|SignWriting List Forum|
Mark Marine |
Date: Wed Aug 25, 1999 10:17 pm
Subject: Re: SignWriting principles
Joe Martin: Please!!!! Do not e-mail this address with your cursing. It
is NOT appreciated. Thank you. Stacy M.
From: Joe Martin
To: SignWriting List
Date: Wednesday, August 25, 1999 4:42 PM
Subject: SignWriting principles
>Martin (and everybody):
>Valli, Clayton & Lucas, Ceil. Linguistics of American Sign Language; An
>Washington DC. Gallaudet U Press. 1992
>This is a good overview of the whole business, for beginners or others.
>Mainly in English, only some basic linguistish. You won't find this stuff
>on the web.
>Something to chew on.... any and all comments welcome)
>Like Valerie says, Signwriting isn't like Written Chinese, or written
>English either. Although all three consist of a sequence of units strung
>together, in Chinese writing the units are words. (morphemes if you wanna
>be all precise) In the other two the units aren't words, they're
>People often assume that signing takes place in three dimensional space,
>and that speech has a fourth dimension of time with one sound following
>another. Actually, signing also happens in time with one sign following
>another, and if speech doesn'take place in three dimensional space, where
>If all we had was the one dimension, time, then speech would be a boring
>........uuuuuhhh...... Lucky for us though things change within each
>segment of time. When the second segment changes, instead of [ uu ], we
>get .[ up ]. Same in signed languages; James is very right that sign
>language is linear. A classic example in ASL is two signs that start by
>moving a B-hand out from your mouth .. First two segments are the same in
>both, third segment is different in one because in that one you close your
>hand to a fist. First one means "THANK YOU, second one means BULLSHIT.
>The two signs are identical except for that last linear segment.
>What changes to make that second segment different is the position of the
>articulators. Articulators is a linguistish word for all the stuff we use
>to make language; vocal cords tongues, faces, fingers, hands, ...all that.
>So the job is to describe those articulators. In signed languages, you
>can take a picture. Or draw one; then you can make it real schematic so
>it just has what you need and no distracting junk. That's what
>SignWriting symbols do. But with speech--hooo, boy!--how do you make a
>picture of an ...uuu...sound? Or any sound? Ya can't! James put his
>finger on it when he said that it was harder to change from an aural to a
>In order to represent speech on paper you gotta make up some arbitrary
>symbols, and have them arbitrarily stand for .the sounds. SignWriting, on
>the other hand, isn't arbitrary.
>Actually, you could draw pictures of the vocal tract--the articulators of
>speech--and show gross little tongues and vocal cords and stuff, but
>nobody ever wanted to. (except I think it's kinda fun) Instead, linguists
>describe things in terms of parameters; it's more precise. For example
>they describe a spoken consonant sound by where the tongue is, what it
>does, and whether or not the vocal cords vibrate. Those three things are
>what's important in telling consonants apart (in speech). We call 'em
>Every unit of language has certain parameters. The three above are Place,
>Manner, and Voicing. Obviously, signed languages have a little different
>parameters since they've got different articulators, but it's the same
>idea; parameters for signed consonants are Location, Handshape,
>Orientation, and Facial Expression.
>Each parameter is a set (like in math) of a certain number of "features."
>Voicing is easy, there's only two; voiced or voiceless. Location, for
>speech, is the five or six places where you can put your tongue, from the
>back of the throat to the teeth; but in sign language there's gobs of
>Places. So anyhow, we pick one Feature for Location and one for each of
>the other Parameters, and that's how we describe a linguistic unit. All
>this info is written down in a big complicated grid with all the features
>listed one way and the time segments the other way. They take up a lot of
>space and they're awful to read.
>Each bundle of features makes up a phoneme, which could be from German, or
>ASL, or whatever. But it couldn't be Chinese, cuz each Chinese character
>stands for a whole word, not just a phoneme. Totally different from an
>alphabet where each character stands for a complete feature bundle. Also
>different from SignWriting where the characters mostly stand for
>individual features, like [bent thumb] or [brows up]. What's cool is that
>when you look at a SignWriting symbol you can see all the little features
>without having to deal with those huge, complex, technical feature grids.
>And as James pointed out, evidently without ever having to sit through a
>lot of boring grammar lessons. (like this one).
>Joe Martin, Plain Old Ordinary Student
>Top Left Corner USA