A New Writing System for ASL

Discussion in 'Sign Language & Deaf Education' started by natalie, Nov 22, 2004.

  1. natalie

    natalie New Member

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    Hello to all,

    My name is Natalie. I am an undergraduate Linguistics/Psychology student at McGill University, and I am currently working on a research proposal to pursue the development of a writing system for ASL. If things go well, then in the new year, I intend to follow through with this proposal.

    First and foremost, however, I want/need to know YOUR opinion! How do you feel about ASL having a written form? Do you think it would be beneficial or do you think that it would be a complete waste of time and resources? Do you think it would have any hope of ever being accepted by the Deaf community? What do you think of Sutton’s existing system of SignWriting? Etc.


    Just to give you a better understanding of my idea, here are a few details...

    1. The writing system will be logographic, meaning that arbitrary, abstract (not pictographic) symbols will be used to depict the vocabulary of ASL. Chinese writing is an example of such a logographic system. It will NOT be an attempt to directly depict signs in a written form (ie. SignWriting). I do not believe that Sutton’s approach is appropriate for a signed language, such as ASL. The signs of SignWriting are overly complex in all of their detail, which makes them too cumbersome to be written by hand and renders them impractical for everyday usage. Such an approach is unnecessary and is the result of taking techniques that are meant for spoken languages and using them on a signed language.


    2. Word order and grammatical markers will reflect the grammar of ASL, not of English, or of any other spoken language.


    3. The primary goal of this project is to empower the culturally Deaf. It is NOT meant in any way to imply that deaf people are somehow less capable of achieving perfect literacy in English. Its purpose is to provide the Deaf with the means to build bodies of literature and to record their history in their own native language, without recourse to a foreign language (ie. English). Imagine what it would be like if this very discussion board were written in ASL! However, to the extent that, in reality, SOME deaf people are functionally illiterate in English, a written form of ASL will provide those individuals with an alternate avenue to becoming fully-functional adults in Deaf society. (Note: This is assuming that written ASL will be easier to acquire than written English, and requires that the individual be a fluent, if not native, speaker of ASL.) Now at this point, I imagine that some of you are thinking, “Wait a minute. One’s degree of literacy has nothing do with one’s status in Deaf society. English literacy pertains only to the hearing world, it has nothing to do with the Deaf world!” Indeed, if any of you are thinking this, please tell me. I am curious to know whether or not that hypothetical statement is really true. I have noticed in some of the discussion threads on this board that people have attributed poor literacy to sheer laziness and lack of willpower or motivation to read. Since you are reading this, don’t forget that you yourself are a literate individual, so think carefully. If you identify yourself as Deaf, how do you really feel about others who are illiterate? I can’t imagine that the stigma would be the same as it is in the hearing world, but is it truly non-existent in the deaf world?


    4. Written ASL is not meant to replace written English. Deaf children are strongly encouraged to learn both writing systems. Indeed, I believe that learning to write ASL first will greatly facilitate the later learning of written English. The psychological impact of having successfully attained literacy in one language, regardless of which language it is, will have significant rewards. Children and teachers will be confident in the fact that they CAN become literate, and so learning to read English will no longer be such a daunting task. In addition, the metalinguistic awareness that comes with literacy can be applied to learning to read English. What I mean by metalinguistic awareness is the knowledge that symbols represent signs, which in turn, represent things, and that the order in which the symbols are written reflects the grammatical rules of ASL, etc. Although the grammar of English is different than that of ASL, I subscribe to theory that there are certain universal grammatical principles that are shared by all human languages. Mastery of ASL, both written and spoken/signed will allow the child to capitalize on these principles during his/her acquisition of English. It is important to note that instruction in written ASL is targeted especially for deaf children of deaf parents. This is because prior fluency in ASL is the only factor that will make written ASL easier to learn than written English. However, the statistics show that deaf children of deaf parents already experience much greater success at achieving literacy in English than those of hearing parents. Therefore, it is a legitimate concern that having a written form of ASL will detract from the motivation to learn written English. This line of argumentation should sound familiar, and I do not believe it to be true, any more than I believe that learning to sign draws away from learning read, write, or speak English.


    5. For those who are concerned that it would be too difficult to memorize the multitude of symbols of which a logographic system is composed, studies have shown that children who are learning a logographic system learn to read and write their first words earlier than children who are learning an alphabetic system. The reason for this is that a logographic system does not require the child to learn how to map the phonemes of his/her spoken language to the graphemes of his/her written language. The development of this phonological awareness is the greatest obstacle to both deaf and hearing learners alike. Note also, that Japanese employs what is primarily a logographic system, yet Japan boasts the greatest literacy rate in the world!


    This is getting to be a very long post, so I will stop here. But please, I encourage you to post a response! The more discussion the better. All opinions and viewpoints are welcome. Please indicate in your reply whether you identify yourself as Deaf, HOH, Hearing, etc. I am also interested in seeing personal testimonials about how you learned to read, if you can remember, or how your children learned/are learning to read.

    Also, if you would like to receive updates from me about this project, or are perhaps interesting in becoming a collaborator, please feel free to write me an email. My address is lilstar@snail-mail.net


    Thank you in advance for your input!

    -natalie.
     
  2. TiaraPrincess

    TiaraPrincess New Member

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    You do not need to be apologetic. Illiteracy in deaf children and adults IS a problem. Everything is reading. I don't go a day without reading to get my information. I don't go a day not needing to write apropriately off-site. I think that the Deaf Community is too attached to their language to even bother to change. Deaf children can learn SEE which can make up for that fact without bringing up another way just because you don't want to let go off a long legacy of ASL Just use it, stick with one language. Children will pick up. If other children in other countries can pick up their own different signs in whatever grammar form, then deaf children in the USA are capable of learning SEE. Make them read, write, use SEE to make English a part of your language. ASL is not a 'technical' or 'official' language in my PERSONAL opinion. It's a form for the deaf to communicate. I don't see ASL written in books, so that's why I don't believe it's a true language like English, Creole, Mandarin, etc.

    I am not sure about the system you're implying about symbols since I don't know or see how it is done, but if it might help with English, then teachers need to be strong to stick to one sign language for the 99 percent of their time in school and home with parents. I think the problem is laziness because it's too difficult and daunting to teach some deaf people to understand and write English. We need more bright and dedicated teachers who never give up.
     
  3. johnesco

    johnesco New Member

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    Hearie learning ASL

    The strangest issue I have with sign is keeping notes.

    I can write English "gloss" for signs, but I confuse the meaning of the sign it stands for, with the English word.

    While English has some representation of sound when you write it, it's not always phonetic. So symbols for signs need not be visually descriptive as the Sign Writing system is to be readable. But the Sign Writing system is the equivalent to a phonetic version of English. That is you don't need to know the meaning of the sign to make the sign.

    But making a written version of sign poses some interesting things.

    In English, what is written is not always parallel with what is spoken.

    Even the way I write now is not exactly how I would speak.

    My words here do not have the rise and fall of tone as my voice would have, nor would a symbolic version of sign contain the "nuances" of actually signing.

    I'm sorry if this is all very vague... just things to think about.

    When language was first written many things changed. What could a written version of sign create?
     
  4. natalie

    natalie New Member

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    No need to apologize for your vagueness. It's a vague subject with equally vague answers. I've actually already thought a lot about those questions, and have even tried to look for some answers. A number have been works have been written on the subject of the impact of a new writing system on purely oral cultures, but those findings are not directly applicable to this situation, since the deaf community is bilingual (by this I don't mean that every member of the community is bilingual, but there are two languages in use within the community), and one of the languages already makes use of a writing system. What I need, but have yet to find, is a study that looks at a community, which speaks language x, whose children are educated and literate in language y, and is introduced to a written form of language x. Does anybody know of any?

    But here's what I've come up with so far..

    1) Development of a written register. Like you were saying, people don't write like they speak. I expect that the written register will use a wider variety of sentence constructions and vocabulary words. (ie. it's, like, one thing, for like, a 'valley girl' to, like, say the word 'like', like, a thousand times in any given conversation, but it's, like, altogether different for her to, like, write them all down) Which leads to my second point,

    2) Increased vocabulary. When I speak, I use only a fraction of the vocabulary words that I know. The great majority of them only get used when I write. ASLers are already proficient a creating new signs for words they don't have or don't know, the development of a writing system will encourage this trend.

    These first two points taken together, would lead to the third..

    3) Increased status of ASL. In bilingual communities, it is rare to find that both languages share an equal status. One language is generally more prestigious than the other. In this case, it is easy for English to claim superiority since it has a writing system, whereas ASL does not. Take TiaraPrincess' comment, for example (sorry, tiaraprincess, for making an example of you! >_<).

    TiaraPrincess, would seeing ASL in books change your opinion?

    Johnesco, have you got any more ideas or predictions?

    I'm also not too sure that ASL even has a lower status in the deaf community, it certainly does in hearing America, as do all minority languages. Although I can name a handful of deafies who have labelled ASL as being a 'primitive' language, is this opinion at all widespread? And while we're on the topic, are there any status-related issues amongst the signed languages (ie. ASL > CSL, LSF > LSQ, BSL > Auslan, etc)?
     
  5. johnesco

    johnesco New Member

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    More vagueness

    Here are a few more ramblings, you seemed have turned my latest one into something that made sense.

    Chinese is odd. There is 1 major way to write it, but many versions of (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc) of pronunciation. So if a written sign language was made that did not represent the actual movement of the sign, you are bound to see a written language that is signed differently by different people and regions.

    In Chinese this means two people who can't understand each other verbally can understand each other in writing. In English, if I wrote down "I washed the car and walked the dog" and asked someone to read it, I'd get a slightly different version is Boston than Houston, but no difference in meaning.

    I wonder how differently works written in this ASL script would be signed.

    Chinese symbols evolved from much more hieroglyphic origins and I always wondered if sign writing (if widely used) would morph too.

    An interesting thing about Spanish. It's VERY phonetic. Someone with a little training can learn to read Spanish outloud to someone and be understood even if they don't understand it themselves. With sign writing I've correctly formed signs that I didn't understand.

    When I program, I don't long for English because the vocabulary of programing is specific to what I want to communicate. I think a written version of sign might help hearing and deaf alike learn sign.

    I think it would also help with English... it's a stretch but here's an idea.
    Maybe written ASL would prevent Signglish... that is .. English that is written in ASL word order. Maybe it wouldn't prevent it at all. Being bi-lingual, (ok almost 3 if you count sign) I know that a partial mastery of either language hurts BOTH vocabularies. Clarity and separation of each language causes an increase of mastery of both language.

    To speak Spanish well I have to THINK in Spanish. I can't sign well until I start to THINK in sign, but this only happens when I go to deaf chats. A written form that is NOT English would be helpful to me learning more ASL.
     
  6. TiaraPrincess

    TiaraPrincess New Member

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    .......not really because 99.9 percent of books and language are spoken and written. Sign is just.....different to me. To me, it's a visual way of communicating in place of voice. It doesn't really correlate to me. Okay, here it is. Deafies have to learn the English language if they want to write papers, read newspapers, write a resume, read books...it has to be in their native language where they are born like the rest of their people. Who's going to understand an ASL resume? lol, but I think this might help a little more with understanding what I mean. I hope it helps... Some people think Ebony is a language? Come on, is that a joke? I think it's a joke. It still uses English, but differently and adding up fancy language because you know how black people likes to talk. Still, we can't use ebony in a resume. I think it's a way of being a 'groupie' or should I say community language of their own.
     
  7. TiaraPrincess

    TiaraPrincess New Member

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    Something came to my mind about Chinese deaf children. I read that these children have better manual dexterity writing symbols better than hearing chinese children. Don't know if that helps or what lol.
     
  8. natalie

    natalie New Member

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    Always happy to receive more ramblings!

    Yes, Chinese is very odd. The writing follows the grammar of Mandarin (of which I can speak a little). But if you speak Cantonese (of which I can speak much less), sometimes the written grammar doesn't actually follow what you say.

    But then again, I was hoping on capitalizing on the oddity of Chinese. Since the symbols are abstract, it would allow me to gloss over some of the differences between what are probably a wide range of dialects of ASL. That way, we can skip debates over which ASL is the 'real' ASL.

    Oh, I most definitely think it would. The only problem is, as you've pointed out, that it's not being widely used. It's a bit of a vicious cycle, it needs to be simple in order to be used, but must be used to be simplified. :dunno:

    Yes, my writing system would lose that versatility.

    It seems to be a common misconception among deafies that ASL is just manual "broken" English. Which is bewildering to me since they are all well-aware of the distinction between ASL and manual-coded systems such as SEE. I hope that a written ASL can make it easier for kids to distinguish between the two languages. I was kind of getting at that with the 'metalinguistic awareness' part of my original proposal.
     
  9. natalie

    natalie New Member

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    Oh no! It's not a joke at all. As a linguist, I believe that Black English Vernacular (BEV) is a full language on its own.

    But you're right, a resume written in ASL is no more useful in an English-speaking environment than is a resume written in Chinese. And it's a very valid point against which I have nothing really convincing to say.
     
  10. TiaraPrincess

    TiaraPrincess New Member

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    Well, I am glad there was something valid to say :).
     
  11. AvengedSevenfol

    AvengedSevenfol New Member

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    one major misconception english speakers have is that you can't fit more than one language into thier head, while some countries speak 3-4+ languages.


    english, spoken/written, and sign "spoken"/written don't HAVE to be mutually exclusive, you can have both.

    to me it boils down to, theres a visual-"spoken" form of sign language, there's really no reason not to have a written version.

    there's sign poetry, musicals, movies and god knows what else....why can't these people put thier own words into books, poems, and scripts without having to translate it to english, where as everyone knows, stuff gets lost in translations
     
  12. TiaraPrincess

    TiaraPrincess New Member

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    Then why do we have so many problems with grammar if it is so easy? I am thinking that their main reason for going to school is to learn English. Why would you teach English through ASL if the purpose is to teach their native language which is English like everyone else----like their words around them? ASL is meant to be a no-word language. It's visual period. Many of them don't understand grammar usage including articles like 'is', 'are'. ASL is different than English in grammar plus it's a words language. It's best to use one language as prominent in all of the courses and keep ASL in one hour of class daily teaching, but not for teaching English, Grammar too much of the time. Some children are confused than others. Others will prove capable of absorbing much more information easier, but that's not a blanket for all.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2004
  13. natalie

    natalie New Member

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    Why are all the "little" words of English so precious? Why should ASL be any less of a language if it doesn't have them? Languages all over the world vary in how many "little words" they have. Language is a means to and end - communication. It doesn't matter what the language looks like, so long as the message is the same. ASL, I believe, is capable of expressing the same ideas that English allows us to express.

    Also, I do not agree that the purpose of teaching ASL is to teach English. The whole point of bilingual-bicultural education is to give children the opportunity to be fluent in two separate languages and comfortable with two different cultures. Why does school have to be all about learning English? Why can't it be about learning ASL too? And for a child who was raised speaking ASL, his/her first language is NOT English, it's ASL.

    My own education was bilingual in French and English, and I cherish it. My French grammar is not perfect. I still don't know how to use all the "little" words properly. But there's more to it than just linguistic competence, it gives you whole different approach to the world. I wish that everybody would be raised speaking at least one other language.

    Deaf children have trouble acquiring English because they have less exposure to it. In the absence of a sufficiently rich stimulus, the infant's brain will not process the incoming information as language and will therefore not 'naturally' acquire that language. One must therefore artificially enhance the stimulus to encourage natural acquisition (ie. SEE). But time is critical. The longer the delay prior to the onset of intervention, the more difficult the language will be to acquire.

    On top of that, a writing system is a technology. It is meant to be learned AFTER the language in question has already been mastered. The human brain is not designed to acquire language from print. Otherwise, we wouldn't have so much trouble deciphering the writing systems of ancient civilizations such as Mayan or Egyptian heiroglyphics.

    Learning the grammar of another language is NOT easy. Nobody is saying that it is.
     
  14. TiaraPrincess

    TiaraPrincess New Member

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    No it isn't easy to learn. That's fine how you view the language, but I see it differently. It's visual, it's not use in books, they are not words. I don't want anyone to be offended, but I feel it is not a language like such I mentioned. I feel that it's best to teach deaf children what they will use mostly in their life around them. The question is, how is ASL useful in every situation besides teaching a concept, interpreting or chatting? *shrug* In my life, I don't see how ASL will be useful at all. I don't find ASL useful anywhere in my life. The only place I would find it useful is if I could meet deaf people who do use ASL for entertainment and hanging out. That's why I think English is important. At least for me.... If your profession in life is not anything that requires good writing or good communication skills, then I guess it doesn't matter to use those little words that doesn't seem "precious" to some people.

    One of the question is how do we teach deaf children so that they can learn ASL and English fluently? I think it's important to learn both. No one needs to adapt to your language because you won't learn theirs if you can.
     
  15. AvengedSevenfol

    AvengedSevenfol New Member

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    it's my understanding, though granted i have very litte, of chinese and japanese styles of writing do not read word for word, such as...this symbol doesn't equal this word, it symbolizes the idea behind the word...if that makes any sense.

    if the only reason you don't see ASL as a real language is because you don't see it in books, than that's the entire point of this thread, to put it in books...if the reason you don't view it as a language because there's no nation of deaf people, i think thats a flawed philospohy. not every country has 1 language, doesn't india have over 200 languages?


    i see ASL used every single day where i work, it's mainly deaf/hoh people talking to each other, or to an intepreter, or to some of the hearing people who know it.

    who knows, perhaps if there were a written form of ASL, it would becaome more popular, and hearing people would get more interested in the language.

    you wouldn't use a written form of ASL to teach english anymore than you would use german to teach english, apples and oranges.
     
  16. TiaraPrincess

    TiaraPrincess New Member

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    There are deaf people, but they choose to have a Deaf Community with ideas I find very silly. Deaf people are born to Enlgish-speaking parents in American (okay, this is standard. I am not talking about Chinese parents moving here with a deaf child or deaf parents of deaf children). Deaf people does not have a unique race. The whole idea of language and ASL is adaptation to accommodate your needs. I don't see the deaf community as a culture. I see it more like a separation somehow. I am a deaf person, and I read lips+use a cochlear implant to communicate and still stay with my family and use their real custom. I don't need to alienate myself just because I am deaf. That doesn't give me an excuse not to study the main language which is English. I believe in my culture where I came out from and learn my English like the rest of the nation. Resumes are not written in ASL, captioning is not in ASL, contracts are not in ASL. I wouldn't say it's an official language as of yet if that isn't anywhere like English and other languages. To me, it's still a form of communication visually for deaf people. Why don't the wheelchair society have a language of their own? Would you say speech-impaired people who communicate through computers have a language of their own? No, it's a form of adaptation to help them communicate. I know some of you don't like what I say, but this is how I see it. I am still not convienced that ASL is a true language. If it was, I'd change my mind.
     
  17. Tousi

    Tousi Well-Known Member

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    TiaraPrincess, I understand the emotions and thoughts your'e bringing forth. However, may I proffer that ASL IS a language because linguists say it technically is? It meets all the criteria for being called a language of and by itself. I have a problem with it being used in academia(aka bi-bi) because I haven't seen its usage there leading children to literacy. But on everyday, informal, on-the-street environments ASL is great and furthermore, because of the deaf leadership in this country, it is also the most politically prevalent.

    I just don't see its usage as being successful in guiding deaf and HoH children to reading and writing with any high degree of success so here we are........
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2004
  18. deafdyke

    deafdyke Well-Known Member

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    TP, the grammar defiecency is seen across the WHOLE of the dhh population, irregardless of methodology. That is not directly the fault of ASL. Oral kids, SEE kids AND ASL kids ALL have these defiencies. That is b/c deaf kids make the same sort of grammartical and syntaxial mistakes as would a native speaker of French, Italian, Farsi, Afrikaans or any other language. I have to say that I do not think that any methodology will produce 100% fluent users of English. Even oral kids and auditory-verbal kids have significent difficulty with grammar. I remember reading in an Oticon pamphlet that it's common for oral kids (who are as you put it immersed in the language) to make mistakes such as saying "How many spiders have legs?" rather then "How many legs do spiders have?" According to your theory, b/c oralized kids are immersed in the language (without exposure to ASL) they should do better then ASL firsters.
    Yes, there are oral kids with a very fluent grasp of English, BUT there are ASL firsters or oral firsters who ALSO Sign (they may use Sign 'terps in school for example) who score high on the verbal section of the SATs (and only accomondation they have is an interpreter who signs the directions and does not Sign the test!)
    I have taken forign languages in school, (French and Latin) and when the teacher teaches them as a subject unrelated to English I had difficulty understanding grammar and syntax, but when it was taught as related to English I did SO much better, b/c I could draw on my knowledge in English.
    (eg how words are related helped me as well as noticing simlair grammartical features) I can speak French semi-well but I will never be as fluent as I am in English!!!! I know you can Sign decently, but you probaly don't understand as well as someone who has been immersed even since late childhood in it! See what I mean? It IS possible for dhh kids to aquire two languages simultansously...if hearing kid can do that, then there's no reason whatsoever why a dhh kid can't aqquire both English AND Sign together!
     
  19. Tousi

    Tousi Well-Known Member

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    No easy answers, huh? We can debate until the cows come home! At least we are stimulated and that counts for something! LOL!
     
  20. sthiessen

    sthiessen New Member

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    Logographic or Phonemic??

    I am Deaf myself and involved in a Deaf Nonprofit that is interested in the writing of sign languages. We are presently active proponents of the SignWriting system for a number of reasons.

    1) SignWriting has incredible flexibility to depict the phonetic or phonemic details of writing ASL. Compared to HamNoSys, SignFont, or Stokoe, SignWriting's flexibility is very handy and especially useful when it comes to ASL story-telling and poetry.

    2) SignWriting is rather easy to learn ... at least on the reading side. We have done a pilot SW literacy class and have found that the reading of SignWriting is easily picked up by all of the students. While writing will take longer than reading, it is certainly not impossible or too difficult. Most did well on their writing assignments. In fact, a 60-year-old deaf woman who had never seen the SignWriting system before this fall was able to read through the Level 2 Goldilocks book that Valerie Sutton published.

    3) You made the following statement in your comments:

    "The signs of SignWriting are overly complex in all of their detail, which makes them too cumbersome to be written by hand and renders them impractical for everyday usage. Such an approach is unnecessary and is the result of taking techniques that are meant for spoken languages and using them on a signed language."

    On the contrary ... SignWriting is not using approaches meant for spoken languages because that was exactly the failing of the previous systems I have mentioned. HamNoSys, Stokoe, SignFont all focused on making written sign language a linear stream. That can be done for spoken languages because the production of speech is a linear stream. Sign languages however are 3D so you have to look at sign languages differently. Sign languages are visual and sign languages utilize 3D space as part of its grammar. Sign langauges use facial expressions and movement modifications as part of its grammar. So there are a number of factors that must be considered in accurately depicting sign language on the written page.

    Valerie has done an excellent job by focusing on movement. By describing the movements rather than the linguistic meaning behind the signs, she has made it easy to capture the necessary elements of each sign. Movement becomes more critical when you consider deaf poetry or storytelling. In ASL storytelling or poetry, there are sections where the signer will not necessarily sign what they say. They will use mime and gesture intermingled with signing to express their point. While I have not been able to find a linguistic analysis of these larger segments of signing style, they too are bound by some language rules of which I am still wanting to study. Stokoe, HamNoSys, and SignFont fail miserably at being able to capture these elements of ASL storytelling and poetry. These elements will appear in dialogue when a person is sharing a story.

    My concern is that a logographic system will also fail in being able to capture these segments of mime and gesture which are not focused on words, per se, but the painting of a specific picture in the mind of the listener using tools available to the signer. These elements must be considered in order for a writing system to be successful for sign langauges.

    4) SignWriting does have different means of making the writing simpler. For example, there are handwriting conventions that make writing the print version easier. Valerie has also developed a shorthand version of the SignWriting system which is much easier to write. However, because she is focusing on completing all the details of a IMWA (international movement writing alphabet), she has not been able to put the time into writing up all the details of this shorthand system. From those who used it many years ago, it has much promise to become a handwriting version that can also be understood as well as the print version. Lastly, you only have to write the details that are necessary when your audience already knows the sign language you are using. So you can reduce the number of symbols used in a particular sign if the reduction of symbols will be understood. If however you are writing to an audience who may not be as familiar with your sign language, then you have the option of adding the extra details necessary for your audience to reproduce the signs. In a way, this could be similar to the way Hebrew omits vowel pointing for experienced readers, but includes them for inexperienced readers.

    I have been researching writing systems for sign languages since 1988. So far in my research Valerie Sutton's system is probably the most practical and reasonable for an everyday system. It is also well-equipped to handle any kind of movement performed by a signer in their discourse. I myself have tried to come up with a different system, but have ended up coming back to SignWriting as probably one of the best systems developed for writing sign languages. Unlike HamNoSys, SignFont, or Stokoe, SignWriting is actively used today as an everyday writing system by people in 27 different countries. It has been critiqued and tested by deaf people in her own community in California and, now, our deaf non profit also has tested this writing system with a number of deaf people who have expressed excitement at how easy it was to match the movements to their own signing.

    I welcome a discussion on these matters, and I am interested to see how a logographic system would handle:

    - mime
    - gestures
    - directional verbs (i.e. verbs whose subjects, objects, and/or locational referent is built into the sign) Examples include: give (I-give-to-you, I-give-to-you, I-give-to-each-of-you, I-give-to-all-of-you, I-give-to-some-of-you, you-give-to-me, etc.), have surgery (on my shoulder, on my knee, on my hand, etc.), etc.
    - movement modifications (i.e. I work, I work slowly, I work fast, I work repeatedly, I work carelessly, I work over a long period of time). Each of these can be signed with just the signs "I" and "WORK" but the modifications of face and movement can alter the meaning of the signs.
    - "supersegmental phonemes" such as the facial expressions that indicate Yes/No questions or WH questions and the facial expressions that indicate the topic section of a topic-comment sentence.

    This is a starting place for a discussion on the pros and cons of a phonemic system like SignWriting versus a logographic system such as the one you propose. It is important to consider how these elements of grammar can be included.

    Let me close by saying that I am not here to bash your proposed system, but merely to challenge you with the issues that need to be resolved for a writing system for sign languages to be successful. I know for a fact that I and other deaf people want a writing system that can accurately express what I sign. So when I read it on the paper, I am seeing what I sign and all the grammatical information that my face, body, and hands are conveying. If that can be done with a logographic system, more power to it, but it will need to cover those elements so that a deaf person reading can accurately pull that information from the logographic system. Personally, it would take much for me to be convinced that a logographic system is better than the phonemic system like SignWriting because of the intrinsic flexibility built into a phonemic system to be able to express new vocabulary and movements. But I am willing to participate in a discussion to see what the merits of your system would be.

    For the record, I believe that there is value in a writing system for sign languages. With the present hearing cultural bias that assumes that a language is only a language when it has been written, ASL and the other 114 different sign languages around the world also need to have a written voice as well so that they can show that they too are functionally equivalent to spoken languages. Further, writing has great value in preserving language and culture. The stories, poetry, and other literary arts can be more easily preserved in writing than on video. Both are valuable tools, but only writing can be done anywhere, at any time, and is easily edited without high expense. It also makes it possible for static materials in the spoken language to be translated to static materials in the sign language at less cost. It also makes it easier to edit the static materials in the sign language when the static materials in the spoken language changes.

    It has also be shown (outside the United States) that for people to be truly literate in their second language, they must first be taught literacy in their first language and then the second language can be learned well. I believe that will be a valuable tool for all deaf people to become more efficient in learning the national spoken language while at the same time valuing their own first language.

    Well, I guess this post is long enough :) I hope that this will be part of a fun and invigorating discussion.
     

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