forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Joe Martin
Date:  Thu Jan 7, 1999  5:56 pm
Subject:  actors

Bill--I love your analogy. The writing system is to the language like the
actor is to the character. It's perfect; I wish I'd thought of it!

Our remaining question was, is Signwriting a different "type" of writing
system? I think so; here's why;

To a large extent Chinese uses word based writing--every word has a
unique symbol. At first glance SW looks like that. But the SW symbol for
any word is a combination of parts; handshapes, movement arrows, maybe
faces, shoulders...ect. Those same parts combine and recombine in various
ways the same as the letters of an alphabet or syllabary. they are the
units to look at, rather than the entire symbol.

Spoken languages are structured differently from signed ones, and the
orthography must consider this. The former are easier;; they consist
almost entirely of sequences of a small (typically about 30-40) sounds.
(the phonemes)
Create one symbol for each sound, write them in rows, and you've got it.
Decoding it is easy too. Just "sound it out" by pronouncing each sound in
the sequence.

Sign languages don't consist of just 30-40 phonemes. As everyone
should know each sign consists of a combination of at least four things;
handshpae, orientation, location and movement. It's as if you could look
in and see the tongue, vocal cords, and velum (the articulators of spoken
language) move as we spoke. Phonologists have ways of recording this
stuff, and it also is way different from alphabetic writing. They aren't
trying to record the end result but the simultaneous movements of the
various parts. That is what SignWriting does.

SW is different in principle beccause it is recording 4(?) different
things simultaneously, with a different set of symbols for each.
as I see it,
Handshape--the little "hands"
Orientation--the shading of the "hands"
Location--the spatial relation between the symbols
movement--the arrows
facial expressions---the little "faces"

Spoken language has just one type of unit; a sound, which although it is
composed of analogous combinations of articulator movement, can feasibly
be represented by one grapheme. To do that with a signed language though
would require an near infinite number of symbols (for you mathematicians
out there, how many combinations of handshape+(movement in each
direction!)+location....never mind) because Signed language has a near
infinite number of phonemes. Instead, to write it we need to record the
sub-phonemic features, by using the 4? 5? different types of symbols. Not
like spoken languages at all.

What I want to know is how closely signwriting follows the phonemic
structure. I know you can "sound it out"....

Yipes!! I have to go to class..........


  Replies Author Date
842 Re: actors Mark Penner Fri  1/8/1999

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