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From:  Joe Martin
Date:  Thu Jan 7, 1999  10:01 pm
Subject:  Re: actors

regarding Chinese, you wrote:
>there are different component parts that have their own meaning.

That is the important distinction we have to make--meaning versus form
(acoustic form in this case).
Using your "Nihon" example, the word is written with two characters, the
first for [ni] and the second for [hon]. Together they make the symbol
for /Japan/, "the land of the rising sun." However, although the first
symbol means sun, the second one doesn't mean anything related to Japan;
it means book. The reason it is used there is not for the meaning, but for
the (acoustic) form; it sounds like (has the same form as) the word
"nihon." If we looked at the meaning we would have the compound
Sun-Book!(?!?!)--since that is the meaning of each written symbol by

Now look at a signwritng symbol; /READ/ There is a little picture of an
open palm. that is one of the parts of that make up the symbol for /READ/,
but by itself what does it mean? Nothing much, but it does indicate one of
the four neccesary parts of a Sign--the handshape. Another neccesary part
is the orientation of the hand, in this case palm up. Here, that is
indicated by the inside of the symbol being blank. Now, by itself, what
does blank space mean?

this is where the analogy breaks down between SW and word-writing systems
like Chinese. The individual symbols can be combined in various ways
to create different meanings, but they don't have any inherent meaning of
their own. this is what linguists-types call duality of patterning, and
it is a characteristic of human language, also of alphabetic writing
systems, and I maintain, also of SignWriting.

Now my question is, since these little squiggles stand for the parts of
the sign, you can "sound them out" just like an alphabet. So...there must
be; some particular order for arranging them. One of the problems with
SignFont I understand, was that it violated this order so you had to read
clear to the end before you got an idea of what it meant. Personally I
have problems writing signs for this reason, and when I look them up in
the SW-ing dictionary, they often suprise me by the way the symbols are
arranged. I suspect that for ease of processing, they should go down the
column showin first the location, then the shape, the orientation, and the
movement last. But they don't always seem to....and sometimes they even
seem to "go backwards"..... (help!!)

Also in connection with that, if the symbols represent the phonemes of the
language, we need to be careful about how many of them we go adding to the
system. There has to be a pretty limited number of symbols, or we've as
bad off as the Japanese........(no offense meant there, it's just that it
*is pretty hard to learn ;-).

Anyhow, that is what I have been wondering.


  Replies Author Date
849 SW Report About Nicaragua Valerie Sutton Sat  1/9/1999

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