deaf child -- or the profoundly
deaf child, anyway -- may never actually know what a sound is, just like
chldren born totally blind cannot imagine colors.  But with SignWriting, the
Deaf child might grasp the idea of a sound based writing code by analogy.

-- James



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