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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Wed Jun 10, 1998  10:07 am
Subject:  Expressive World Standard

Hello Marie!
Thank you for your question about Expressive vs. Receptive.

The answer is: Expressive Is The World Standard

SignWriting is published expressively all over the world now. So please use
Expressive whenever you publish, or distribute documents to others.

You can read about this on our web site at:

Lessons In SignWriting
Lesson One: Viewpoints

For those of you who are curious about the details behind this
is a technical explanation:

Receptive means that you write what you see another person sign. You are
standing in front of someone signing and writing what you "see".

Expressive means thinking in a signed language and writing your own
thoughts, writing everything from your own perspective, seeing your own
hands, and feeling your own are writing what you "feel".

Most photographs are "receptive" because people face you in the picture.
Videos are also receptive - the people face you and sign to you on video.

From 1974 until around 1984, we wrote SignWriting receptively. In 1984,
Lucinda Batch, and other skilled native signers, who were also skilled in
SignWriting...informed me that they wanted to write "expressively". This
was wonderful news!! Because it meant that they were really "writing their
language" rather than just "transcribing from a video". So there is a major

Now, of course, from time to time, researchers will need to transcribe from
video - and when they do that, they may want to write the signs receptively
first, and then later "switch them over" to expressive writing for
publishing. SignWriting is technically a very flexible system, that can
record signs from any angle - we could even write signs from the side view
or from the diagonal view if we needed this for research purposes.

But the world standard is EXPRESSIVE.

I hope this has helped!

Please feel free to write again with more questions -

Valerie :-)


On June 10, 1998, Marie Alexander wrote:
>I joined your group a wee while ago and I would now like to introduce
>myself. I am the executive director of the Institute of Linguistics at
>the University of Malta. I am a linguist but have recently decided that as
>I am unlikely to live for ever (!) I need to focus on Maltese Sign
>Language which has been developing very fast the last 15 years or so.
>There is a great deal one could say about the deaf community in
>Malta...but I will resist.
>After a visit to Professor Bencie Woll at City University London, I
>decided we needed signwriting that's how this all started. I
>subsequently wrote in with this question:
> I would appreciate it if anyone can tell me whether signwriting is
>used expressively only by deaf users and receptively only by researchers.
>Is it not very confusing for deaf researchers then?
> I am still struggling with signwriting... I would appreciate some
>advice. The study of Maltese Sign Language is only just beginning.
>Maltese Sign Language is only now gaining recognition even by the Maltese
>deaf themselves. It is not yet used extensively in education and not at
>all beyond primary education since the majority of children are in the
>mainstream. Of course it is a vicious circle. It started being used in
>education once it gained some recognition. It is still a very young
>language (since the deaf did not previously come together as a community
>after school) but it is responding very fast to the demands made on it.
> I would like not to have two ways of signwriting - but need to
>stay in touch with the rest of the world if possible (maybe that is rather
>Perhaps my question arises from limited understanding? Can anyone help?
>Marie Alexander
>Institute of Linguistics
>University of Malta
>Msida MSD 06
>Malta (Europe)

Valerie Sutton :-)

Sutton at the DAC
Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA
(619)456-0098 voice
(619)456-0010 tty
(619)456-0020 fax

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