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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Fri Oct 1, 1999  2:37 pm
Subject:  Article on Brazilian Sign Language Dictionary

October 1, 1999

Dear SignWriting List:
I am in the process of updating our "SignWriting in Brazil" section of our
web site. So much has happened in Brazil in the past year, it is really

One of the exciting Brazilian projects is a new Brazilian Sign Language
Dictionary, which uses life-like drawings, side-by-side with SignWriting.
It is being prepared in Sao Paulo, by a team of people under the direction
of Dr. Fernando Capovilla.

In Brazil, there have been several published articles about the new
dictionary...those articles are of course written in Portuguese. I asked
Fernando to translate one of them into English for our web site. As soon as
the article is posted on our web site with diagrams, I will annouce it to
the SignWriting List.

Here is the English translation of the article, for you to read now:



Journal of the National Institute of Education of the Deaf,
Brazilian Government
June 99, number 11, pages 84-88.

Complete reference:
Capovilla, F. C. (Ph.D., Psychology Professor, University of São Paulo),
Raphael, W. D. (Psychologist, University of São Paulo), Shin, S. Y., Rocha, M.
P., Geraldes, A., Marques, S., Luz, R. D., Neves, S. L. G., Viggiano, K.
(Research Fellows, University of São Paulo). (1999). Brazilian Sign Language
dictionary: Ilustration and direct visual writing of 3500 signs used by the
deaf in São Paulo. Journal of the National Institute of Education of the Deaf,
Brazilian Government, June 99, number 11, pages 84-88.


Article Begins:

Our research and development team at the Laboratory of Experimental Cognitive
Neuropsycholinguistics (LECN) of the Institute of Psychology at the University
of São Paulo (IPUSP), Brazil, is concluding the preparation of the first
Brazilian Sign Language dictionary: Ilustration and direct visual writing of
3500 signs used by the deaf in São Paulo. The book was ellaborated by the LECN
team at IPUSP with the participation of deaf informants from the Padre Vicente
Deaf Cooperative (COPAVI-SP) and the National Federation for the Education and
Integration of the Deaf (FENEIS-SP). It also has support from the Research
Rectorship of the University of São Paulo, the São Paulo State Research
Foundation (FAPESP), and the National Council for Scientific and Technological
Development (CNPq). The signs that compose the dictionary have been thoroughly
reviewed for completeness and correctness by a number of deaf groups working at
FENEIS-SP under the guidance of the Brazilian Sign Language National
Coordinator of Courses, Mr. Eduardo Sabanovaite, who is the official reviewer.

The dictionary is to be released as a printed hardcover book in December 1999,
and as a CD ROM by the end of the year 2000. In the book format, the signs are
indexed in the alphabetical order of their corresponding glosses in Portuguese.
In the CD ROM format, the signs are indexed on the basis of sign morphology,
and they are presented with graphic animation and corresponding digitized
speech in Portuguese. Thus, while in the book version sign searching must be
done on the basis of the alphabetical order of the corresponding glosses in
Portuguese, in the CD-ROM version, sign searching may be performed on the basis
of the morphological characteristics and structure of Brazilian Sign Language.

The dictionary aims at serving as a multi-purpose source of information. It may
be used by deaf people in general who may be interested in expanding both their
Brazilian Sign Language lexicon and their Portuguese vocabulary. It may also be
used by Brazilian Sign Language deaf teachers who, thanks to the dictionary,
will be able to concentrate their efforts in teaching more noble aspects of the
Brazilian Sign Language, such as its structure, syntax, and pragmatic aspects
of its use in different daily conversational contexts, thus enhancing the
liveliness of their classes and consequently the performance of their pupils.
The dictionary may also be used by hearing people in general interested in
learning sign language, including school teachers and university professors,
academic scholars in Linguistics and Anthropology and scientific researchers in
Psychology, practitioners and doctors interested in working with deaf patients.
One of the most important uses, however, is for the education of Brazilian deaf
children by public school teachers throughout Brazil who, henceforth, will have
a reliable source of signs, composed and reviewed with intensive participation
of the deaf in organizations ran by the deaf and devoted to the education and
integration of the deaf.

The book will contain about 15 thousand illustrations distributed in about 1
thousand pages. Each one of the signs is illustrated in life-like line drawings
depicting hand articulation, the local of articulation with respect to the
body, the movement involved in the signing space, and the associated facial
expression. In order to represent the movement involved, signs are illustrated
in sequences, and arrows are added. In the CD ROM format, the sequences are
superposed so as to produce the illusion of movement. Under the illustration of
the sign, there is the corresponding written word in Portuguese, its
syntactical classification, and its definition. This is very important in order
to allow children to search for Portuguese words on the basis of their natural
signs that they use to think, and thus to expand their Portuguese vocabulary
using sign language as a meta-language. Following the definition of the word,
there is a sentence illustrationg the context in which the word and the sign
may be used in both Portuguese and Brazilian Sign Language. Finally, following
the sentence illustrating the functional use of the item, there is a precise
morphological description of the sign, in order to allow for linguistic studies
on sign morphology, and on the comparative structure of signs from different
regions of Brazil. The morphological description is also important in order to
allow for the indexing of signs in the CD ROM. Such a morphological indexing is
critical to allow the computerized search of each and every sign from the
dictionary on the basis of its morphological components. The computer engineers
under the guidance of Professor Capovilla at the LECN-IPUSP are concluding such
a multimedia animated sign searching system, which is to be incorporated in the
CD ROM version of the dictionary.

Each life-like sign illustration at the center of the page will be preceded by
a life-like illustration of the corresponding sign meaning, on its left. Such a
side-by-side arrangement between sign morphology and sign meaning allows for a
natural intuitive association between the sign and its corresponding meaning,
thus enhancing learning and functional use of the new signs. Such life-like
illustrations of sign meaning also contribute to increase the liveliness and
appeal of the book for deaf children, thus enhancing the curiosity of their
absorbing minds and their thirst for learning. The illustrations also
contribute to make signs much more accessible to the visual processing that is
typical of the deaf mind, thus permitting a natural and effortless expansion of
the sign lexicon without requiring the mediation of an extensive vocabulary in
Portuguese. Thus, the book may be used as a resource for the direct and natural
learning of both sign morphology and sign writing by the deaf, without the
necessity of mediation by the written Portuguese glosses.

On the right side of each sign illustration, the sign appears written in the
visual direct writing system called SignWriting (Sutton, 1998, 1999). The sign
writing was accomplished with the use of the SignWriter software (Gleaves &
Sutton, 1995). Such a direct visual writing system is used around the world for
writing stories, cronicles, letters, articles, journals and books in the sign
language that used at each country. Since the alphabetic writing system maps
the sounds of speech (phonemes), it benefits much more the development of
speech by the hearing children than it does the development of signing by the
deaf children. The direct visual writing system is designed to do for the deaf
children and their sign language what the alphabetic writing system already
does for the hearing children: to enhance language structure and formalization,
thus contributing in a critical way to the betterment of the children and the
culture they are part of.

The systematic teaching of SignWriting increases children's awareness of the
cheremic-articulatory constitution of their sign language, thus allowing them
to deal with the linguistic properties of their language in an abstract, formal
way, thus restructuiring and formalizing their internal signing in exactly the
same way as the acquisition of the alphabetic writing system permits hearing
children to increase their phonological awareness, to restructure and formalize
their linguistic reasoning and their internal speech (Capovilla & Capovilla,
1997). When hearing children learn to write alphabetically, their language
capacities and speech benefits immensely, with a marked improvement in
cognitive processes involved in thinking in words (such as phonological working
memory). When deaf children learn to write signs, their language and signing is
likewise expected to benefit immensely, with a marked improvement in their
capacity of abstract thinking in signs (such as cheremic working memory).
Therefore, in our view, the main function of the direct visual writing system
is not to replace the alphabetic script, but rather to provide children with
the cognitive tool they need in their critical period of reading-spelling
acquisition (just like the alphabet is for the hearing six-seven year old

Finally, it is important to notice that, on the basis of the sign lexicon of
the dictionary, we at LECN-IPUSP are concluding a multimedia system called
SignoFone (Capovilla et al., 1998) for Internet and face-to-face communication
based on Brazilian Sign Language signs. Besides animated signs, the system also
uses digitized speech, since it is aimed at communication between the deaf, as
well as between the deaf and the hearing. The system runs in two different
modes: one based on life-like animated drawings and the other based on
SignWriting. In the future the system will allow for communication between
North-American and Brazilian people, both deaf and hearing, since it is to
cypher messages from among the four languages (American Sign Language,
Brazilian Sign Language, written and spoken English, written and spoken
Portuguese). The messages based in sign language may be composed either
directly via mouse or touch in a touch-sensitive screen, or indirectly via
automatic scanning and operation by devices sensitive to air-puff, groaning,
discrete movements, eye-blink, eye-gaze, etc. A number of prototypes have been
generated in our lab over the last seven years, and there are hundreds of
severely motor impaired patients who already make use of them in their homes.
Such system allows a tetraplegic deaf to compose messages on the base of
Brazilian Sign Language, to have them printed out, to have them spoken aloud
with digitized voice appropriate to the deaf user's gender and age, to send
them via local networks, to have them stored for further access during
speeches, and in the near future, also in the Internet. Thus, differently from
the text telephones used by the deaf nowadays, in a near future the deaf, even
the tetraplegic or cerebral-palsied one, will not have to relinquish their own
sign languages in order to be able to use telecommunication or to communicate
face-to-face with the hearing, even with the blind hearing.

This is science and technology to the service of the education and integration
of the deaf, and to the betterment of Brazilian culture. And our humble, even
though exceedingly effort-consuming, dictionary is just the first step.
Ellaborated in a cooperative effort between the deaf and the hearing, it is a
response to the wise exhortations of King Jordan (1990), from Gallaudet
University, to the harmony between the deaf and the hearing, and to the
necessity of scientific-technological research in sign language aimed at
searching for objective, pragmatic and significant improvements for the
education of the deaf child.


Capovilla, A. G., & Capovilla, F. C. (1997). Phonological awareness training
and its impact in phonological, reading and spelling skills from kindergarten 3
to second grade. Cognitive Science: Theory, Research and Application, 1(2),

Capovilla, F. C., Macedo, E. C., Duduchi, M., Raphael, W. D., Charin, S.,
Capovilla, A. G. (1998). SignoFone: Multimedia system based on Brazilian Sign
Language for communication both face to face and via local networks by the deaf
with severe motor impairments. Cognitive Science: Theory, Research and
Application, 2(3), 161-208.

Gleaves, R., & Sutton, V. (1995). SignWriter computer program, version 4.3, La
Jolla, CA: Deaf Action Commitee for SignWriting.

Jordan, I. K. (1990). The American way of Gallaudet: Learning and living with
sign language. In S. Prillwitz, & T. Vollhaber (eds.). Sign language research
and application (pp. 295-304). Hamburg: Signum Press.

Sutton, V. (1998). Lessons in SignWriting. Vols 1 and 2. La Jolla, CA: The Deaf
Action Committee for SignWriting. (translated to Portuguese by R. M. Quadros).

Sutton, V. (1999). SignWriting web site. Available on the Internet in La Jolla, CA: Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting.




Valerie Sutton

SignWritingSite...Lessons Online

SignBankSite...Databases Online

Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA

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