How Are SignWriting Symbols Invented?

First, in regards to the history behind SignWriting, there are nine History articles online:

SignWriting History Directory

But the question is asking how I developed the writing system itself - how did my thinking process work when I developed the original symbols?

Have you ever asked a painter how he or she thought of the painting? I am sure it is hard for many painters to explain their creative processes. I guess you could say that I am a creative artist too.

The actual symbols are developed intuitively. I write what I see without judging meaning. When developing a new symbol, I watch the movement, blur my eyes, and "write what I see" on paper without looking down at my hands. I have no idea what I wrote, until I look down at the paper. That is the intuitive part of the process.

Then the practical side of the process begins. I analyze the scribbles I made, and try to "turn the scribbles into real symbols". Then I place those new symbols onto separate sheets of paper, and I flip them like animation, to see if the movement written on paper "looks like" what happened in real life. In other words, I have taken the concept of animation, without animating it, and turned it into a visual writing system.

But that is only a third of the job. The next third is to test it with those who will use those symbols. Do they work, do they not? Can you read them? If people look at me cross-eyed, then I know I have failed and I go back to the drawing board. Then I test it again, until we can read each others' writing.

This process just happened recently when my guests were here from Spain. There is a section of SignWriting that needs some "perfecting" because some of the people using some symbols in one country, cannot read the same movements written in another country! It has to do with small finger movements. So...while my guests were here I found some old files of ways we had written these movements before, and I showed these samples to them...and I could see they were not that happy with the way we used to write it!! So now I am thinking through other alternatives, which I will post on our web site in time, and then I will get feedback from lots of people, until we can all come to a concensus. This takes time of course, but it is well worth it. And we are succeeding in getting an international writing system because of this detailed and collaborative work.

And the last third part of the job, is having the guts to publish books on these symbols, knowing full well that in six months the books will be out-of-date, as the system continually improves. And I am happy to rewrite the books until they are the best they can be! I am not afraid of opening myself up for criticism, because I know that ultimately it is the writers themselves who will determine the way they want to write....and if I don't show them what we have right now, how can they possibly give us more feedback? So publishing, and re-publishing, and re-publishing again... is an important part of the process.

Perhaps the real answer behind the question is that I believe in what I am doing, and I have dedicated my life to it, and I respect the opinions of others. So that is how SignWriting was, and is, being developed.

I hope this answers your question!

Have a splendid day!!

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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