forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Fernando Capovilla
Date:  Thu Oct 7, 1999  9:39 pm
Subject:  Writing vs drawing

Dear friends, when we talk about writing versus drawing we are invoking the
concept of information representation and
processing. There have been a large number of studies (involving calosotomized
patients, Japanese aphasics, and deaf aphasics
as well) proving that there is most definitely a sharp line distinguishing
writing and drawing, at least from an information
processing perspective (i.e., a neuropsychological standpoint). All these
research studies have established that Language
(whether sign language, spoken language, alphabetic writing, sign writing) is
processed by the dominant (usually left)
cerebral hemisphere, whereas Imagery (whether visuo-spatial such as iconic
drawings, proprioceptive such as corepgraphic
dances, auditory such as melodies) is processed by the dominant (usually right)
hemisphere. (Interested colleagues may enjoy
reading the studies of Roger Sperry, Gazzaniga, Paivio, Kosslyn, Galaburda,
Poizner, Klima, Bellugi, Morais, Robinson, among
others). Thus, even though SignWriting evolved from SignDancing, one could never
talk about sign language as merely a dance
(except as poetic license, of course).

Left hemisphere lesion tends to produce aphasia in both hearing and deaf, with
the consequent loss of the capacity to encode
language (in anterior lesions) or to decode language (in posterior lesions),
either by speech or sign. Whether hearing or
deaf, aphasics normally present alexia (difficulty in decoding written lext,
whether alphabetical or composits of Chinese
characters or even, much likely, SignWriting) and/or agraphia (the same but for
for encoding). In Japan Hatta had demonstrated
that isolated Kanjis may be processed by the right hemisphere, but sometime
later, in China, Tzeng demonstrated beyond doubt
that left hemisphere fuctions are absolutely essential to permit reading strings
of Chinese characters. In Western science,
Gazzaniga and co-workers had already demonstrated that the right hemisphere is
capable of reading, but only in an ideographic
way, that is, in a way not mediated by phonological recoding (which is an
exclusive capability of the dominant hemisphere). It
is also well known that Ancient Chinese characters stood for single words, and
were thus logographic. However, contemporary
Chinese characters have frequently two components, one semantic and the other
phonetic. So a number of contemporary Chinese
characters do have phonetic values and must not be called ideograms. Mao Tse
Tung's Cultural Revolution included an
ortographic revision based, among other things, on the sounds of speech. And
there is not one successful writing system that
may ignore phonetic (or cheremic) properties, so that a logography, such as
Blissymbols will probably never reach full

Even hieroglyphic writing was WRITING, since, as demonstrated by Champollion,
they could be decyphered using tables of
phonetic values. Phonemes and cheremes are language phenomena, and systems
devoted to representing them are writing systems.
We should not be misguided by the fact that there is plenty of evidence that
language systems have at least some foundations
on the soil of imagery. Klima and Bellugy had already demonstrated that
children's invented signs tend to be iconic since they
mimmic analogical properties of the referents, and thus they are born in the
soil of visual imagery (of the iconic). But as
the sign is inserted in the string of language, it loses its analogical
properties and iconicity is swallowed up by
arbitrariness. (The colleague may remember at this point the example in Klima
and Bellugi's bool of the invented sign for
audiotape and the way the finger movements changed as it was incorporated as a
full lexical sign). There is an interpretation
that the same may be true to a certain extent to Greek characters (e.g., alpha
originated from the drawing of aleph, cattle
head). A considerable number of ancient Chinese characters with exclusively
semantic value (ideograms) might have resulted to
a certain extent (that is debatable, though) from their original pictographic
forms, which again were in the soil of the

But what is important is that when the speaker or signer suffers a left lesion
and becomes aphasic (language loss), the
original iconicity re-emerges with full importance (imagery contrast). That is
why we clinical neuropsychologists use
pictorial (iconic) signs and simbols as communication systems for aphasics:
because they have lost the linguistic
capabilities, but not the iconic (visual imagery) ones, because the right
hemisphere is preserved. And that is why they tend
to use their own drawings as a communicative device when they lose the ability
to speak and write. The same hemisphere
specialization helps to explain why we use melodic therapy for aphasics: because
auditory imagery (drawing with sounds) is
processed by the right hemisphere. Finally, it also helps to understand why
people with "pure word deafness" (a kind of
aphasia) are indeed capable of listening to the sounds of nature, but are simply
uncapable of understanding the sounds of
speech. In essence, colleagues, the distinction between writing and drawing is
not merely cultural but has a
neuropsychological reality to it. Drawing and writing are most certainly
different, and there is absolutely no room for
confusion when we look at the data while trying to find the best way to help
people with neurological lesions.
(Sorry I wrote too much, folks. I just intended to give my two cents and ended
up losing my wallet!).
(I hope the currency is not too foreign).
(By the way, we foreigners also find it funny being called "alien". It makes us
feel even more green as we try to hide that
conspicuous antennae on our forefronts).
Fernando Capovilla :-)
PS: I hope the message above helps someone to DRAW some conclusion (even if it
is in WRITING).

  Replies Author Date
1906 Re: Writing vs drawing Jerry Spillman Fri  10/8/1999
1907 Re: Writing vs drawing Valerie Sutton Fri  10/8/1999
1908 Writing vs drawing Fernando Capovilla Fri  10/8/1999
1910 New postings on the web.... Valerie Sutton Fri  10/8/1999
1918 Re: Writing vs drawing Valerie Sutton Sun  10/10/1999
1917 Re: Writing vs drawing Valerie Sutton Sun  10/10/1999
1919 Writing vs drawing Fernando Capovilla Sun  10/10/1999
1920 Re: Writing vs drawing Valerie Sutton Tue  10/12/1999

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