forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Mon Jan 24, 2000  10:00 pm
Subject:  Is SignWriting like Chinese?

January 24

Dear SW List:
People oftentimes compare SignWriting to Chinese. I know very little
about Chinese myself...I only know SignWriting ;-)

I have tried to write something below to answer the question, which I
received three times last week and one time today. I would like to
post an answer on our web site so I can refer people in the future...

I know there are some linguists on the SignWriting List....perhaps
you could give me feedback? Is what I say about Chinese correct
below? Thanks for your help! Val ;-)


QUESTION: Is SignWriting like Chinese?

ANSWER: No. Although SignWriting symbols are visual, and sometimes we
write signs down the page in vertical columns, from a linguistic
standpoint, SignWriting is different than Chinese. SignWriting is

In simplistic terms, Chinese generally writes concepts and some
sounds. Mandarin Chinese is ONE writing system for several different
languages and dialects in China (I believe).

But SignWriting does not write concepts. It writes body parts. It
records any human movement, and can be applied to any "movement-based
language". We write what happens, not what it means. But there is a
meaning attached to what happens, and if a Deaf person already knows
their Sign Language, then they know what it means!

For example, in English, we can read "a" or "b" or "c", but that
doesn't mean we automatically understand German or French, even
though people who speak German or French use those symbols too ;-)

In American Sign Language, the sign "to cook" is the same movement as
the sign "to translate a language" in Danish Sign Language...two
totally different meanings for the same sign. In SignWriting we write
exactly how the body looks when you sign that sign, but the meaning
changes depending on whether a Dane or an American is reading it!

  Replies Author Date
2609 Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese? Wayne in Maine Tue  1/25/2000
2613 Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese? Valerie Sutton Wed  1/26/2000
2619 Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese? Joe Martin Wed  1/26/2000
2612 Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese? Stefan Woehrmann Wed  1/26/2000
2744 Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese? Hope Hurlbut Tue  2/8/2000

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