Date: Sat Mar 18, 2000 6:03
SignWriting List Forum
Subject: Re: more seriously,
At 8:51 PM -0500 3/17/00, Cecelia Smith wrote:
>Why is this more important (or just as important) as video taped examples of
>signs? Because in writing it down, with grammatical markers, we get written
>and solid evidence of what constitutes a sentence in ASL. The person
>making the sentence decides what a sentence is. Now, that does not mean we
>won't get fragments...after all, not every one is perfect <smile> but...with
>enough examples of spontaneous writing, grammatical structures can be
March 17, 2000
Thank you for saying this, Cecelia...That was my exact thought...
Who are we to say what the grammar of signed languages are, when we
are only at the beginning of a new era of written signed languages?
We are just beginning to learn about reading and writing grammar. It
is not the same as going to a class and being told "this is ASL
grammar", because signing and reading and writing are all different
That is why, when we have the funds, I gratefully work with native
signers. Since this is the first generation of signers reading and
writing their own language, it is only right that those who have
grown up with the language, be the ones that consider how to write
their native language.
And even when I hand "the SignWriting symbol set" to native signers,
they have never written their language before. They cannot see
themselves. They never had to analyze how they sign. This is all very
That is why I personally, as a hearing person, NEVER write ASL on my
own. I either ask a Deaf person to do the writing, or I transcribe
Which is more accurate and better SignWriting of the grammer? The
transcription from the videotape - there is no question about it.
Why? Because Deaf adults were taught that reading and writing was
"only English" when they were young, so without even realizing it,
they tend to write ASL in SignWriting for a "hearing audience", just
as their signing changes when hearing people come into a room.
Notice how I did not say that they are writing Signed English...they
are NOT doing that. But they are "writing for a hearing
audience"...Once again, that is why right now, in the beginning of
this new era, it is very important to transcribe from videotapes that
are made for "Deaf audiences", not geared to hearing people.
Then in time, as we write more and more, the writing of good grammar
will become evident...but just as it has taken us 25 years to get
this far, we need at least another decade of good video transcription
before the writing rules for grammar are really solid.
Yes, of course SignWriting is a gateway - a big wonderful friendly
gateway into the world of written literature. But SignWriting itself
is not grammar. SignWriting itself is not language. And it cannot
write English, because it does not write sounds. Nor does it write
concepts. SignWriting is just a tool for writing movement...and all
the knowledge of the languages it writes has to come from the
writers...and that will take time.
So for right now, I suggest we do lots of writing - and lots of
transcribing - and don't stand in judgement. A sentence to one person
may not be a sentence to another...but we are just writing movement
right now, and slowly writing rules will evolve through use...there
are already some starting to take shape - which I can share later....
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