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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Tue Oct 5, 1999  2:42 pm
Subject:  Third Brazilian Article Posted

October 5, 1999

Dear SignWriting List -
This morning I posted a third article published in Brazil about the new
Brazilian Sign Language Dictionary. To view the scanned article with
diagrams, which includes the English translation, go to:

Journal of Sao Paulo State Research Foundation

Below is the English Translation
by Dr. Fernando Capovilla

Article Title: "Para Ler e Sentir", "Read and Feel"

Researchers at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Sao
Paulo prepare the first dictionary of Brazilian Sign Language

This text is of great interest to anyone interested in the well being of
deaf children. It is important that deaf children from hearing families
be put in contact with a deaf signing community and be immersed in sign
language at a very early age, so as to make sure they will benefit and
develop language and cognitive skills at a normal rate. International
studies show that about 10 percent of the world population suffers from
hearing losses. In Brazil, according to data from the World Health
Organization (WHO) there are 15 million people with hearing losses, and
350 thousand of them are profoundly deaf.

In order to provide for adequate language development of deaf children,
it is necessary to have adequate educational tools. A very important and
basic instrument for accomplishing this is a sign language dictionary.
Despite its fundamental importance, such a tool was missing in Brazil
until now. But that will soon change: A team of researchers from the
Cognitive Neuropsycholinguistics Laboratory of the Psychology Institute
at the University of Sao Paulo, directed by Professor Fernando
Capovilla, has just completed the Dictionary of Brazilian Sign Language:
Illustration and direct visual writing of 3500 signs used by the deaf in
Sao Paulo.

The dictionary is at its final phase of revision by the National
Federation for the Education and Integration of the Deaf (FENEIS). A CD
ROM version is planned to be released by the year 2000. Finantial
support from FAPESP has helped conducting the research project and
creating a multimedia communication system based on the signs of
Brazilian Sign Language. An application for publication grant has just
been filed by Professor Capovilla at this Research Foundation. In
addition to FAPESP, other agencies have cooperated with the research
effort, such as the University of Sao Paulo Foundation (FUSP), the
Pro-Rectorships of Research (PRPq) and of Culture and Extension (PRCE)
of the University of Sao Paulo, as well as the National Council for
Scientific and Technological Research (CNPq). A large crew of prominent
community members from FENEIS and from the Deaf Cooperative Padre
Vicente (COPAVI) have participated as both deaf informants and deaf
review board members.

The perspectives are exceedingly promising. "The dictionary may be the
first step to reach the standardization of Brazilian Sign Language
signs", said the coordinator of the Sao Paulo Rotary Foundation Special
School for Deaf Children, the speech-language pathologist Sabine
Vergamini. According to her, one of the major problems that the
educators are faced with is to find, even within the very city of Sao
Paulo, a number of different signs being used to represent the same
meaning, so that even the deaf are frequently truly puzzled with the
variability. According to her, the publications that have been available
so far have a number of problems, such as a very large number of
artificial signs imported from other sign languages, especially American
Sign Language. The dictionary is expected to help solve that situation.

In the paper (book) format, the signs are indexed according with the
alphabetical order of the corresponding glosses in Portuguese. In the
electronic (CD ROM) version, the signs are indexed according with the
morphological characteristics of the signs. In the multimedia version,
the animated signs may be selected either directly via mouse or
touch-sensitive screen, or indirectly via automatic screening and
devices sensitive to air-puff, eye-blink, or other body parts discrete
movements. Thus, the multimedia version may be used by people with
severe motor handicaps, such as the cerebral-palsied and the tetraplegic

Reliable source
The dictionary has many uses as a source of information for studies and
consultation, even by deaf instructors of Brazilian Sign Language, who
will be able to use it for teaching the structure and grammar of the
language. But its main application will certainly be in the daily
teaching of deaf children. For the first time the teachers of deaf
children will have a reliable source of information, composed for the
deaf with the participation of deaf informants, and thoroughly revised
by deaf organizations and institutes devoted to the education of the

The book will have about one thousand pages, with approximately 15
thousand illustrations. Each sign is exhibited by means of drawings
showing the articulation of the hands, the place of that articulation in
the signing space with respect to the body, the direction and type of
movement in the signing planes, and finally the facial expression
associated with the sign. The movements are illustrated in sequences,
with the help of arrows, and the signs appear animated in the CD ROM

An illustration of the meaning of the sign appears to the left of the
sign illustration. And below there is the corresponding gloss in
Portuguese, along with its definition and syntactical classification.
This is important to the deaf child, who uses sign language as a
meta-language for acquiring written Portuguese. In addition to the
definition, there is also a phrase showing the context in which the sign
may be used in both Portuguese and Brazilian Sign Language. Finally, a
systematic, precise and detailed description is provided for each sign,
which is important for linguistics studies on the comparative morphology
of signs.

Structured language
Besides the illustration of sign morphology and sign meaning, the
dictionary also provides the writing of each sign in Sutton's direct
visual writing system SignWriting, which were composed by means of the
SignWriter software. The use of such an international system for writing
signs is exceedingly important. Professor Capovilla explains that since
the alphabetic writing system maps the sounds of speech, literacy
acquisition in a phonic approach is natural for the hearing child who
does not suffer from phonological handicaps. In fact, the phonological
errors that hearing children make when learning to read and write
demonstrate just how important is the role played by sound in reading
and writing acquisition by the hearing child. Conversely, such teaching
of reading and writing in an alphabetic system is of immense benefit to
the language development of the hearing child.

Professor Capovilla explains that Sutton's SignWriting maps the visual,
cheremic properties of sign languages in just the same linguistic way as
the alphabetic writing system maps the phonological properties of
speech. Thus, for the deaf child who thinks and communicates in sign
language the acquisition of reading and writing signs via SignWriting is
as natural as is the acquisition of reading and writing in the
alphabetic system for the hearing child who thinks and communicates in
speech. More importantly, in exactly the same way as literacy
acquisition in an alphabetic system benefits the way hearing children
think and express themselves in speech, literacy acquisition in
SignWriting is to benefit the way deaf children think and express
themselves in sign language. Hence, SignWriting becomes a vital
educational tool for improving deaf kids' sign language mastery and
cognitive development, and for allowing sign language to reach its fool
potential as the heritage of the Deaf Culture and a cultural treasure
for humankind.

Sutton's SignWriting is used around the world by the deaf and hearing as
a tool for writing letters, poems, articles, psalms, literary texts such
as tales and children's carrols, and so on, in the language of signs
that is typical of each country or region. However, according to
professor Capovilla, its main function is not to replace alphabetic
writing, but rather to serve as an instrument for the psycholinguistic
development of deaf children in their critical period of language
maturation, just like the alphabetic writing system is for the six to
seven-year old hearing child. Using the sign bank composed of the
dictionary, professor Capovilla and his research team are concluding a
multimedia communication system called SignPhone.

Such a system may be used in face-to-face communication, as well as for
remote telecommunication via networks. The system will work in different
modes, one with graphic animation of signs, and the other with
SignWriting, both of them with digitized speech associated to each sign.
In order to allow for international communication among deaf users, the
system will cypher messages based on signs, from Brazilian Sign Language
to American Sign Language, and vice-versa. In order to allow for
international communication among deaf and hearing users, the system
will also cypher messages based on both, signs and words, from both sign
languages to both spoken-written languages (English and Portuguese), and

The system will also be amenable to operation in the indirect mode, that
is, via automatic screening and selection via devices sensitive to
discrete movements, as well as to air-puff, groan, eye-blink, eye-gaze,
etc. Thus, even the cerebral-palsied and tetraplegic deaf users will be
able to operate the system, composing and sending messages in sign
language, printing them in sign language or written Portuguese or
English, and sounding them with digitized speech in both spoken
languages. Therefore, differently from the text telephones, which force
the deaf to relinquish their own sign language when trying to
telecommunicate, SignPhone will allow Brazilian deaf people to
communicate at distance, even with deaf and hearing foreigners, using
nothing but their very own beloved sign language. As one can see
clearly, the effort of the researchers affiliated to the Institute of
Psychology open new perspectives that surpass the scope of a dictionary.

Professor Fernando Capovilla, from the Experimental Cognitive
Neuropsycholinguistics Laboratory of the Institute of Psychology at the
University of Sao Paulo (USP), has been working for the last ten years
with children with severe communication and language handicaps resulting
from neurological impairments of a sensory-motor or central-cognitive
nature. He and his student co-workers have created more than one hundred
software systems devoted to diagnosing and treating language and
communication impairments in children and adults. Capovilla obtained his
Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Temple University, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA, in 1989, and has been elected (1996-2000) president
of the Brazilian Chapter of the International Society for Augmentative
and Alternative Communication, an international organization devoted to
helping people with severe language and communication impairments.




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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