The Stokoe system has come to be known by the name of its creator William Stokoe, whose groundbreaking work Sign Language Structure first brought the existence of signed languages to the attention of linguists. By using symbols to represent the component parts of American Sign Language, he was able to demonstrate how these parts fit together to form a linguistic structure identical with that of spoken language. The original notation consisted of 55 symbols in three groups, each representing one of the formational parameters of a sign; Location, HandShape, and Movement. They were written in a strict order with meaning dependent on placement within the string. The Location and Movement symbols were iconic while Hand Shape was represented by units taken from the number system and manual alphabet of ASL. Attached subscripts showed Orientation, later to be recognized as a separate parameter by researchers throughout the world who followed up on Stokoe's original work, to found the new discipline of Sign Language Linguistics. Various research teams made changes in the notation as they adapted it to their own situations, with no commonly accepted standard ever developing. Hence, the system should no longer be viewed as one single notation but as a whole family of related systems.
Mark Mandel's ASCII adaptation
of the Stokoe System
Joe Martin, Western Washington University
Valerie Sutton, Deaf Action
Committee For SignWriting