How Do You Translate Into SignWriting?

February 10, 1999

QUESTION: Another question on translating: Here in my classroom we are working with translation but it is not a literal word by word translation. We translate the idea from spoken language into Sign Writing. How do you translate?

ANSWER: I would suggest that your students sign their translation onto videotape, and then your classroom can write SignWriting from the video, as a classroom project. That way, you all will learn how to analyze what you sign. It will give you information you can refer to. Later you may become skilled enough that you will not need the video, and you will be able to write directly into SignWriting without thinking in a spoken language.

I personally have never done a translation. Here we write SignWriting documents in one of two ways...

1. Transcription from video...The story is signed directly in a signed language onto videotape and we transcribe into SignWriting from the video.

2. Write directly in SignWriting. The person who is fluent in a signed language writes directly in that signed language without thinking in English or any other spoken language. Darline Clark Gunsauls and David Gunsauls have done work like this. Here are examples of direct writing into SignWriting on the web:

Goldilock's and the Three Bears In ASL

Humpty Dumpty in ASL

Cinderella in ASL

Of course translations have been done...James Shepard-Kegl and others working with Nicaraguan Sign Language have done several translations. They take a well-known story already published in English and then work hard on capturing the flavor of the document in Nicaraguan Sign Language. That is quite a skill!

I know they are translating the famous English novel "Moby Dick" into Nicaraguan Sign Language right now, but I cannot give you instruction on how they do it.

Here is an example of one of their translations:

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

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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