forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Rebecca Larche Moreton
Date:  Thu Jan 14, 1999  1:29 pm
Subject:  Re: Notation Systems

Susanne, Antonio, and the person Valerie last quoted are all saying it
correctly: writing every little detail of one's gestures, as Hamnosys
apparently is designed to do, is writing in a very fine phonetic way; the
reader can visualize every tiny movement; this kind of writing is very
useful for linguists who are studying the structure of a language,
particularly the sounds and the words or parts of words. SignWriting, on
the other hand, although based also on movement and orientation, is
designed to be read for the actual meaning of the sentences, and thus is
much more 'user-friendly' for the general reader or writer. SignWriting
CAN show tiny differences in movement, differences that do not make any
difference in meaning, but in order for the reader to proceed smoothly
through a story, some of the visual detail needs to be left out: some
detail is important to the understanding of the meaning, some is not.
When SignWriting is adapted to write another sign language, the important
details will of course be different from those of ASL.

All this is exactly the same as the case with written English or any other
spoken language: only linguists love the little details enough to write
every little puff of air or slight difference in the sound of a vowel, if
those details do not change the meaning of the sentence. When a linguist
is interested in the differences between the prononciation of one dialect
of English or another, or the differences between the pronunciation of
slow and fast speech, or between English and French versions of the sound
"R", then detailed PHONETIC transcriptions are fine. But when the
linguist wants to write about what he has found out, or when he makes a
list of things to pick up at the grocery store, you can bet he uses the
ordinary English spellings of word, the spellings that have developed
over a long period of time and that any person who has learned to read
English can read and understand. These ordinary English spellings are more
abstracted from
the actual sounds and are used to represent words as whole units, not just
individual sounds;

Writing and reading phonetic transcriptions takes a lot longer than using
regular English spelling. Using phonetic writing can be confusing to the
reader; if the writer writes words exactly as he himself pronounces them,
and the reader does not pronounce the words just that way, then
communication can be difficult. So it is more efficient for us all to
write the same, even though we pronounce many words differently depending
on where we are from.

The regular English spelling
system is not perfect as a representation of how English sounds, because
English sounds different according to who is speaking it, but the spelling
system works fine for communication between any two people who have
learned to read it. We can get the exact meaning, if not the exact
pronunciation, from the regular spelling. And a writer in Canada or in
India or in Wisconsin knows that what he writes in English will be
understood by any speaker/reader of English. At the same time, a linguist
can happily use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to write
anything anybody can say. Most people never use IPA, because most people
need to write words, not sounds.

Now look at what is going on with with the writing of signed languages:
A way of writing signed languages for general use exists, SignWriting. It
is an extremely versatile method which can be adapted to any signed
language. In its adaptation to ASL, SignWriting has not
been accepted yet by everyone who could make use of it, but great strides
toward acceptance have been made and are being made every day, thanks to
the efforts of Valerie Sutton and the many people who work with her.

The astonishing thing about the discussions taking place now on this list
is that all the questions which have come up over the centuries concerning
the writing of many, many spoken languages, are taking place at one time
for ASL and other signed languages, right now, publicly! And the people
doing the discussion are signers, teachers in schools for the Deaf, the
parents of Deaf children, friends of Deaf people, interpreters, linguists,
Valerie Sutton and her associated,and anybody else who is interested! So
far as I know, such a situation has never before occurred in the history
of the development of written language. What an unusual and exciting thing
we are witnessing! This is really a kind of "democracy in language
planning," something like a a grass-roots movement; the people who will
really use the
written form are shaping the development of the form as as they learn it
and teach it! I love it! I can
hardly wait every day to see the comments of members of this list: the
analysis of all the various problems and questions makes this the most
interesting discussion list I have found anywhere.

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

  Replies Author Date
887 Re: Notation Systems Susanne Bentele Thu  1/14/1999
902 Late with Special Feature :-( Valerie Sutton Tue  1/19/1999

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