[Sw-l] SignWriter Newspaper

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Tue Nov 9 16:02:41 UTC 2021

SignWriting List
November 9, 2021

Hello SW List members, and Honza from the Czech Republic!

Great to hear from you, Honza. I am so happy to hear of your courses that include SignWriting at the Czech University. And thank you for remembering the historic SignWriter Newspaper, which was our first official presentation of SignWriting to the world.

SignWriter Newspaper, 1981-1984

11,000 copies of the tabloid-size newspaper were distributed to organizations and educational groups and schools in several countries, four times a year - it was a quarterly, written by hand with ink pens. We also used transfer sheets with wax symbols on boards, and I have the pasted boards here in my home. Everyone got the same newspaper, in all countries, so there were not special versions for any one country.

And it all was a grand experiment…to see if readers were interested…and to also work with wonderful Deaf journalists who had never even thought about writing their sign language before, but I asked them to try, and they did a great job! The newspaper was in written ASL and also some Danish Sign Language articles too. It is because of the SignWriter Newspaper, that SignWriting was taught in the Danish School System from 1982 to 1988. I bravely mailed SignWriter Newspapers to Danish signers in 1982, and they asked me to return to Denmark to teach their teachers and researchers. It was a great honor to see Danish Deaf children writing and reading Danish Sign Language.

Other projects were stimulated by the SignWriter Newspaper around the world. But there was also much debate. None of us were sure what version of SignWriting would be used more…Did sign language readers want to read a stick-figure writing system? Or did they want to only read the handshapes and facial expressions and movement symbols without the stick figure? Denmark, at that time, chose to keep the stick figure, but others, like writers of ASL, chose to drop the stick figure.

At the end of the publication in 1984, our Deaf ASL staff who wrote the newspaper made their decision... They demanded to change to writing in vertical columns, and to write EXPRESSIVE only. Of course, I agreed and we stopped publishing the newspaper to try to find a way to re-write all the books to be vertical and Expressive, plus we needed a way to type SignWriting so badly. Writing by hand had become exhausting.

And so we thank Richard Gleaves for developing SignWriter, a sign language processor for typing SignWriting, in 1986. SignWriter (the computer program) saved us!

SignWriter Computer Program

Now, to answer your questions -

1. Were all copies written by hand? And how did we make copies that were distributed?

The original boards were all written by hand. It was written on paper with an ink pen and then we pasted the handwritten inked paper onto boards, tabloid size. We pasted each page like a piece of artwork onto boards with photos and we hired a graphics team to give us big headline type. In 1981-1984 the personal computer was not used, instead we used a typesetting machine at a graphics studio to give us the big type and then we pasted it all together.

Then once the boards for a 20-page tabloid newspaper were all pasted, photos were taken of each board - I remember the graphics artist going into a dark room to develop the photos - and then we had negatives of every page as it should look. Then a printing company near where I lived in Irvine, California, donated the printing of 11,000 copies, and they donated the printing costs every three months for 4 years - pretty amazing!

The printing company also donated the time to help us put address labels on the newspapers for distribution, and then our non-profit organization raised the money to pay for the postage to so many amazing places. I hope we sent to the Czech Republic. I cannot remember ;-)

2. I do have something more, but I need to go out this morning to an event. I hope this afternoon I can take photos of some of the original boards, plus I do have some computerized reductions somewhere! I will search for them later today -

Thanks for listening to me about the history of the SignWriter Newspaper. It was a major research project, outside of academic institutions.

I believe that sign languages can truly provide reading experiences for signers. What I loved about the newspaper was, even though it was new, with so many different ideas of how to write, we got postal mail, sent back to us, written in SignWriting from strangers who never met us or knew about SignWriting before receiving the SignWriter Newspaper in the mail. People wrote to us in SignWriting! And it was usually stick figures receptively facing the reader, and yet those penpal letters, from people all over the world, kept coming! It shows that is was easy enough to figure out, and it was astonishing how readable their penpal letters were…

I will take photos of the boards later today -

Have a wonderful day -

Val ;-)

Valerie Sutton
sutton at signwiting.org


> On Nov 9, 2021, at 4:15 AM, Honza <honza at RUCE.CZ> wrote:
> Hello Val and others!
> I teach SignWriting at Czech university for years, recently I started to teach SL interpreters too and I teach them about SW history as well.
> Now it is 40 years, SignWriter Newspaper appeared. It is clear, that it was written by hand, but did you make all copies, you distributed abroad by hand as well, or was there any way how to make copies?
> I realized, that I don`t know more details and there are only few small pictures I can show to the students. Do you have something more?
> Thank you
> Honza



Valerie Sutton
SignWriting List moderator
sutton at signwriting.org

Post Messages to the SignWriting List:
sw-l at listserv.valenciacollege.edu

SignWriting List Archives & Home Page

Join, Leave or Change How You Receive SW List Messages
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/sw-l/attachments/20211109/6f7adf51/attachment.htm>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: hist004.jpg
Type: image/jpeg
Size: 11215 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/sw-l/attachments/20211109/6f7adf51/attachment.jpg>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: Valerie_Signature_01.jpg
Type: image/jpeg
Size: 23096 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/sw-l/attachments/20211109/6f7adf51/attachment-0001.jpg>

More information about the Sw-l mailing list