forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Steve/Dianne Parkhurst
Date:  Mon Jan 18, 1999  2:37 pm
Subject:  SW in Spain

Hi, everybody!

I have been a rather silent member of the list, but let me take a few
minutes to fill you in on what is going on with SW in Spain. This past week
we spent 2 intense days with Valerie in her home. (I'm sure she needed a
good long rest after we left.) We shared with her our plans and materials
for teaching SW in Spain. She gave us some really good input and feedback.
She straightened us out on the use of a few of the symbols and we showed
here some of our additions to the system. We spent a lot of time talking
about the history of SW--really interesting stuff! I enjoyed seeing
firsthand how writing down the page worked. We plan to stay with the
Left-to-Right for now, but I will agree that writing in columns is a
reasonable and useful way to do things. There were so many things we talked
about in those two days I couldn't begin to relate it all to you, so I
won't even try. I do want to say that Valerie is doing an incredible work!
It would take half a dozen people to do all that she is doing.

OK, So what are we doing in Spain? My wife Dianne and I arrived in Spain
four years ago to study the sign language. We are linguists with the Summer
Institute of Linguistics. Our first task was to see if the SL all around
the country was the same or if there were dialect variations. We had
previously worked in the US and Mexico and know that there are often
variations from one part of the country to the other, but we were
absolutely amazed at how much variation we found in Spain. We collected a
word list of 200 signs from 18 different locations. We found between 96%
and 58% similarity. Just to give you an idea, when two spoken languages
have less than 70 or 80% similarity, they are usually considered separate
languages. Anyway, we also recorded videos and interviewed a lot of people
as well as became members of a local Deaf club near Madrid. In all our
research we used SignWriting. We found SW to be an extremely helpful tool
for linguistic analysis. Personally I can't see how any SL linguist can get
by without a writing system--glosses just can't cut it. In our work it was
vital that we could quickly read what we wrote and as far as I know, no
other writing system (HamNoSys, etc.) is easily readable. I will admit that
some of the other systems have more developed linguistic software. (We're
working on that too.)

Well, as we conducted our study we noticed that there was some interest in
SW among the Deaf. Most, at first glance, thought it looked like Egpytian
Hieroglyphics or Chinese. But after they saw us using it, they began to see
that it was really did work.

Then, in June 1997, we helped organize the First National Conference on the
Linguistics of Sign Languages. We presented two hours of SW to the group
and it was very well received. As a point of reference, HamNoSys was also
presented. Although everyone (including myself) oohed and aahed over the
computer program, we all agreed that SW was the only one that was readable.
(But that's OK; HamNoSys wasn't designed to be readable; it was designed to
be useful to linguists.)

As a result of the positive feedback from that conference we decided to
develop a full set of literacy materials to teach Deaf adults to read and
write their language. The materials are close to being completed and we
hope to teach the first course this Spring.

We plan to teach a two-month course consisting of 16 two-hour lessons. By
the end of that time the Deaf adults should be able to read with fluency
and write anything they want. Of course anyone can learn the system in a
much shorter time. But to internalize it, to read without focusing on the
form and only focusing on the content, takes lots of time, lots of practice
and lots of material to read.

Our plan is to teach the first class, made up of 10 or 15 Deaf adults.
Then, at the end of the class we will ask them if they see any use for this
system. If so, where do they think they should go with it? If they see half
the potential that we see, and are half as excited as we are about it,
Spain could have widespread literacy courses to teach their Deaf adults to
read and write their own language.

Well, I've taken enough of your time. We are still a little ways from
having the materials completed enough to distribute them to anyone. When we
have a final draft we will let you know, and perhaps we may even post some
of it on the web. (Note: The written Spanish should be fairly standard for
any Spanish-speaking country, but the signs we choose as examples will be
signs from Spain, mostly from the Madrid dialect.)

Over the next few days I will try to write some more e-mails about other
aspects of our work and insights from our visit with Valerie.

Have a great day!!

Steve (and Dianne) Parkhurst

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