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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Sat Nov 24, 2001  5:00 pm
Subject:  Re: research paper on sign writing

SignWriting List
November 24, 2001

Dear SW List members:

Thank you for your excellent discussions about SignWriting,
MovementWriting, and linguistics. Everything Karen said below is
absolutely true...

I would like to comment on my role in all this. I am a movement
notator. I invented a general movement notation system, called Sutton
Movement Writing. Then, I took those "general movement symbols" and I
shared them with signers who already know a signed language, and I
asked them to experiment - to try to write their signed languages
with those symbols.

That means that there is a true difference between Sutton Movement
Writing and SignWriting. I will always be the person who knows Sutton
Movement Writing best...after all...those are my symbols...and in
regards to MovementWriting...yes I do have "veto power", as Karen
mentioned below.

But SignWriting is the "application of MovementWriting symbols to
specific Sign Languages", and when it comes to SignWriting
development, I turn to the experts who know signed languages, and we
work together as a team. That is why I hired native signing Deaf
consultants, called the DAC, in the 1980's and early 1990's, to give
us their perspective on SignWriting for ASL. And that is why I hired
Karen van Hoek, back in the 1980's, to give us a linguistic
perspective on the issue. And that is why I value everyone's opinions
on the SW List so much! Your input is invaluable...

And that is also why, when answering questions on the SignWriting
List, I am quick to point out that I am not a dictator! I instead, am
a movement notator, who shares my writing system with experts in Sign
Languages, and together we choose what symbols are useful in
SignWriting and what symbols are not useful. No matter what, all
those symbols exist in MovementWriting, so they are always there for
people, if needed for research...but that is a choice that has to be
made in SignWriting...which symbols to use, and which symbols not to
use..and it will be an issue plaguing us for years to come! I
personally believe it will be a matter of natural more
and more people use SignWriting, the signs will become simiplified in
a natural process out of necessity, and some information will be
assumed, just as we assume a great deal when reading spoken language
writing systems.

It is my feeling that Deaf children do not need to use all details,
when expressing themselves in their native signed
keeping the SignWriting symbol-set (for a specific signed language)
fairly small, is to everyone's advantage...

Those are my thoughts for the moment!

Val ;-)


Karen van Hoek wrote:
>I'm not sure if your question was addressed to Valerie or to the whole
>group; excuse me for jumping in, but I'm one of the professional linguists
>on the list. I can't answer the question about how Valerie made the leaps
>in her invention, but I want to address one bit of confusion that seems to
>be lurking in your question.
>Different sign languages don't actually use the same _phonemic_ units. They
>have different phonemes -- different meaningful handshapes, movements, and
>places of articulation. However, all of the phonemes are made out of the
>same basic _phonetic_ elements -- finger configurations and physical
>movement and so forth. So what this means is that the symbols of Sign
>Writing can be easily modified to represent any new handshapes or movements
>that may be discovered in a new sign language, and the total stock of SW
>symbols can be used to write a huge range of sign languages, but any
>individual sign language will only use some of those handshapes, etc. So
>any newly-discovered sign language could be written in SW pretty much
>immediately, using existing symbols for all the phonemes that are
>essentially the same as in other sign languages and quickly modifying
>existing symbols as needed to represent new handshapes (I assume that in
>actual practice, Valerie has power of veto or approval over any
>newly-created handshape symbols). But this is not claiming that all sign
>languages have the same _phonemes_, the same basic stock of "meaningful"
>elements from which signs are built; it's claiming that the meaningful
>elements in any sign language are composed of the same smaller physical
>elements (such as finger positions and so forth) so that any new phonemes
>can easily be represented with only modest revision of the existing symbol
>I hope this helps. If this still isn't clear, please let me know. I think
>there's a critical distinction here between phonemic and phonetic
>information that doesn't seem to be completely clear in your message below,
>and I'm not sure if the paragraph above is sufficient to straighten it out.
>Karen van Hoek
>--On Friday, November 23, 2001 10:01 PM +0000 Leigh Golston
>> How does, or can , sign writing be applied to all signed languages? It
>> seems to us from reviewing briefly Dance Writing that you have
>> successfully taking the phonemes of movement, body (vs. palm)
>> orientation, location and the shapes of the movement and created a
>> notation system that allows one to see and understand the individual
>> components of each step. We see that the same has occured with Sign
>> Writing and signed language. But linguistically speaking , how did you
>> make the leap?
>> We are also making the assumption in our paper that since all signed
>> languages use the same phonemic units, then Sign Writing can be applied to
>> all signed languages. If we are correct, do you have any sources you can
>> direct us to, to support this?
>> I hope this makes sense. we are thrilled to be researching this topic, it
>> holds great fascination for us as ITP students.
>> Look forward to hearing from you soon,
>> Leigh Golston (I'm the inquirer)
>> Jesse Mohandessi
>> Yvonne MacKay
>> PS- A brief introduction: There are 3 ITP students @ Seattle Central
>> Community College in Washington state. All of us have arrived at this
>> point in different ways. Since I am writing this on behalf of my team
>> this intro is about me.
>> I became interested in ASL many years, growing up with a hard-of-hearing
>> father. I never thought about signing as a career and came to my decision
>> to became an interpreter late in life.( I'm 47). To complete the
>> requirements for an AA degree (I have a BA and BFA) we are required to
>> take lingusitics. Our instructor is marvelous and challenging. Really, it
>> is the topic itself that's challenging and fascinating. I told him in
>> the first part of the quarter that I loved the class but that I expected
>> to fall it! We'll see but either way I'll go down smiling!!
>> Thanks.

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