forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  William MacGruder
Date:  Tue Jan 5, 1999  7:43 pm
Subject:  Re: Bilingualism & SignWriting

In a message dated 1/4/99 3:20:07 PM Pacific Standard Time,

<< As you can see, I receive lots of interesting questions regarding
SignWriting. Today I received a message asking this question:

"Is SignWriting this Bilingualism thing that we hear so much about...?"

I have not answered the person yet.

How would some of you suggest I answer that question? :-)

My answer would be to lay a bit of groundwork, ground rules if you will for
the ensuing discussion.

The first ground rule would be to examine the validity of considering Sign
Language (any one Sign Language of your choice) as a language in its own
right. I've stated before in this forum that I consider Sign Language to be a
viable language; however, I do recognize that it's not completely immune to
the influence of the prevailing linguistic community surrounding it.

That leads me to the next ground rule: that regardless of the number of Loan
Words adopted from other languages (for example the finger-spelled word C-L-U-
B) present in the Sign Language, the Sign Language itself is still a viable
language, not a dialect of the spoken language surrounding it.

The last ground rule would be to agree on exactly what writing accomplishes at
its most basic level.

For the last one, a little more comment obviously is needed:

(1) A good number of people of my acquaintance can not distinguish
the idea of writing to record sound and the idea of writing to record words.
To me, that's a mistake on their part.

(2) To me, the basic reason to have writing is to convey the original
message; it should not matter if that message had been uttered with sounds,
pantomined with hands, or even if it had been a game played on a board (chess
game records are considered a form of writing and also have quite rigid rules
regarding their manner of writing; those rules, then, could be considered
"spelling and grammar").

(3) Once you've agreed to the parameters above, the next step is to
if one person is "at home" in both "languages" being compared. Sometimes, the
person may very well be writing nothing more than a gloss of the signed
language into the script used for the sounded language or vice versa.

(4) If you can determine that the person is able to write naturally in
scripts without having to compare the two, then I'd say "Yes, this person is
practicing a form of bilingualism."

(5) If you can also determine that the person can utter the sounded
but is only able to write the signed language (using SignWriting of course)
but also has no knowledge of Sign Languages beyond that, then I'd have to say,
"This person is merely writing the same message in a different script and thus
is not bilingual because the scripts mean the identical thing to him including
what he believes the original message's manner of conveyance to be."

(6) Lastly, if you can find a person who can utter the sounded language
write that sounded language in its script and can also use the signed language
and write that language in its own script, yet is able to do this completely
independent of the other language, then the answer is, "This person is a
complete bilingual."

-William J. "Chip" McGruder
Monterey, CA

  Replies Author Date
829 Schedule for Special Features Valerie Sutton Thu  1/7/1999
939 New Schedule for Special Features Valerie Sutton Mon  1/25/1999

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