...SignWriting in Nicaragua Directory...


September, 1998

Email Messages & Reports
about SignWriting in Nicaragua

...taken from the SignWriting List Archives...

March, 1999. Two Deaf students in Bluefields, Nicaragua, read "The Story of Babar",
fully translated into Nicaraguan Sign Language (Idioma de Senas de Nicaragua).
The story is written in the visual symbols of SignWriting. The "Escuelita de Bluefields" school provides a library of SignWriting literature for Deaf students.

 Email Messages
September, 1998

 Email Messages
October, 1998

Email Messages
Nov-Dec, 1998

Email Messages
Escuelita de Condega

Email Messages, September, 1998

Date: Thu, 3 Sep 1998 09:14:41 -0400
Sender: SignWriting List <SW-L@ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA>
Subject: Re: hello world


We just got back from Nicaragua yesterday with gobs of SignWriting data and
projects galore for a peron interested in it (Nicaraguan Sign Language, of
course). Contact us if you are interested. The latest SignWriting story
produced was "Tailypo"--our first scary story. The kids love it. It's also
translated in Creole English.

--Judy Kegl

Date: Sat, 5 Sep 1998 22:35:22 -0400
Sender: SignWriting List <SW-L@ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA>
Subject: Re: hello world

Dear Cecilia or whoever else is curious,

I have just returned from Nicaragua where I direct Escuelita de Bluefields,
the school for Deaf students from the eastern Nicaraguan rain forest. In
Bluefields, we ahve been emphasizing literacy through SignWriting for about
three years now, with exceptional results. The school teachers are all
Deaf and we teach exclusively in Nicaraguan Sign Language. We did have to
make a few adaptations to SignWriting, but nothing of tremendous

I was intrigued to read the comment that ASL does not need a written system
since it already has one, to wit, English. That strikes me as an utterly
illogical claim. If we are to assume that ASL is a bona fide language, and
not merely a visual dialect of english, than written english cannot
possibly be the written system for ASL. Obviously, ASL can be translated
into spoken english and therefore into written english. But, then, ASL can
be translated into spoken Hebrew, and therefore into written Hebrew, as
well. Yet, I don't see anyone claiming that Hebrew is the written system
for ASL.

I understand that Deaf students in the U.S. are taught to read english, and
that those who actually master written english, of which there are many,
arguably do not need another system to write down their thoughts. But,
when Deaf people write in english, they ain't writing ASL -- they are
writing english.

I should add that in Bluefields, we use SignWriting for history and
geography texts as well as numerous storybooks. The system is limited only
by the language sophistication of the signer -- in short, the potential is
tremendous. Also, because the students can read and write their own
language, we are enabled to teach grammar and syntax analysis in Nicaraguan
Sign Language. This also allows us to discuss the grammar and syntax of
Spanish. However, are students for the most part are late first language
learners. We do not have the time to intensively teach written Spanish
over 12 years.

Anyway, besides Deaf people, who else is expected to learn to write a
second language before they write their own? (Answer: conquered societies.)

-- James Shepard-Kegl (Escuelita de Bluefields/Nicaraguan Sign Language
Projects, Inc.), kegl@maine.rr.com

Date: Thu, 10 Sep 1998 21:51:16 -0400
Sender: SignWriting List <SW-L@ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA>
Subject: Re: Texas School for the Deaf

To Christina at Texas School for Deaf:

I direct the school for Deaf children in Bluefields, Nicaragua, where we
emphasize SignWriting literacy. Nicaraguan Sign Language is quite distinct
from ASL, so our books would be of no value to your second grade class.
Anyway, we have been working with SW for over two years now and we had to
produce our own books -- some simple, and some fairly complex. When we
started, we took a book of famous art and wrote about what we saw in the

Some children's books or stories that we have translated (the pictures
almost tell the story, if you find the right book): 3 little pigs, Boy Who
Cried Wolf, Tailypo, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, The Story of Babar, The
Little Engine That Could, Are You My Mama?, Pied Piper. You might try some
Greek mythology or history stories -- there are a lot of children's
versions. The catch is that translating or adapting stories takes time.
But, with each story, you get better at it.

For us, translating stories is an exericise for the class (not second
graders, but older kids.) As we do this, our dictionary file grows. And,
the students who assist us develop a good spanish lexicon in the process
since our dictionary file is in spanish and ISN (Idioma de Senas de
Nicaragua). We also spend a lot of time analyzing grammar and syntax.
This improves everyone's writing skills, and gives the students a better
appreciation of the complexity of their own language.

Good luck! --- James Shepard-Kegl

Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 00:18:10 -0400
Sender: SignWriting List <SW-L@ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA>
Subject: Re: SW for Second Graders

My recommendation is to teach Deaf children to read and write SW as you
would teach hearing children to read and write English. The whole point of
using SW is to put Deaf kids at a par with their hearing peers when it
comes to learning literacy in their native language. SW potentially
succeeds at this because it is "visually phonetic" and therefore children
have a fighting chance at decoding the system.

Now, how do we teach hearing second graders to read? First of all,
hopefully, we have been reading to them all along, so they have a pretty
good idea what a story is. Children do not start by learning the alphabet
or by reading super basic beginner books. Rather, parents and later
teachers read stories to them -- and by second grade, some of these stories
are pretty sophisticated. Certainly, the grammar is highly sophisticated.
The kids themselves first start to read and to write on a minimalist level.
BUT WE HAVE BEEN READING TO THEM ON A COMPLEX LEVEL ALL ALONG. So, why teach Deaf kids any differently? The answer, realistically, is that at
this juncture in the development of SW literature, there just ain't much
stuff -- really nothing that I have seen in ASL SW that amounts to a real
story (maybe "Cinderella" comes a little close.) This is one reason there
remains so much resistance to SW. Actually, there are lots of reasons for
resistance to SW, but this is the only legitimate one.

So, a team needs to be assembled to get cracking on rectifying this
situation. More correctly, a good number of teams are needed. Anyway, I
think each team should consist of: 1) a fluent reader of English (probably
a hearing person); 2) a fluent ASL signer (preferably a native signer) and
3) someone adept in SW. Why do I think a hearing person is necessary?
Well, and I mean no offense, but putting spoken thoughts to pen is inherent
to hearing culture. You can be a fantastic storyteller in spoken English,
but writing it takes experience. For hearing people, this is much of what
their education has been about. On the other hand, a Deaf ASL storyteller
does not have the experience of putting the ASL story from hand to ink --
where would he or she get that experience anyway? (We learn by doing,
under the auspices of those who have done.)

What I am talking about, of course, is a monumental task -- indeed, I can
appreciate the tremendous effort that Valerie and her team have exerted to
produce the material now available.

I have run teams like this for two years now, which is why the SW reading
material in Nicaragua , so far as I know, is so much richer than anywhere
else -- but alas, none of it is in ASL.

So, who wants to be the first to volunteer?

-- James Shepard-Kegl (New Jersey & Bluefields, Nicaragua)

Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 22:38:28 -0400
Sender: SignWriting List <SW-L@ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA>
Subject: Re: SW for Second Graders

The problem, in my humble opinion, is not that the SW ASL material is too
complex for second graders. Rather, it is all too simple. If you want to
teach kids to read , then you have to be able to read to them. The stuff
teachers read to hearing second graders is pretty sophisticated stuff. The
books the second graders themselves read are vastly more sophisticated than
anything I have seen in SW ASL so far, with the excpetion of occasional

There is no overnight solution. Instead, there needs to be an intensive
effort to produce the literature -- not ten sentence basic adaptations of
stories that merely gut them, but truly complex stuff. Educators and
storytellers should be assisting ASL speakers in producing SW adaptations.
(I appreciate that much of the SW material thus far is intended as

The advantage of SW -- the real miracle of SW -- is that the system
potentially puts Deaf kids at a par with their hearing peers when it comes
to learning to read and write in their native language. But, you have to
level the rest of the playing field for this to work. That means the Deaf
kids need the same quality stuff, in SW, that hearing kids get in English,

So, there should be stories with adjectives -- lots of them --, similes,
metaphors and so forth. Sure, you need basic sentence structures, but you
need relatives and conditionals, too. ASL uses all this all some form of
grammatical equivalent. And, you need stories with depth -- stuff that
really peaks the interest.

Produce these, and read them to kids everyday, and they will be truly
motivated to want to read. Combine this with really basic stuff for
beginner readers to learn to read and write. Flash cards have their place,
but children learn to read by recognizing whole words in context. SW is
visually phonetic -- that's why it's so valuable. But, phonetics alone are
not enough.

To adapt a story from English to ASL, you need: 1) a fluent reader of
English who can teach storywriting; 2) a fluent ASL signer ; and 3) an
adept user of SW. Also, respectfully, the notion that Deaf people's
judgment in producing SW stories is inherently superior to that of hearing
people whose culture revolves around putting spoken thoughts to pen is
crap. (Well, now there, I've said it. But, then I'll bet you no one has
produced as much literature in SW as I have. Alas, it's all in the wrong
sign language for y'all in the States. I have been at it with a team for
two years now, and that's why we have as much as we do. Still, we have
just scratched the surface (one of those metaphors even second graders

So, if you want to contact me to assemble a team -- I'm in the USA 7 months
a year.

-- James Shepard-Kegl, director, Escuelita de Bluefields (Nicaragua)

Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998 08:42:27 -0400
Sender: SignWriting List <SW-L@ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA>
Subject: Re: Advanced SignWriting Materials

I agree with Valerie that we all can produce our own materials in SW. It's
fun to do and a tremendous teaching/learning experience for students. In
my opinion, it is absolutely imperative that all writings be in excellent
ASL. This means using natively fluent signers in any production project.

In my experience doing this, I have found it necessary to formulate a few
writing devices, for example, a V-shaped eyebrow figure signals a response
to an interrogative. (I might not use this particular example in ASL. My
translations are in Nicaraguan Sign; but I hope you get my point.) In
english, we use devices all the time that do not appear in spoken language.
We call this punctuation. Anyway, at some point, we should compare notes
-- good ideas may catch on; bad ideas will be trashed.

Also, as you create stories in SW, your dictionary file will expand --
making it easier to write other stories as time goes on. Since people can
spell the same word in different ways, and still be correct, there will
come at some point a need to conventionalize the writing. But, this is
true in all written systems. In the end, Deaf students will adopt
shortcuts and SW will become more abstract than it is presently -- and this
is both natural and positive.

So, let's be a little AMBITIOUS, fellow Signwriters. Perhaps we can set up
regional groups and see who can produce the best version of some storybook
(Babar the Elephant is one of my favorites. Or, if you really want to get
serious, there's an illustrated children's adaptation of Moby Dick that I'd
like to see in SW. There are also some ASL video stories if you want to do
something already in Deaf culture. Well, the possibilities are endless.)

The point is that we have a lot of work ahead of us. But by producing
these materials, you become really, really good at SW. And, here is an
opportunity to give a really significant gift to the next generation of
students. You won't build a library in a day, or a year. But once
complete, it will last forever.

-- James Shepard-Kegl

...two schools for the Deaf in Nicaragua...

Escuelita de Bluefields
Escuelita de Condega

...were founded by...
...and are coordinated by...

Nicaraguan Sign Language Projects, Inc.
James Shepard-Kegl, Coordinator
52 Whitney Farms Road
North Yarmouth, Maine, 04097, USA
(207) 846-8801 voice or tty
(207) 846-8688 fax
Email: kegl@maine.rr.com

...SignWriting in Nicaragua Directory...