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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Fri Jun 12, 1998  10:43 pm
Subject:  Fingerspelling Keyboards Part 1

June 12, 1998
Good Evening...
and it is a beautiful one here in San Diego :-)

As you know, I just posted seven diagrams of fingerspelling keyboards on
our web site. I will be referring to them in this write up. Nice to have
the web - it is a great way to share visual information without attached

Developing good keyboards for typing SignWriting has been one of my main
focuses, because as Karen Turley and others have already so well stated,
the printing press is an important part of the development of a written
language. And the SignWriter Computer Program has been our "equivalent to
the printing press" for publishing SignWriting literature. Of course it can
always be improved, and will continue to evolve and develop for years to

At present, SignWriter shareware is only for ASL, but those who receive the
complete computer program package, with the notebook with five manuals
etc., have all 14 countries and can switch back and forth between countries
while typing. The words change on the screen from one spoken language to
the next. There are eight spoken languages to choose from.

Richard Gleaves was the programmer of SignWriter 4.3, but I designed the
keyboards and also did all of the symbol entry onto those keyboards. And I
continue to do entry work of this kind to this day. Whenever a new country
requests "their version", I create the keyboards specially for them.

And...guess what? Country number 15 has just requested their version of
SignWriter - Swiss German Sign Language, Swiss-German Fingerspelling and
German spoken language. This was requested by a linguistics professor in
Basel, Switzerland. They have already sent me the German translation of the
words on the screen, which I now will enter for them, and they sent me
pictures of the fingerspelling and numbers 1-10, which I will type in
SignWriting and place on the keyboard layout for them. Then, I create a
printed keyboard card they can refer to for their languages.

There are three keyboards for each country: Sign, Fingerspelling, Alphabet.

The Sign Keyboard design is my universal design for typing ALL signed
languages. So far so good - it seems to be working, no matter what the

The Fingerspelling Keyboards are connected with the written alphabet of the
spoken language of each country, so they have to be different for each
country, just like their alphabets are - and yes they are different - sure
they all use the Roman Alphabet - but every country seems to add accents,
or add special symbols that other countries don't use. And that changes how
people fingerspell.

By the way, SignWriter can only type the Roman alphabet right now, (and
SignWriting symbols of course :-) - no Chinese, Russian or Arabic yet!

In regards to the development of the Fingerspelling Keyboards...

1. First issue...which was decided quickly...all Fingerspelling Keyboards
are "right-handed", and all are Expressive. This standard was established
back in 1986 when we first began computer programming.

That does not mean that left-handed people cannot type "left-handed
fingerspelling"...they can ...but they will have to type it the slower way,
using the Sign Keyboard. There is no question that left-handed people have
to work harder and have the shorter end of the stick :-(

2. Second issue....Shall we type fingerspelling the way teachers teach
beginners to fingerspell, or shall we type the way people really
fingerspell when they are fingerspelling fast? I chose the latter. So...we
type the way fingerspelling is really done, not the way a beginner learns

To accomplish this, I watched native signers fingerspell quickly. I would
stop their hands in mid-air- and sure enough - the "M" hand did not dip
down - there was no time to dip the wrist when fingerspelling quickly. So,
you will notice on the USA keyboard, that the "M" and "N" are not dipping

USA Keyboard

3. Third issue...on the top row of the Fingerspelling Keyboard there are
the numbers 1-10...what will people use this top row of numbers for? It was
decided that the numbers on the ASL Fingerspelling Keyboard are used for
zip codes, telephone numbers, addresses and so forth...the kind of numbers
that are used in a string. So that meant that the numbers on the top row do
not turn the palm towards the body for numbers 1-5, like you do in actual
ASL sentences. Instead the palm is turned away from the body, because you
are signing telephone numbers. This was an important differenciation that
has become a standard.

By the way, you use the SIGN Keyboard for typing numbers within ASL
sentences, which have the palm facing the body...the Sign Keyboard and
Fingerspelling Keyboard have two different purposes.

So in summary...

1. All Fingerspelling Keyboards are "right-handed" and Expressive.
2. We type the way fingerspelling is really done, not the way a beginner
learns it.
3. The numbers on the top row of the Fingerspelling Keyboard are used for
zip codes & telephone numbers.

So that is why I felt so fortunate to have Ronice from Brazil here as my
guest recently. Because when I saw Ronice fingerspell in Brazilian
fingerspelling, I realized that our Brazilian Fingerspelling Keyboard,
which had been used for exactly one year, was incorrect. The "H" was
rotating the wrong direction. There were no accent marks, which they do
fingerspell. The "M" and "N" were dipping down, when they should not have
been. And there were several other details that were quite important. Plus,
when signing a telephone number, they too turned their palms out, away from
the body, rather than towards the body as they do in the middle of
sentences. So many of the issues were the same as with the ASL keyboard.

So...while Ronice was here...I went into the software and made changes to
the Brazilian Fingerspelling Keyboard, and Ronice left with the new
keyboard installed on her laptop computer. I know it may take time for
others in Brazil to accept this new keyboard, and I am always happy to make
changes again if they request it :-)

I wanted to share this story with you, because I know it is hard through
email to grasp a lot of the details behind the development of SignWriting.
Maybe someday you can all come to visit me in a big group - we could have a
"SignWriting Conference" or something....who knows what the future will
bring :-)

I think I will end Part One here. Part Two will be about British
Fingerspelling and the two-handed alphabet, which Harry Blackmore uses in

UK Keyboard

Have a truly wonderful weekend everyone -

All my best -

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

  Replies Author Date
216 Fingerspelling Keyboards Part 2 Valerie Sutton Fri  6/19/1998
217 Re: Dvorak Keyboard Layout Neil Bauman Sat  6/20/1998

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