forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Wed Aug 18, 1999  3:54 pm
Subject:  Re: sign writing principles?

On August 18, 1999 , Martin 'Lolly' Lorenz wrote:

>are there any problems, that make writing a sign language
>more difficult than writing spoken languages in (roman) letters?
>what are the problems, that make writing signlanguages
>more difficult than writing oral language.

>i also wonder if the SignWriting system is (as it seems
>for me) somehow related to chinese script.
>to me it seems that both are somehow logographic.


August 18, 1999

Of course I want to answer ALL your questions, Martin. A few are addressed
in this message...

In regards to the differences between the SignWriting Character Set, and
the Roman alphabet - the differences are enormous! The main thing is that
SignWriting includes the visual linguistically important elements of signed
languages that do not exist in spoken languages, such as palm facing,
rotation of hands, the left and right hands, facial expressions, height,
location - Spoken languages do not have the same issues. The Roman alphabet
is linear for a cannot "see" sound, and so the abstract
symbols are placed sequentially.

The reason SignWriting is working is that the symbols are not placed in one
long horizontal row, like the letters of the Roman alphabet. SignWriting is
visually centered around the center of the body. The hands relate to the
face, and so the hands are usually placed below the facial circle, just as
they are in real life - so we have symbols, or characters, that are placed
into "visual units" which are called "signs", which are equivalent to
"words" except they are written in the visual movements of signed
languages. And as you know, signed languages are not international, so the
SignWriting symbols can be applied to writing any of the world's signed

Linguistically, SignWriting is nothing like Chinese. The only reason people
tend to compare SignWriting to Chinese is because SignWriting has a "visual
look" to it, and SignWriting is oftentimes written down the page in
vertical columns. But the comparison stops there ...

Perhaps some of the other linguists or programmers on the SW List would
like to answer these questions further?

Valerie ;-)

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