My name is Fernando Capovilla. I am a PhD in Experimental Psychology,
and a Psychology Professor at the Institute of Psychology of the
University of Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo, Brazil), where I have created the
Cognitive Neuropsycholinguistics Laboratory. I also work as Brazil
Representative at the International Society for Alternative
Communication, and editor of a scientific periodical published the
Institute of Psychology titled Ciencia Cognitiva: Teoria, Pesquisa e
Aplicacao (Cognitive Science: Theory, Research and Application).
Over the last ten years I have developed multimedia communication
systems that run in computer networks for the purpose of allowing deaf
amputees (as well as deaf people with cervical spinal cord injury) to
communicate. The systems allow the selection of animated signs from
Brazilian Sign Language via touch-sensitive screens as well as via
air-puff, eye-blink, eye-gaze, etc (I have also computerized a number of
symbol and sign set systems for the cerebral-palsied such as
Blissymbolics, Johnson's Picture Communication Symbols, Maharaj's
Pictogram Ideogram Communication Symbols, etc., besides dozens of
computerized procedures for cognitive assessment and treatment of
aphasics, dyslexics, etc). Once the messages have been composed via sign
selection, they can be both printed and spoken (via digitized voice
output) in both Portuguese and English. Thus, my systems allow a
Brazilian deaf person to communicate both directly face-to-face as well
as remotely (via netware) with an American Deaf person, as well as with
a Brazilian or American blind person, even if the Brazilian deaf is
confined to a wheelchair with no hand or body movements. The systems
also register all the interaction in real time, thus allowing studies of
dyad extended "naturalistic" interaction. One of the main advantages is
that the deaf persons do not need to give up their sign language when
they need to communicate over the phone (as in the text telephones).
Another advantage is the transcoding between Brazilian and American sign
language signs, which does not happen yet when deaf people communicate
abroad using a videotext. Even so, this technology is recent and there
are a num,ber of fascinating problems, especially those concerning the
spatial syntax of sign languages, and how to encode it using a computer
system. (Perhaps SignWriting can help with that, if we can devise a
cross-indexing system along with word prediction, based on SignWriting
units. I have to study further SignWriting and most certainly must
benefit from discussing with the colleagues who have been working with
SignWriting for a long time).
The reason why I have created the periodical Cognitive Science: Theory,
Research and Application is to serve as a vehicle to publish the several
dozens of experiments that we have conducted on the efficacy on these
systems with users with different characteristics (sensory, motor and
cognitive). (The periodical is published every semester and has 440
pages, so you can see that the work has been quite intense and
proficuous... My theoretical background in in information processing,
and I am interested in cognitive processing of information by the deaf,
such as working memory processes of quiro-articulatory covert rehearsal,
imagery and linguistic processes, etc.).
Last January my students and I published a Brazilian Sign Language
Handbook (Manual ilustrado de sinais e sistema de comunicacao em rede
para surdos) that also describes one of our netware multimedia
communication systems. By selling the book I obtained funds to pay deaf
informants, and over the last 8 months my students and I have been
documenting 3200 Brazilian Sign Language signs in a new 600 page
Dictionary (which is in the final phase of creation). The signs are
drawn in three to five stages of movement, they are accompanied by
arrows, and a thorough morphological description. We are very, very glad
of coming to the very last phase of a very tiresome work.
Even so, I always felt that a sign notation system was missing. Already
in the first handbook, I stressed the need of such a system. But it was
not until two weeks ago that I found the SignWriting Site. You can
imagine just how extactic I was! It was all that I had dreamt of! I
could finally write the signs from our dictionary, and thus contribute
to the consolidation of Brazilian Sign Language (especially because one
of my research projects includes travelling all over this
continental-size country and documenting dialects from different states,
including all of them in a comprehensive Sign Language Dictionary that
rescues signs used in different remote regions of this country, so as to
document the richness and imense diversity of this language).
I just had to come to know better that system. I tried to make contact
with some fellow countrypersons about it, but unfortunately at that time
there was no information available (perhaps they were travelling,
perhaps their emails have changed, I don't know).
No information, until someone finally answered my calls for information.
And that was precisely Valerie Sutton herself!
I have sent Valerie the periodical and the handbook, and promissed her
to send her the dictionary as soon as it is published (about Feb-March
99 in paper, and a bit later in CD format with with animated signs). In
exchange, she promissed to send the last version of SignWriting adapted
to Portuguese. With this system, should it prove feasible, my crew of 25
students (6 at the doctoral level, 3 at the master's, 2 at the post-doc
level, and the remaining at the scientific initiation level) and I will
work hard on transcribing the 3200 signs of our dictionary using
We have a tremendous amount of energy, and despite not knowing
everything, we are more than competent to learn everything, provided
that the attitudes of scientific curiosity and the desire of creating
something of true functional value are maintained.
Well, that's it for now. Valerie asked me to send a message to the list
telling the list members about the work that we intend to conduct
I hope I could give you some hints for a start.
I certainly have quite a lot to learn from you.