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From:  Hope Hurlbut
Date:  Sun Feb 6, 2000  11:05 pm
Subject:  Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese?

Dear Valerie and List Members,

What you said about Chinese is correct as far as it goes. The
"characters" (as the written form is called) in Chinese are mainly
based on two parts. (The very simple ones only have one part.) The
left-hand side of a character gives a general idea of the area of
meaning, and the right-hand sign give a general idea of the sound.
The so-called simplified characters do not follow this tradition, so
are more difficult for someone like me to pick up who has been trained
in the traditional kind of writing.

For example, most or all of the animals share a certain part on the
left-hand side, so that as soon as you see a word, you know that it is
the name of an animal. Similarly the names for birds all have "bird"
on the left-hand side (or sometimes underneath if it is a complicated
character). "Eagle" has "bird" plus a word that sounds the same as
the word "eagle" (in Cantonese it sounds like "ying"), and so on. If
you run across a new word it is often possible to guess the meaning
quite closely, by the following the above system of analysis. Of
course one cannot guess the tone of the word accurately, but can come
pretty close sometimes.

It seems that no new characters are being formed, but old ones are put
to new uses, e.g. computer is "electric brain", garage is "vehicle
room", etc. etc.

Is there anyone else on the SW list who knows written Chinese?

Happy Signwriting,
Hope Hurlbut

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Is SignWriting like Chinese?
Author: at Internet
Date: 24.01.00 14:00

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!

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