Why Was SignWriting Invented?
A message from Valerie Sutton...

People ask me why I have chosen to dedicate my life to developing a way to read and write signed languages, and it is hard to answer the question in two sentences! So instead, let me tell you my personal perspective, looking back....

In my youth, I was a dancer. I am an American who moved to Denmark at age 19, in 1970, to work with the Royal Danish Ballet. I developed a way to read and write all body movement called Sutton Movement Writing. DanceWriting was the first part of the invention. SignWriting came second.

I did not get involved with Sign Language because I wanted to work with deafness. I started to write Sign Language because I believe in preserving languages for future generations, and signed languages are beautiful languages that deserve to be preserved.

Just as I preserved the historic dance steps of the Royal Danish Ballet in DanceWriting, I also began writing Danish signs, and even though I did not know what they meant at the time, Deaf people whom I met in Denmark could read the signs and they knew what they meant! I decided that I would dedicate my life to developing the written form for hundreds of "movement based" languages, adapting Sutton Movement Writing to fit the needs of each movement language.

Where did I get such an idea? It all happened when I arrived alone in Denmark, a total stranger and new to the country. I did not know one word in Danish back then. I am now bilingual in Danish and English. Danish is my second language.

The experience of becoming bilingual as an adult had a profound effect on me. I loved learning to read and write Danish words. And I cannot imagine how it would be, if there was no way to read and write either of the languages I know.

That is why I believe so strongly in reading and writing all signed languages. Reading and writing makes it easier to learn other languages, it preserves the history and traditions of the culture, and it has a profound influence on the rest of the world. When a language is written, it places it on an equal footing with other written languages, which brings the language attention and respect. Through this process, those who use the language learn about their own culture. They see themselves in a new positive light. There are some who argue that signed languages do not need to be written! No language has to be written - but when we do, we all are richer for it.

I used to take the bus a lot, at age 19, when I first moved to Copenhagen. I am glad, when I stood on the Danish bus, that there was a way for me to read the signs on the bus, which were written in both Danish and English. Years later, in 1984, I returned to Denmark because SignWriting was used in the Danish school system, and I visited some classes of Deaf children learning to read and write Danish and Danish Sign Language. There, on the walls of the classroom, and in the hallways, were signs written in Danish and Danish Sign Language in SignWriting. It was a feeling of deja vu, and a memory I will never forget!

Valerie Sutton



Please feel free to write if you have questions.

Valerie Sutton


Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting
Center For Sutton Movement Writing
an educational nonprofit organization
P.O. Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA

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