SignWriting was developed by an American, Valerie Sutton, at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark in 1974. Sutton had already invented a movement writing system called Sutton DanceWriting, first published in 1973. Invited to teach her system to the Royal Danish Ballet in the Fall of 1974, newspaper articles caught the eye of Danish audiologist and signed language reseracher Lars von der Lieth at the University of Copenhagen. Signed languages were just being recognized as real languages around that time, so for the first time Lieth and other researchers needed a way to record the movements of the languages they were studying. Through her work at the University, Sutton adapted her movement writing system to record the movements of signed languages, which she decided to call "SignWriting". The name is now a registered trademark owned by Sutton's nonprofit organization, the Center For Sutton Movement Writing, located in La Jolla, California.
Hiring born-Deaf native ASL signers, Sutton proceeded to publish the first newspaper in history written in the movements of signed languages. The SignWriter Newspaper was written by hand with ink pens, published from 1981-1984. Articles were written directly in ASL by the people born into the language. There were even articles in four languages side by side - Danish Sign Language, American Sign Language, Danish and English.
In 1986, the SignWriter Computer Program, version 1.0 on the Apple //e was released, programmed by Richard Gleaves. At present, SignWriter 4.3 is in MS-DOS, and SignWriter 5.0, which has not yet been released, will be for the Macintosh and Windows.
Deaf researcher and teacher Lucinda O'Grady Batch formed the Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting, under the auspices of the Center For Sutton Movement Writing, in 1986. The purpose of the DAC is to encourage members of the Deaf Community to contribute to SignWriting's further development. The writing system is evolving with use. DAC members work on dictionaries, instruction videos, and ASL literature when there is funding.
There is one important note...Sutton is a movement notator, not a linguist. SignWriting has no connection with any other writing system, nor is it in any way stemming from a linguistic base. Sutton does not know the languages she writes, because the movement is written down in a generic form, not based on a prior knowledge of the languages being written, but instead based on how the body looks as it moves. This means that SignWriting can write any signed language in the world, including detailed facial expressions and mime.
For more information, contact:
Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting
SignWriting Web Site
Joe Martin, Western Washington University
Valerie Sutton, Deaf Action
Committee For SignWriting