forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Rebecca Larche Moreton
Date:  Sun Jan 10, 1999  2:43 pm
Subject:  Re: actors

On Sun, 10 Jan 1999, Cecelia Smith wrote:

> writes:
> >
> > The "B" hand means "B". :-)
> >
> Not unless it is held in the position and orientation that shows you are using
> fingerspelling. In another position and orientation, that hand-shape is
> used in the sign for "CLOSE" or for "DOOR" :) In those instances,
> the "B" hand has no meaning, in and of itself. It certainly is not an ASL
> sign for the English letter "B"

And there you have it, the abstractness of ASL (and by extension of any
sign language): "...the 'B' hand has no meaning, in and of itself." It
('B' hand) must be combined with other features, according to the rules of
ASL structure, in order to convey any meaning at all in that language.

By the same token, the individual 'pieces' which are combined to make up
the signs of SignWriting are also abstractions. They represent
handshapes, orientations, places, and movements, and only the combinations
of these elements, taken together, can be understood as words and
sentences of ASL.

It is fascinating to me to read the postings on this List and see how the
concept of a really good writing system for signed languages, which
Valerie and
her associates have developed, is being shown, explained, and popularized.
And how SignWriting is being, still with the heavy involvement of Valerie,
plus the hard work of members of Deaf communities, teachers, and others,
adapted to the signed languages used in numerous countries. And all the
while, more and more people are learning more and more about how writing systems
come into being and how they actually work for the users of a language.

Everyone who reads this list is getting a wonderful education in the
usefulness of linguistics when it is applied to real problems of real
people! And we are all seeing what persistence can do: when you
have a really good idea, you have to tell it to people over and over
again, as Valerie has been doing for a long time, until people can see
where your idea can go and what it can do.

This process of getting SignWriting accepted probably seems very slow to
those actually doing the work. But in the long view, the spread of
SignWriting among signed languages of the world is taking place with
blinding speed in comparison to the long, slow way in which new writing
systems in history have been spread. It's not over, but it's well begun, and
it's all being documented publicly right here on this list! I wouldn't
miss a single message that is posted; it's too exciting!

(Rebecca Larche Moreton)
301 South Ninth Street
Oxford, MS 38655

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