Date: Sun Aug 22, 1999 12:35
SignWriting List Forum
Subject: looking through writer's eyes....
On August 15th 1999 , Stefan Woehrmann wrote:
>Did you ever - write an article or a report about your ideas and the new
>insights which came to you during the process of developing and elaborating
>I mean that I (maybe other beginners as well) could prefer from more insight
>in your process of developing all the different symbols.
>To look through your eyes at Sign Languages around the world may help to
>realize aspects and needs for the various aspects that are important for
>the transfer of meaningful expressions by movements to a written form.
August 21, 1999
Hello Stefan and Everyone -
This is such an interesting question...just as SignWriting is
multi-faceted, so are the answers to this question, for there are several.
To look through my eyes at signed languages around the world is to think
visually, with no sound. I see all human movement as a series of frames -
like a video or a film - but these "frame by frame moments" are captured in
SignWriting symbols, instead of actual pictures. When I see a person
signing, and I am writing the movements, I see the SW symbols on their
hands and faces.
That is how the entire Movement Writing system was built - the idea behind
the system is to create a handwriting, that can be animated and "come
alive" on the page, with the ability to capture great detail, or minimal
detail, depending on the writer.
And as you know, I am not a linguist, nor do I know most of the signed
languages I write. You could send me a video of German Sign Language,
Stefan, and I would not understand what was said, but I could still write
the movements I see on the video.
So to see signed languages through my eyes, is looking through the eyes of
a movement notator, not a signer. Yes...I do sign now, but SignWriting was
invented when I knew no signed language.
So how do I view signing? The first thing I see is the facial expression
(or the lack thereof). Next I see the center of the body, and the levels of
the hands as they relate to that center. Then I look at palm facing. I see
the palms of the hands as light, and the backs of the hands as dark. As I
watch signing, I look for the "flash" between light and dark, to capture
the palm facing. And I see space divided into imaginary planes...and I see
all movement and hand positions in relation to those planes - the plane
that is parallel with the wall - up and down, and the plane that is
parallel with the floor - forward and back - the planes are like a backdrop
and everything the body does relates to them.
And I never ask what the sign means....I only try to capture how it is
But of course, someone else who already knows Sign Language, and is trying
to write their language down for the first time, is in a totally different
position. It can be hard for signers to see their own language as it
relates to planes that cut space, for instance, because they never analyzed
their own language before - at least not that way! Actually that would be
true for anybody new to writing their own language...it is hard to become a
beginning student as an adult... But in time, it starts to make sense. It
is just a matter of practice and repetition. And as dictionaries grow, it
will become easier too.
What is important to note is that it seems that Deaf children do not have
the same fears as adults. I doubt if Deaf children see imaginary planes
cutting space! But they read the signs immediately...there is a visual
logic that makes sense to them. So children are the most intuitive
learners. We adults make things harder :-)
You ask about articles about the development of SignWriting....this article
might be of interest:
How SignWriting Has Changed
The Evolution of Writing Styles
We have quite a number of skilled signers and skilled SignWriters on the SW
List - I hope they will tell us what they see, when they view signed
languages. Perhaps we can take a look through your eyes too...