forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Stuart Thiessen
Date:  Thu Nov 8, 2001  10:44 pm
Subject:  Is SignWriting Necessary?

I had several conversations recently with deaf leaders and influencers on
the subject of SignWriting. Several had linguistic backgrounds and made
some statements which I wasn't sure about. I wanted to share them with the
list in hopes of getting some feedback and other perspectives on this subject.

(By the way, for those of you not in the US, just substitute your SL and
your spoken language for ASL and English. What do you think of this from
your perspective? Is it any different in your countries?)

>-------- These statements do not represent my point of view but that of
those whom ----------<
>-------- I was talking with
recently. ----------<


One of the current trends in the US is a philosophy of "visual ASL, written
English." In other words, [ as I understand it anyway ] when a deaf
student wishes to communicate "verbally", he/she should use proper
ASL. However, when the student wishes to write something, it should be
proper English. So English is taught via writing and ASL of course via
signing. Adding SignWriting to this mix will ...

a) Add more confusion as it is one more thing for the deaf student
to learn.
b) Decrease the student's ability to learn English as they get
"sidetracked" by learning SignWriting.
c) Waste valuable time creating SignWriting materials when video
or written English materials would be much more valuable.

Further, because of the growing use of technology in the US, it is thought
that it makes the need for SignWriting obsolete. With DVD and other
options, American deaf people will be able to use video technology to store
books and other information rather than resorting to print. Why waste
resources trying to develop printed materials when we should be investing
those resources into developing better video technology, etc.

While ASL is supported as a real and viable language, the language that the
deaf must master is English because a good knowledge of ASL including the
ability to read and write ASL will not help in the real world.

>-------- Now back to me
.... ----------<


With the understanding that I do not have much professional linguistic
expertise and that I am not as fully aware as I would like to be of present
research in this field, these are my assumptions or understandings in favor
of SignWriting:

- ASL literacy is valuable because it develops a concrete bridge by which
the deaf person can master both languages and excel in both. When both
languages can be immobilized by print, they are better able to understand
how both languages work. I would expect that deaf who master ASL literacy
are better equipped to master English literacy. (This conclusion is the
result of what I have heard and observed about SIL linguists who have
worked with many minority spoken language groups in other countries. Such
has been their experience, or so I understand.)

- I tend to equate ASL videotapes and DVD with English audiotapes and
videotapes. They are nice and certainly more interesting in terms of
catching the speaker's/signer's inflections and body language. However,
for certain purposes, information presented can be more easily absorbed
when it is in print and can be reviewed.

- While technology is certainly viewable by nearly anyone who can afford a
VCR or DVD player, it is not quite so easily produced by the average
person. Technology to produce quality VCR material or DVD material is
easily $50,000 or more. Duplication of these materials is also expensive.
Not everyone is able to spend that kind of money to produce materials that
they would like. However, written material is very inexpensive and more
easily mass-produced.

- As we have already found via this List, SignWriting can be integrated
into today's technology (though we are still looking forward to it becoming
more easily integrated). My humorous way of saying this is to say "If
videotapes and computers make written ASL unnecessary, then why do we still
have written English on computers and VCRs?" SignWriting can be a valuable
interface for deaf people to make computers more deaf-friendly and in our

These are my thoughts. Any flaws in my logic? Are there more relevant
points involved that I missed? What other arguments have you heard? Who
all is doing research in these areas to prove or disprove these kind of
assertions? Where can we find that research? What kind of research is
still needed to prove the value of SignWriting so that people will see
evidence of its value in everyday life? What other angles are needed to
research and verify the need and value of SignWriting?



Stuart Thiessen - 4616 Hickman - Des Moines, IA 50310

  Replies Author Date
5872 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Antonio Carlos da Rocha Costa Fri  11/9/2001
5875 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Angus B. Grieve-Smith Fri  11/9/2001
5944 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Valerie Sutton Sat  11/24/2001
5880 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Stefan Woehrmann2 Fri  11/9/2001
5882 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Jerry Spillman Sat  11/10/2001
5883 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Angus B. Grieve-Smith Sun  11/11/2001
5884 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Antony Daamen Sun  11/11/2001
5887 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Jerry Spillman Mon  11/12/2001
5953 Re: Is SignWriting Necessary? Judy A. Kegl Sun  11/25/2001

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