[Sw-l] Questions

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Sun Sep 27 13:56:13 EDT 2020

SignWriting List
September 27, 2020

Hello SignWriting List members, and Annie Kent -

Thank you, Annie, for the questions. My answers are below, between your questions.

> On Sep 25, 2020, at 4:16 PM, Annie Kent <annierekent at gmail.com> wrote:

> Could you explain to me the status of SignWriting in 2020?

Val’s answer:
SignWriting is strong and well in 2020 and will be for generations to come. New developments continue, and I receive emails and announcements from SignWriting users almost weekly, of their new projects and accomplishments. We do not have statistics, but based on our SignWriting Facebook contacts, and our private emails from others, I am surprised and amazed at the amount of activity that continues, after 45 years of SignWriting development. I am semi-retired now, but the world continues to write sign languages, and people are not stopping working with SignWriting - it seems to be increasing. So I am not stopping working when I can ;-)

I believe this is because the SignWriting script is a true writing system used by thousands of people in many countries - and it is not connected with me, or our SignWriting organization, or any one group any longer - The SignWriting script is “out there” because it is free on the internet. Anyone can download instruction books and literature, use free software online and participate freely in discussion groups without restrictions. As SignWriting is used by new generations of researchers, software developers, students and sign language users, the writing system evolves naturally as is needed.

That is why I am grateful to all of you who have contacted us, and continue to contact us, to inform us about projects using SignWriting, and that is why I am encouraging everyone to post information about your projects on the SignWriting List and also on our Sutton SignWriting Discussion Group page on Facebook - 

I can inform you about our SignWriting team’s projects for 2020. But projects in Brazil, for example, where SignWriting is used, have to be announced by the Brazilians themselves, and this is true for all countries that have projects - such as Belgium and wow - there are so many projects in other countries I do not know where to begin - so it would be so cool if people will post information about their projects!

Here, in our small SignWriting team - we have some great news about new developments. There are around 5 of us - working from our homes in the US - behind our computers (smile) - If you are interested I can send you some links to some of our new projects - and I hope all of our team members will feel free to post to tell us about what we are focusing on right now..

But regarding Brazil - this week we got an invitation to present a 50-minute presentation at a new Conference in Brazil that will be online in October. I cannot give you the details yet because they are still preparing their web site about the event, but when I know more I will inform you.

> Is it still being used by deaf learners?

YES. Absolutely. But each country and each school and each family and each individual choose how they want to use “writing sign language” in their daily lives. There are no statistics to give you and there are no controls. SignWriting is free to use. Some use it in Deaf Education and some do not. But when it is used, we have good reports from the users that it is useful to write a language.

> Is it taught in Deaf schools?

YES. But each school in each country has to choose to use it, and again I have no statistics. I know it is used in schools in Brazil. Later I can send you a photograph of a school building in Brazil that has written the name of the school on the outside of the building in two languages: spoken language (Portuguese) and sign language (LIBRAS).

Deaf Education is a complicated topic. As you know, SignWriting was used in the Danish school system from 1982 to 1988, and I have a research document on the project in Danish and I have been meaning to translate this document into English, which I can do myself. I will send you links later. But from what the teachers say from that time, it was successful for Deaf children.

Since 1988, the Danish school system changed and they no longer use Danish Sign Language with children as much as they did at that time. I will explain this more under your question about cochlear implants.

So if the school system chooses to use a sign language, then SignWriting is useful.

A side note: SignWriting is still used in Denmark, with parents of Deaf children and also with interpreter training - Hearing people use sign languages too, and need a way to write the language.

SignWriting is also used to teach ASL and other sign languages to hearing and Deaf students of adult ages, or high school ages, at universites and high schools in the US and elsewhere. But that  is not Deaf Education. That is language education to adults who want to learn a language. Different venue.

> Is it being used less with current medical technology?

The real question should be: Are sign languages used less with current medical technology? I don’t think so. Sign languages are real, naturally evolved languages and they will always be used around the world with or without technology. And wherever there are sign languages used, writing those languages has value to users. So SignWriting is connected with sign languages, not deafness. Even if deafness was “cured” (and it is not cured), there will always be sign languages and a need to write them. So SignWriting is not connected with deafness, but instead connected to the languages it writes.

> How do cochlear implants affect the use of SignWriting?

I believe I just answered this question above. Cochlear implants have definitely changed Deaf Education, at least in some cases, as in Denmark, where they were hoping that by implanting every Deaf child at a very young age, the children would no longer need sign language in Deaf Education. Because Denmark is a small country, this was done throughout the country and so that is a case where the technology tried to replace sign language. But as it turns out, not every Deaf child does well with the technology, so language was not necessarily enhanced for all and sign language is still used among the Deaf in Denmark, just not in the school system, except for hearing people like interpreters!! 

If anyone here on the List knows more about how things are going in Denmark and other countries related to the cochlear implant, please feel free to inform us, because my information is old.

> I have learned from research that some people don't think SignWriting is necessary especially with the creation of Stokoe notation, I beg to differ, but even with the creation of Stokoe notation, why was signwriting created?

One of the honors of my life, in 1977, was to present together with Dr. Stokoe at the National Symposium on Sign Language Research and Teaching in Chicago. Dr. Stokoe invented his system before mine. I started SignWriting in 1974. Dr Stokoe published his book earlier. Dr. Stokoe was a linguist and his work is groundbreaking and without Dr. Stokoe’s work, we would not have the sign language research we have today. So my thanks to Dr. Stokoe extends forever ;-)

But I was from a different world - I was a "movement notator". I did not know anything about linguistics or the world of sign languages in 1974, when I was hired by the University of Copenhagen to “apply” my movement writing system to a sign language research project at the University. I was asked to compare the gestures or movements of hearing people, to those of Deaf people using sign language, and of course, even though I had never really looked at sign languages before and knew nothing about them, it was very obvious that the Deaf in the videos they showed me were using a real language, and the hearing people sitting on a couch talking spoken language had minimal gestures of their arms and hands - I am sure you are all saying - well of course! - but this was 1974, and sign language research was just beginning in Copenhagen at that time. So it was this group I worked with, at the University of Copenhagen, who introduced me to Dr. Stokoe’s book and of course I thought it was fascinating.

So in summary, Dr. Stokoe’s system and Sutton SignWriting are compared in a wonderful thesis written by Joe Martin - thank you Joe!

Linguistics Forum
https://www.signwriting.org/forums/linguistics <https://www.signwriting.org/forums/linguistics>

A Linguistic Comparison of Stokoe Notation & Sutton SignWriting by Joe Martin
https://www.signwriting.org/forums/linguistics/ling008.html <https://www.signwriting.org/forums/linguistics/ling008.html>

So, SignWriting is a movement-writing system used on a daily basis by signers and used to publish sign language literature (lots and lots of published literature written in sign languages) and Dr. Stokoe’s system is used, I believe, more for linguistic research. I do not believe that the Stokoe system is able to write the New Testament in ASL, as we have just published in SignWriting -

I will send an email next with links to many cool projects and publications using SignWriting - it may take me a day or two to compile the listing - it is extensive -

Thank you for your questions, Annie, and I hope everyone will start adding new messages and questions, so we can keep the discussion going -

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Val ;-)



Valerie Sutton
SignWriting List moderator
sutton at signwriting.org

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