|SignWriting List Forum|
Valerie Sutton |
Date: Fri Nov 19, 1999 1:38 am
Subject: Silent News Article Nov. 99
>On Tue, 16 Nov 1999, Valerie Sutton wrote:
>> Because I did the posting on our SignWriting Site, I have the "English
>> text" right here to paste into an email message if you wish...
On Thursday, November 18, 1999, a request from a SW List member:
>I would appreciate a copy by email if it's readily available. If not, no
>big deal. (SMILE)
November 18, 1999
OK. Here is the complete English text written by Alexandra Han. The
article with the diagrams can be read on the web:
Silent News Article
TITLE: "A New Controversial Approach to Literacy: SignWriting: Will It
A controversial way to read, write and type one's sign language,
SignWriting (or SW) is an 'alphabet', or a list of symbols, that can be
used to write one's sign language. Like the Roman alphabet, used to write
many different spoken languages, such as Danish, German, French, Spanish
and English, SignWriting can also be used to write many different sign
languages. After all, if many spoken languages can have written versions,
why not sign languages?
Resistance Against SignWriting: Why It Is Controversial
Yet even within the Deaf communities, Sign Writing has been controversial
from the first time it was invented in 1974: either dismissed, laughed at,
"Historically, new ideas that create "social change" are always met with
resistance in the beginning, and SignWriting is no exception," points out
Valerie Sutton, creater of SignWriter.
Among reasons listened why SignWriting "should not" be accepted:
1) Signed languages are not supposed to be written
2) Deaf people will become isolated and never learn to read and write English
3) You have no right to write our language if you are a hearing person
4) If I learn it, no one else can read it, so why bother?
5) I had trouble enough learning to read and write English, why should I
learn something new now as an adult?
6) I refuse to learn SignWriting unless other Deaf people back it first!
Yet as SignWriting continues to evolve, it is gathering greater acceptance,
and its many uses, including a possible educational advantage for Deaf and
hard or hearing students, is slowly beginning to be sensed by others.
Interestingly, while both Deaf and hearing adults struggle with their
reactions to SW....
Deaf Children: Their Reactions
....Young children respond differently. They're drawn to it, get excited
about it, and will do this 'school work' harder, and for longer periods.
According to their teachers, they tend to take about six months to learn
the basics of SignWriting, a relatively short time in their long academic
education. They also learn it more quickly than adults, being younger,
unbiased, and more linguistically flexible. Research is currently being
undertaken to determine whether SignWriting helps, or doesn't help, these
children's ability to read and write English - and, perhaps more
importantly, their self esteem.
From an elementary Albuquerque, New Mexico school, this eight-years-old
young student,Desi Baca, chortles: "It's FUN!.....My favorite thing is to
learn SW" Asked if she thought it will be hard for deaf people, she signed
emphatically (In ASL), "No, it's easy for Deaf people" (because they
already know signs).
About the SignWriter program, in which one can type in the symbols for SW,
she signed emphatically,."I admit I like to use the computer! It's a lot of
fun to make up stories, and it is beautiful". When asked to clarify what is
beautiful, she pointed to the instructional manual with the signs and SW
symbols illustrated in color, and signed, "I like (the symbols)....they are
Another young student, Jazmine Martinez, reminded of the occasion when she
found the sign for 'girl' in the SignWriter dictionary and became very
excited at finding it, giggled, and commented '(That sign) 'girl', yes, you
are right!', then proudly demonstrated some other signs she found using the
SignWriter dictionary, such as 'bug' and 'cat'.'
As to her favorite book, "I read it at home. I sit and look at the signs
(written in SW) and then write the word.....I will work for a long time in
my room when my mom goes to the store".
Other teachers have reported similiar reactions.
Implementing SignWriting Into Education
Cecilia Flood, a school counselor who works with 50 students in small
groups in two elementary school and one middle school in Albuquerque, New
Mexico, has been implementing SignWriting into her curriculum for the past
year. The quotes from the students (above) were videotaped by her.
When asked, "Have you been told 'But SignWriting takes too much time in the
classroom, and we have to teach these students so much already'?", She
responded: "When I first approached classroom teachers about this
SignWriting project, (I heard comments such as) 'Oh, that's too much to
learn, I don't think this student will be able to handle learning
SignWriting as well as learning how to read English'....I have gotten
several responses from individual parents....These concerns range from
taking away time spent learning English, to a concern that not enough
members of the Deaf community use SW, to a concern that SW will interfere
with already developing literacy skills"
Dealing with Resistence: Just Listen
Asked how she dealt with this, Flood replied: "My response...generally, I
don't respond. I just listen. I'm not trying to convince educators,
parents, or even Deaf community members that SignWriting is the only way to
"I do believe that Deaf and hard of hearing students are indeed smart
enough and capable enough language users and learners who can and do
organize linguistic information into two separate and distinct languages,
ASL and English.
"My hope is that the ethnographic recording (that she is currently doing)
of Deaf and hard of hearing students' experiences as they learn to write
using SignWriting, will provide significant evidence which will promote
greater interest in the investigation of a potential bi-literacy tool. That
tool would be the use of SW in bilingual education models for Deaf and hard
of hearing students in the U.S."
So Why Should We Use SignWriting To Teach Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students?
Asked why Flood wanted to introduce SignWriting to her students, this is
"To capitalize on language abilities, not language problems. To provide a
medium, (SignWriting) that potentially may enhance linguistic and cultural
identity and self-empower Deaf and hard of hearing students.
"To record the experiential stories of Deaf and hard of hearing SW learners
that will significantly inform perspectives on the academic literacy learning
experiences of Deaf and hard of hearing students,'in their own words'.
"As the lead instructor of SignWriting, I will attempt to neutralize power
relationships that exist in the everyday school literacy learning
environment and hope to promote shared power, one that will encourage
students and teachers to alternate between teacher and learner roles."
Having taught SignWriting for a year now, Flood now recounted how quickly
her students took to it:
Younger Children's Ability To Read SW:
"Two of the younger students (5 & 8 yrs) took to these SW symbols (on flash
cards) rather quickly. We were matching the (SW) sign vocabulary with some
pictures and illustrations of events that might evoke some of those feelings.
"The two students seem to recognize the symbols as a whole and 'read' these
signs quickly: SCARED, EXCITED, SAD, HAPPY. The others (older ones) in the
group took the lead of the early SW 'readers', and continued with the
activity signing what their peers saw on the flash cards.
"Even (when I) was ready to move onto another activity with the other three
students, the two students wanted to continue the activity on their own,
sorting out the SW flash cards that was piled between them matching them
with the illustrations provided." Flood and her students continued
discussing, creating and sorting out SignWriting symbols.
Middle-School Students' Reactions
"The middle school students initially were more skeptical when I showed
some samples of SW to them. I did get some comments like; 'That's weird!',
'But that's hard
to learn', 'Why should I learn Sign Writing? I already know and have a lot
of experience using ASL'! and 'I don't want to learn that stuff, it's too
"I didn't stop there....though I was tempted. I introduced some of those
very same skeptics to the SignWriter, the sign language word processor
program. They were more
interested then and took to using the computer to generate individual
signs, then strings of signs, then whole signed comments.
"Typical of young adolescents, their comments focusd on what they had done
with friends over the weekend, their boyfriends, school special events. The
students pecked away at the computer keyboard with confidence and
"Prior to using the SignWriter, I don't think these students paid much
attention to how they were signing. Watching two 8th graders at the library
computers discussing the palm orientation of a sign not in the dictionary,
negotiating.....was evidence enough for me to pursue the formal initiation
of an ethnographic research project. This project will document the
experiences of deaf and hard of hearing students, ages 5- 14, (yes and even
the skeptics among them) learning how to write using SignWriting, a way to
read and write signs.
What The Future May Hold:
Flood predicted, based on her observations and current research: "Using a
yet-to-be-tapped resource, signwriting, deaf and hard of hearing students
will not only become better signers, but also better readers and writers,
plus they will attain membership in the growing club of bilingual readers
and writers in the U.S.A."
Teachers can write or call for a free packet of information on SignWriting:
The SignWriting Literacy Project
The DAC, Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
P.O. Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA
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