SignWriting List Archive 1
October 1997 - May 1998

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April 23, 1998

SUBJECT: Perspectives on SignWriting

Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 22:50:31 EDT
Subject: Personal perspective on SignWriting

I've waited quite a while to send this particular email, mostly because I wanted to see others' reactions to the flash cards idea.

As a hearing person, I realize I can't be totally assimilated into the Deaf Culture; however, I do realize the reverse is true: the Deaf can't be totally assimilated into the Hearing Culture either.

Perhaps one major obstacle is the widely perceived lack of a writing system for Deaf or Signed Languages. DAC has done an outstanding job, in my opinion, against incredible odds. I realize that SignWriting is, in fact, a writing system solely for Signed Languages. The general hearing population, though, is completely unaware of it, either through ignorance or just plain ignoring it and thus perceive their lack of knowledge of something as a lack of that thing's very existence.

"Educated" people in Europe and the Americas evidently can't consider a people to be worth respecting unless that people has a "decent" language. These same people also arbitrarily apply their criteria of "decency" to Signed Languages and find those languages wanting; i.e., not having a script and therefore not "real languages." I've heard that opinion more times than I can count! Each time, it's proof of the widespread prejudice against Signed Languages.

SignWriting may take a little longer to write by hand or type than English or any other alphabetic language for that matter. The essential point is there are other spoken, non-alphabetic languages in widespread use today; each of these languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Cherokee [not widespread, but still a living language]) has not only a script, but a means for typing that script, even via a computer keyboard. Chinese is quite cumbersome, Japanese less so; Korean is tricky if you're unaware of the language's intricacies in written form; and Cherokee uses the English letters for different sounds!

Why should Signed Languages be any different? Governments arbitrarily declare the native language of a Deaf child is that of the Hearing parents and schools in the past have attempted to just "ignore the problem" of educating the Deaf. This is patently wrong for many reasons. The first step on overcoming some of the prejudice is to be able to point out, and point out proudly, "here's how we write our language!"

Now that there's a rapidly growing movement to write Signed Languages, many hearing persons will be attracted to the mystery of the script itself. From there, they will naturally be drawn to learning the language in all of its beauty. Sign Language will no longer be "pretty dancing movements" but will be "A sturdy and rich language of its own, one which ought to be studied and preserved, preserved in its own native script."


William J. "Chip" McGruder
Monterey, CA, USA