forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Wed Nov 4, 1998  5:42 pm
Subject:  Phonetic-Phonemic

On Mon, 2 Nov 1998, Ulrike Zeshan wrote:
>I would still like to know whether sign writing has evolved in
>this sense, i.e. in the direction of writing more phonemically instead of
>phonetically. Surely you must have known, for example, which handshapes to
>choose from the maybe 150 or so phonetically occurring handshapes. I am
>sure you didn't use all. So how did it happen? Comments about this may
>help me to think about the application of sign writing to Indopakistan
>Sign Language. Thanks for any hints.
>Ulrike Zeshan
>University of Cologne

November 4, 1998
Yes, SignWriting most definitely has been evolving from phonetic to
phonemic. It has also gone from phonemic to phonetic at times, depending on
the writer's needs.

How did this take place? It was a natural process over time. We wrote and
wrote and wrote ASL signs, until we noticed that we were writing some
commonly used signs a certain way, and that we repeated the same "sign
spellings" for those commonly used the "honed-down" writing of
certain signs happened automatically out of usage.

Sometimes I think people want to skip the natural process and jump to the
finished product - but it is my belief that it takes time for phonemic
spellings to occur in a natural way. And I feel that the process should be
natural and not forced.

I would be happy to take a look at a video of the signed languages you are
studying, to tell you what handshapes seem to happen the most - but I think
you can see that for yourself too. Mainly you need to write signs a lot, to
start seeing the patterns, and then reduce to more phonemic spellings by
testing it with Deaf people native to the signed languages you are
studying. Show them the writing to find out what can and cannot be read -
and slowly you will be able to simplify the writing of the signs.

Anyone who tries to write a new signed language today in SignWriting is
better off than those who tried 10 or 20 years ago, because there is a
foundation to build upon now. By writing different signed languages for 25
years, we have experience. For example we now know that writing down the
page in vertical columns is a blessing for all signed in
many ways, Ulrike, your task is not as difficult as it was before.

I will be happy to help all I can. Thanks for writing -

Valerie :-)

Valerie Sutton at the DAC
Deaf Action Committee for SW


Center For Sutton Movement Writing
an educational nonprofit organization
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA

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