Learn To Read SignWriting (GebaerdenSchrift)
by Stefan Wöhrmann
now, Sign Languages were considered languages without written
forms. The invention and further development of SignWriting
is truly sensational. Finally there is a real way to write all
of the signed languages in the world with an easy to understand,
practical writing system.
Valerie Sutton (below you can see her sign-name written in SignWriting)
is the inventor of SignWriting. The interested reader will find
more information about the history of SignWriting and links
to SignWriting users on the internet. Just go to the following
As a young ballet dancer, Valerie Sutton was interested in writing
down dance movement, documenting the aspects of space and dynamics
in a quick, exact and easy to understand way. She invented a
notation system, calling it “Sutton DanceWriting”.
Later, she became interested in describing all kinds of body
movement as well, not just dance. The general system for writing
all movement is called “Sutton
Movement Writing & Shorthand.”
A special section of Sutton Movement Writing is used for writing
the movements of signed languages. This is called “Sutton
SignWriting”, which became, over the years, a very effective
writing system for Sign Languages.
In 2001, I heard about SignWriting for the first time. Since
then I put a lot of energy in spreading “GebaerdenSchrift”
as it is called in the German speaking area. In the beginning,
I focused my energy on learning to read GebaerdenSchrift. Thanks
to a very intense exchange via phone and the internet with Valerie
Sutton, I qualified to become a specialist in this field.
I am very motivated to support the further development and the
spreading of GebaerdenSchrift. Therefore I offer presentations,
lectures and workshops about it.
Stefan Woehrmann explains palm facing in SignWriting.
I have compiled an extensive dictionary of written signs, with
more than 9000 entries, using the special SignWriter DOS Computer
Program, which is available for free on the internet. Because
of my many written GebaerdenSchrift-documents, other interested
beginners have a better chance to develop skills faster, allowing
them to write documents on their own. You can view these documents
if you visit my web site on the internet: www.gebaerdenschrift.de
Gebaerdenschrift Changes Teaching Methods At School
In literature written about deaf education, you will find numerous
comments about how Deaf students have poor literacy levels in
oral languages, even if the students have gone to school for
many years, and that Deaf children are not able to learn the
German spoken language used by hearing people. Therefore, Deaf
children have little chance to compare their knowledge about
what is being said, with why the comment was made, with what
they see in a given situation. The bigger problem is that very
few deaf children are familiar with any Sign Language in their
early childhood. This circumstance can lead to negative results.
Without any strong language as a basis, they are asked to learn
a “first language” which they cannot hear, but which
is, on the other hand, the basis of all communicative exchange
in their environment. Without strong competence in spoken German,
there is no chance of being successful in school.
The result is, that in general, deaf pupils are way behind their
hearing peers, when it comes to skills and knowledge in school.
Even the medical invention and development of the Cochlear-Implant
(CI) will not change this fact for the majority of these deaf
children. Deaf children at young ages are often unable to describe
their own feelings or to reflect the behavior of other people
in an adequate manner. This may cause additional risks for the
social-emotional development of deaf children.
deaf children do not only lack competence in a spoken language
that would allow them to talk about conflicts or to understand
contents in schoolbooks that are written for their peer group,
but their knowledge about the world, their general education,
and their ability to have a dialog are so reduced, that a vicious
cycle develops: namely that the required simplification of language
used with deaf children does not permit truly substantial progress
regarding general knowledge, and competence in a spoken language
is not achieved. They have trouble identifying with other role
models and reflecting on the consequences of their own behavior.
Searching for a way out of this dilemma, bilingual education
concepts are finally receiving more attention in Germany. Deaf
children achieve a substantial Sign Language competence within
a few months, if the outside basic conditions are set in place
thereafter: Important is a setting where deaf children are playing
and learning together with support by pedagogical staff members
who are fluent in Sign Language.
The acquisition of Sign Language competence can only be the
first step. There is a fundamental problem that has to be solved.
Deaf children do not have a chance to compare the terms of the
unknown target language ( foreign language = German) in systematic
alignment with the terms of their strong communication system
(Sign Language), if they are not provided with adequate written
materials and documents.
Until now, deaf children belonged to the few linguistic minorities
which could not receive books written in their everyday language
– which is Sign Language – in order to find a guided
way into the target language – in our case it is German.
Now we can change this dramatically! We can write documents
in SignWriting and can provide deaf children with training materials
which facilitate the acquisition of the German spoken Language,
providing substantial vocabulary and grammar. If we are signing
to a deaf child, sign language performance can be fast and therefore
hard to understand. There are several parameters that are critical
for meaning. The deaf child has to perceive and understand all
these parameters pretty well, in order to incorporate this sign,
with this given peformance, into his active vocabulary. It is
hard to connect a German word to a specific sign within a signed
phrase. Many signs are difficult to remember, if a person does
not have a chance to have a closer look at the different parameters
SignWriting offers the possibility to describe all the important
parameters of a sign sufficiently and accurately, without making
excessive demands on the reader (with too much detailed analysis
– or memory requirements). In fact, many beginners who
start to learn SignWriting perceive many signs that are written
in SignWriting (the term “sign” in signed languages
corresponds to the term “word” in spoken languages)
in the beginning, like a pictogram. They understand the meaning,
without even knowing anything about the spelling rules and principles
that have to be learned and understood by the SignWriting scribe.This
explains why even very young children at the age of three years
and children who have substantial difficulties in school with
other literacy-programs for spoken languages, do not have trouble
reading SignWriting documents fluently, achieving a feeling
of success from a very short training period.
Learning to write SignWriting is different than learning to
read SignWriting, however. The writer must learn an internationally-accepted
set of SignWriting symbols and SignSpelling rules. The steps
of becoming a skilled SignWriting scribe can be compared with
how we learn to write an oral language. The writer overcomes
an initial phase in which he finds himself confronted with lots
of spelling mistakes. With increasing experience the level of
writing competence will rise if he is interested in support
and feedback from experienced users.
It is now a goal in this area of special education, to place
the deaf child in a position where he can learn new vocabulary
from spoken language, in a deeper, more profound way, by connecting
these new words to the well-known signs of his everyday communication
system. And that is exactly what happens, when we provide bilingual
documents (Sign Language and Spoken Language).
SignWriting documents can be compared to the German written
documents. Comparing the expressed ideas written in two different
languages and two different writing systems in a contrastive
way is a very powerful support to understanding and acquiring
the specific contents of the target language (German).
Students who are asked to transcribe or to translate the SignWriting
documents into written German documents are continuously asked
to proof-read their own vocabulary and thereby this reinforces
their knowledge about the grammar of the target Language.
Contrary to receptive meaningful reading of German written documents,
the child is asked, in the case of this translation process,
to remember his knowledge of names (glosses), and the use of
these single terms within grammatically correct sentences. Knowledge
gaps and specific uncertainties in this area are effectively
uncovered. Frequently repeating this translation task, the students
feel more and more secure and proud. They get the chance to
monitor their own level of competency by seeing for themselves,
how often they had to refer to the supporting materials that
were handed out along with the SignWriting document.
These practical experiences in our School for the Deaf has shown
us another very welcome phenomenon. While deaf children need
quite a lot of time to learn to read and get a feeling for German
written documents, they succeed in learning to read SignWriting
documents relatively quickly and pretty much problem-free. Two
of my students, even after being taught to read German spoken
language for quite a long time, still struggle a great deal,
and could not gain a satisfying level of German literacy. But
teaching them beforehand to read the easy to understand SignWriting
document serves like a pre-training for learning to read German,
and later on, they have a deeper understanding of what the German
written document really says, because of the SignWriting. I
assume that the reason for this is that the SignWriting document
gives them general information about what is being said, and
that gives them motivation when they are faced with the difficult
task to learn to read new German documents.
While deaf signers perform German Sign Language (DGS) you will
see a great deal of mouth, tongue and lip movements as if “mouthing”
German words (without voice) while signing. Mouthing German
words while signing serves as important information about the
exact word that is being signed with the hands. Many signs seem
to be identified only by the difference in the mouthing of the
equivalent word. I do not want to participate in the discussion
about the importance and meaning of mouth movements during sign
language performance in Germany right now. I just would like
to mention, that after watching sign language videos, dialogs
between deaf people, and taped television recordings of sign
language programs, I came to the conclusion that there is simply
no question that German signers exhibit a high ratio of mouth
movements while signing.
So I realized that my written SignWriting documents could only
be read fast and precisely, if I took the time and attention
to write these mouth movements as a part of the different signs
within my document.
This information led to another important discovery. My deaf
students started to accept the written SignWriting symbols for
mouth movements as “special information” about the
meaning of signs. Their attitude changed and they began to pay
closer attention to lip-reading while they were communicating
in sign language directly with a partner. This is a very welcome
result since, as a teacher of deaf children, I am very interested
in improving their lip-reading skills, which will help them
later on, when communicating with other people who do not know
Children who start at primary school need special instruction
to become aware of their difficult task. They are constantly
under pressure to ask themselves whether they are able to understand
what the dialog-partner tried to express. This is already a
difficult task for many deaf children who “survived”
the first few years without any fundamental language system.
But they have to understand and to learn much more. Their task
will be, during their school years, and hopefully later on,
to ask themselves whether they are able to express a given term
or idea in both spoken language and sign language. It is not
enough to be able to sign the message. In order to improve integration
in the business world of the hearing majority in Germany, deaf
people are much better off, if they achieve a high level of
German spoken language competence.
So these young children at age seven to ten have to understand
that there are two different language systems which should not
be mixed up.
To understand this concept takes quite a while for these children.
From my own experience, I can tell you, that deaf children of
fourth grade level in Germany (11-12 years old) use the SignWriting
documents and the SignWriter DOS computer program in an amazingly
analytical and competent way, using them as autodidactic language
acquisition tools…in other words, SignWriting and SignWriter
are being used to strengthen and to extend their German spoken
language competence. Interestingly enough, I seldom focus on
the benefit of the SignWriting documents on Sign Language development
because this seems so obvious and natural. But of course this
is true too!.
Within this context, it is very helpful to have the level of
difficulty in the SignWriting documents be equivalent to the
level of the learning in the target language.
Beginners, students with poor levels of language acquisition
and otherwise weak learners receive documents which are written
in Exact Signed German (LBG) in SignWriting. The single signs
– printed in a big size are written with many additional
mouth movement symbols. These documents also contain a lot of
written fingerspelling in SignWriting, in order to facilitate
a translation into spoken German. There are only a few lines
on a sheet of paper. The child is asked to write the translation
directly beneath the SignWriting sign.
In the beginning, I tried to figure out what the best kind of
SignWriting document would be, for helping these deaf children
learn to read and write German spoken language. Contrary to
my prior assumption, the children, none of whom came from Deaf
families, felt quite confused over the fact, that there are
two different Sign Language choices in Germany, namely Signed
German (LBG) and German Sign Language (DGS). They preferred
to work with SignWriting documents written in Signed German
(LBG). This way they could read documents written in the movements
of signs, but the signs follow the German sentence structure.
The children understood the task. The task was to learn vocabulary
and grammar in German spoken language. We wrote the German words
in the sentence directly underneath the signs written in SignWriting.
Having done this again and again, deaf children experienced
first insight, and then later the feeling for German sentence
The final goal for deaf children is to reach the highest level
of competence possible, namely to be able to translate SignWriting
documents that are written in pure German Sign Language (DGS).
In these documents, you find only a small portion of the facial
expressions used to write the mouthing of words, which I call
Mundbilder. Oftentimes there is one Mundbild (mouth symbol)
for one sign – and almost no fingerspelling support. In
these documents the word-order does not follow the German spoken
language, but instead is oriented strictly to the rules of the
grammar of German Sign Language.
Even the corresponding transmission of idioms and special phrases
can now become a subject of learning on the path towards literacy
in both language systems. The children are able at this stage
to read a written document that is written in DGS simultaneously
in spoken German if the sentences are not too complex. They
become so skilled at reading both languages, that a spectator
would not know if the document in the hand of the deaf child
is written in German or SignWriting.
Thus – comparable to other foreign language training courses
– there is the chance to create learning materials, lists
with vocabulary, excercises for grammar training and special
written texts that support the language aqcuisition process.
The deaf children read, sign, articulate and write the sentences
1) Where is the car?
2) Where is the airplane?
3) Where is the ship?
4) Where is the train?
These sentences can be presented now in DGS as soon as the children
are able to understand the meaning in the two different options,
LBG and DGS. Therefore the teacher has to be skilled in, or
at least able to communicate with the students in both Signed
German (LBG) and German Sign Language (DGS) as well.
The translation requirements of the deaf children become more
sophisticated over time. Not only do they need to understand
the correct word sequence in a sentence, but they also must
learn the article of the nouns and their declensions, which
we have in the German spoken language. They need to understand
the conjugation of verbs. Of course, all this “spoken
language information” is not a part of the SignWriting
documents that are written in German Sign Language (DGS) because
DGS has a completely different grammar structure.
The simple little sentences in the examples presented in this
article are only the beginning. As soon as the children are
accustomed to the method of learning with these bilingual materials
they are well prepared and highly motivated to work on their
own with documents that consist of many pages. These documents
can be translated stories, songs, poems, prayers, specific phrases
that are needed in the classroom, lists of vocabulary, special
exercises for grammar or all kinds of dialog role-plays like
question and answer exercises.
The fact that the students are able to understand the contents
of the SignWriting documents so easily can be used effectively
and successfully in order to undertake the adventure of learning
a foreign language (German).
The positive aspects of SignWriting however are not limited
to the setting of school teaching with deaf pupils. A very important
aspect is that native Signers and Sign Language users will now
have the chance to document their thoughts or even poetic styles
in their original native Language - their Sign Language. Up
until now we could not expect to get anything that could be
compared to such written documents. People make videos of Sign
Language performances, that can be viewed again and again, but
only if you own the equipment and have the technical know-how
to use the equipment.
In the past, the concept of being able to re-read a signed story
or a live-presentation from a Sign Language festival, in a written
book, was not even a possibility. Now, however, we can re-read
and study in detail most diverse Sign Language performances.
Imagine the variety of literature that is possible, from a religious
prayer like the "Lord`s Prayer” , to a lesson in
Sign Language grammar, to a funny joke when two deaf people
perform a dialog. The structure of the lecture, the choice of
the dialect, determined interpretation forms…all these
special aspects can be recorded and read quickly.
The result is not just pleasure and satisfaction. The study
of SignWriting documents offers great opportunities, including
assisting in the analysis of videos of Sign Language performances.
A video can be viewed a second time with better focus on the
details, because of the written SignWriting document. When Signwriters
watch a signer perform, it is a different experience than when
you write the signs. Later the Signwriter will have to make
lots and lots of decisions regarding all the different parameters
that will constitute the special aspects of each sign. The chance
to be able to open a book in order to re-read a specific Sign
Language performance is simply inspiring.
Also regarding international Sign Language comparisons, SignWriting
opens new possibilities. The Sign Languages of the world are
not the same. Even in Germany, there are many different Sign
Language dialects and various differences between signers of
different ages, social backgrouds or geographical regions. In
addition to that, we believe that some degree of the various
versions for some signs are actually the outcome of a “not-too-accurate-reading”
and / or performance of these signs.
In Germany, hearing people play a game that is called “Stille
Post” (in English in the US, it is called “the game
of telephone”). People stand in a line, and one person
whispers a word into the ear of their neighbor, and it continues
down the line. Each person whispers what they heard the other
person say to them. The result is oftentimes funny. The original
message – the pronunciation of a word –or even the
entire word - has been changed within this row of communicators.
It is possible that this happens with the way some signs are
produced when people copy each other without paying too much
attention to the details of a sign.
Another reason for the variety of signs may be the influence
of hearing teachers. Every day there are so many terms and facts
that need an adequate translation in the classroom, and some
teachers may create there own “hometalk” signs,
if they are not aware of the existing vocabulary in their national
SignWriting offers the chance to store and retrieve all the
data that constitutes a given Sign Language performance. Databanks
can be setup to record many different sign language variations.
Deaf and hearing skilled signers could use independently specified
texts, films or pictures, in order to compile solutions for
translations of spoken languages into signed languages (DGS
or also LBG). These contributions can be videotaped. The videos
can be transcribed now into SignWriting. These documents form
an outstanding basis for an exact analysis of what Sign Language
looks like, or should not look like. In contrast with the video,
one can put the written documents next to each other. Going
back and forth, pointing to a specific symbol here and there,
allows marvelous comparison of the different interpretations:
1. What captures the reader’s attention?
2. What is most welcome?
3. What kind of interpretation in Sign Language would be favored?
4. What is rejected after intensive discussion among Signers?
5. Which aspects should receive attention in Sign Language courses?
There are substantial advantages for using SignWriting with
hearing users and learners of Sign Language. Sign Language is
visually-based and is difficult to learn for phonologically-oriented
hearing people. One reason for some frustrations and poor results
in Sign Language courses may be due to the fact that the class
participants received, in the past, insufficient learning materials,
that would provide backup for students at home, reviewing what
was learned in class.
DGS-glossing with a few drawn Sign Language illustrations as
single sketches are frequently not enough, in order to provide
sufficient learning materials required for training purposes.
In addition, glosses are not adequate to even approximately
illustrate the beauty and originality of German Sign Language.
In my opinion, glossing is kind of a makeshift way to show the
order of signs in German Sign Language, without writing the
mime characteristics, like mouth gesturing, brows, or head positions.
Glossing does not provide an accurate way to show how the sign
was produced or which dialect was chosen.
Documents that are written in SignWriting describe exactly what
the movements look like visually. This is very different than
long word descriptions of movements, handshapes, and all the
other parameters that constitute signs. With SignWriting, the
reader can comprehend quickly and, without too much guessing,
what the performance of the sign looks like, if the document
is well written following the SignSpelling rules ;-).
I would favour a package, which contains both the video of a
Sign Language performance and the transcription of the video
written in SignWriting.
An important aspect of the benefits of SignWriting could be
seen in the production of a set of specialized Sign Language
dictionaries for different classes at a School for the Deaf.
Finally teachers and pupils could have a common, or at least
comprehensive use of terms in Sign Language for the many technical
terms and name-signs of important persons, places or historical
events. (In Norway there is, for example, a database for physics
instruction with approximately 800 specialized technical signs
written in SignWriting!)
Our experience shows that it seems very easy to learn to read
SignWriting documents. In fact, visitors to our classrooms understand
some SignWriting basics within minutes and are able to understand
some simple sentences with repeated signs after less than an
Competent Sign Language users are often astonished how quickly
and easily they are able to achieve a fairly high level of reading
competence after only three days of instruction. They are able
to understand the described movement performance with few problems
because they are able to compare the imagery of the written
document with their knowledge about their own native language
for everyday communication.
Thus I would like to refer to an important aspect. Since SignWriting
is nothing but a description of movements, reading for deep-meaning
pre-supposes that the competent reader can reconstruct the Sign
Language performance. The reader or performer will not understand
the meaning of his performance unless he knows the Sign Language
that has been written down. And in the reverse, you can see
that SignWriting offers the exceptionally fantastic possibility
of learning foreign Sign Languages, or learning other Sign Language
dialects in German-speaking countries. What does SignWriting
look like? How to describe the substantial aspects of this notation
The Roman alphabet is a set of symbols that are the smallest
elements of spoken languages. These symbols - the letters, numbers
and punctuation marks - can be arranged in new combinations
to form new words, sentences, questions or whole texts. With
these letters we can write German, English, French, Spanish,
and other languages. But only the knowledge of the respective
national language however, allows us to be able to understand
what is being expressed.
Although a person who knows the letters of the Roman alphabet
can read a Finnish word out loud, that does not mean that he
also knows what this word means, if he does not know the Finnish
language himself. On the other hand - and this is funny to imagine
– an illiterate Finnish person would be able to understand
this pronunciation by just listening to the word, because he
knows the Finnish spoken language in advance. There are other
writing systems, which are built upon small units too, and SignWriting
is one of them. The flexible re-arrangement and new combinations
of these small symbols or letters, provides endless possibilities.
If you try to write Sign Language, you have to know beforehand,
which parameters of a sign are meaningful. Which variations
in the performance are still acceptable and will still be the
same sign? Which variations lead to different meanings? Comparing
this to written spoken language, we know of such spelling variations
that are very close to each other too, such as:
Mouse - louse - house;
Ice - egg - rice - one.
For German Sign Language (DGS) such criteria can also be designated,
requiring special attention during performance and during the
process of writing signs as well. These parameters specify handshape,
palm facing, location in space, direction of motion, movement
dynamics, mime and gesture, mouth movements, eyegaze and so
forth. All must be able to be written accurately and they are
The fascinating aspect about SignWriting – perhaps this
is the true secret of the system’s success – may
be the very fact that Valerie Sutton herself does not make linguistic
judgements when writing movement, and this has been true since
the beginning of her system.
Her intention from the beginning has never been – and
this is still true today - to write down the linguistic aspects
of Sign Languages. Valerie Sutton is interested in recording
general movement. She writes a movement-description of how the
sign looks. Think of all the vast varieties of different kinds
of movements. It could be a physio-therapeutic manipulation,
a sequence of dance steps, a poetic expression or the movements
written within a New Year’s greeting performed in Sign
Language. She still continues to state that it does not even
have to be human movements. For example, it could be an elevator,
a ferris wheel or a grasshopper, whose observable movements
she can record with her Sutton Movement Writing system.
This general independence from linguistic considerations allowed
her to develop a purely visually-oriented writing system which
can be reconstructed and expressed quickly and easily by the
The written feedback from all over the world corresponds with
my own experiences as a teacher and SignWriting instructor:
Even very young children are able to remember the meaning of
the signs, by reading the visual SignWriting symbols, with very
development that serves as a foundation for the writing system
is the epoch-making computer database called "Suttons SignBank".
Valerie Sutton put together extensive archives of all the symbols
that are needed in her general Movement Writing system, and
stored them in a SignBank database, called “Suttons
In order to understand this better, think of the symbols in
the Movement Writing system as a little like the letters in
the Roman alphabet. You may combine as many symbols as you need
in different ways, and will get many new movement descriptions
or SignSpellings. Some of these will be recognized by some readers
as written signs that stem from their familiar Sign Language.
They will understand what the sign means, because they know
the Sign Language in advance. But others will only understand
how to perform the movements, while reading the SignWriting
symbols, without having any idea what the movements mean, because
the sign they are reading comes from a foreign Sign Language
they do not know themselves.
Some individual symbols are meaningful signs in their own right
(see e.g. number signs).
*SignBank, which is still in the process of development, will
allow anybody to search for signs by SignWriting symbols, and
by sign parameters, including handshapes, movement symbols,
facial expressions and other aspects of signs. It is important
to understand that, until now, we did not have software to do
that. In the past, we have been fortunate enough to be able
to search dictionaries by words in spoken languages and this
would find the corresponding sign. This continues to be very
useful and is a great help in increasing Sign Language competency.
But searching by sign parameters, and searching by every symbol
in the Sutton Movement Writing system is absolutely new, and
Valerie Sutton is pioneering to provide Sign Language users
with different needs, a powerful tool with a wide range of applications.
*Note 2005: This article was written while SignBank was still
in development. In 2005 there are three computer programs that
can search for signs by SignWriting symbols and sign parameters:
1. SignBank, www.SignBank.org
2. SignPuddle, www.SignBank.org/signpuddle
3. Flemish Online Dictionary Software
which is becoming open source in 2005:
We have the ability to find a written sign in the dictionary,
if we search for the corresponding German word in a list of
German words. But with SignBank, as soon as more people create
some hundred entries in different dictionaries that represent
the individual Sign Languages of the world, we will get the
chance to compare any given word or sign, in a variety of different
Sign Languages. With a mouse-click you can ask for a list that
will show all the entries in the different foreign Sign Languages.
It is amazing that within seconds you can compare the sign for
“lion” or “deaf” in as many Sign Languages
as are already represented in the SignBank database.
To get a better understanding of the category structure used
in the SignWriting Symbolbank, look at the table "Suttons
In each category, Valerie Sutton sub-divides the symbols into
different Symbol Groups (see table "Category 1: Handshapes").
Each Symbol Group is yet again divided into other sub-groups:
For example, Category 01: Handshapes: Group 01: Index Finger.
Partitioning of each group into sub-groups, based on the categories
above, provides each symbol in the Sutton-Symbol-Sequence with
an identification (ID) number:Example: Group 01: Handshapes
Each handshape can be viewed at a glance with a chart that displays
all of the palm facings and rotations for each symbol, which
is very helpful (see table below).
There is a special
website on the Internet:
in which the different symbols, with all manifestations, are
To give you an idea of the kind of unbelievable personal commitment
that has been necessary to achieve this pioneering effort, I
would like to quote a message dated October 21, 2001, written
by Valerie Sutton, posted to the members of the SignWriting
“I categorized and entered thousands of SignWriting symbols
into the database. I did this work by propping my elbows on
pillows (for less strain on my wrists). I programmed my mouse
to use different buttons for repetitive keystrokes. I entered
symbols around 8 hours a day ... happily I avoided any wrist
problems. To do this data entry, I developed a ‘rhythmic
flow’ while entering the symbols ... almost like a dance
... I had an established routine for entering ... that got faster
and faster if I was not interrupted. But if, for example, the
telephone rang and I was interrupted briefly, it would take
me about a half hour to get back into the rhythmic flow again
... I now know how it feels to do data entry ... not an easy
task if done over a long period of time. Antonio Carlos da Rocha
Costa blessed me with a gift of 4,000 Gifs! I had already entered
around 2,000 of those, but the other 2,000 were an enormous
help. Thank you, Antonio Carlos ... what a blessing! The beta
test version has around 6,740 symbols, which gives us enough
symbols to test different dictionary sorting routines. Later,
when SignBank 2.0 is officially released, I hope to have at
least 10,000 symbols in SymbolBank.”
For most users who are just interested in writing SignWriting
documents, the information about the symbol ID numbers and the
symbol categorization is not that important. The average SignWriting
user has only to learn what kind of symbols are available on
the computer based symbolset, and where to find them on the
national keyboard of the SignWriter program. Using SignWriter
DOS 4.4, with some practice, the desired handshape symbol can
be found easily, including the required palm facings, flops
and rotations, plus other details.
This then points out, that there is specialized software for
typing SignWriting documents, that works efficiently and easily.
This computer program, SignWriter DOS 4.4, is available free
for download on the web (www signwriting.org). Instruction documents
give an introduction to learning how to use the SignWriter program,
which will help you get started. (I know what I am talking about!)
I offer workshops for the adult education classes in Osnabrück,
Germany, on a regular basis. Participants attend two 24-hour
courses which include basic information on learning to read
SignWriting, and they also learn how to type with the SignWriter
DOS 4.4 computer.
There is not enough space in this article to teach you SignWriting
in its entirety! Interested learners are most welcome to access
the web for instruction. You can teach yourself the basic rules
and principles by visiting the SignWriting web site in Germany,
called the GebaerdenSchrift Site: www.gebaerdenschrift.de
Here you can find not only a variety of SignWriting documents,
but dates about upcoming workshops as well.
In order to give you, however, at least a first impression,
of how easy it is to understand SignWriting, please look at
the following two tables. I transcribed a German Sign Language
(DGS) performance of the "Lord´s Prayer" in
SignWriting. This, obviously, is another field of practical
application for SignWriting: Signing choirs in churches or during
Sign Language festivals will now have outstanding opportunities.
These groups can have the great advantage of written documents
for their group presentations!
Good luck and enjoy your first attempt at reading!
(my name-sign : Stefan Wöhrmann)