Lessons in SignWriting
Video Series

Video 1
Introduction to SignWriting


15 minutes, 38mb


Questions? Write to:

About This Video

Lessons in SignWriting Videos Series
Two videos and two colorful booklets. Available on DVD.
ISBN: 0-914336-72-X.

Two Deaf native signers, Lucinda O'Grady Batch and Kevin Clark, teach SignWriting in American Sign Language (ASL), with English voice and captions.

Video 1: Introduction to SignWriting

Video 2: SignWriting Basics

Item SW-01
Lessons in SignWriting
Videos on DVD & Booklets


Lessons in SignWriting® Video Series
1. Introduction to SignWriting

Published by the DAC
The Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting®

Sponsored by
The Center For Sutton Movement Writing, Inc.
A non-profit, tax-exempt 501 c 3 educational organization.

P.O. Box 517 • La Jolla • CA. • 92038-0517 • USA
858-456-0098 tel • 858-456-0020 fax

Lessons In SignWriting®
Video Series

ISBN: 0-914336-72-X

Copyright © 1995 Center for Sutton Movement Writing, Inc.

Cover & Title Page Photos: Lucinda O'Grady Batch

All photos are captured from the video.

Voice-Over & English Script for Kevin Clark
by Pasch McCombs

All Other Voice-Over & English Scripts
by Valerie Sutton

Lesson plans, poster diagrams,
book layout & design
by Valerie Sutton

Poster diagrams were prepared with the
SignWriter® Computer Program

The SignWriter® Computer Program
was designed and programmed
by Richard Gleaves.

SignWriting® was first invented
by Valerie Sutton in 1974.

All sign language literature & translations prepared
by Deaf members of the DAC.

Video Production Facility:
Lightning Corporation in San Diego, California

On-line Editor:
Thomas Kihneman.

SignWriting® could not continue without support from our sponsors, including..
.Hoag Foundation, Hughes Give-Once Clubs, R.C. Baker Foundation, Rockwell Donate-Once-Clubs, San Diego Gas & Electric, the Seuss Foundation, TRW-Echo, and others.

SignWriter®, SignWriting® & SignSymbolSequence® are trademarks of The Center for Sutton Movement Writing. SignWriting is a part of Sutton Movement Writing.

Introduction to SignWriting®

created by...
Valerie Sutton

Lucinda O'Grady Batch
Kevin Clark


Hi! My name is Lucinda O'Grady Batch. Welcome to our video series "Lessons In Sign Writing". This first video is called "Introduction to Sign Writing".
Kevin Hello. My name is Kevin Clark. You know, I have been involved with American Sign Language research for some time now, so I want to learn SignWriting. But I'm curious. What exactly is SignWriting used for?
CindyThe two of us were born Deaf, from Deaf families. We grew up using American Sign Language, or ASL, our native language. We need a way to preserve our language. SignWriting copies exact movements of signs rather than using English to describe ASL

Oh. I see.
I'm curious.
Who uses SignWriting?

Sign Language researchers, hearing students who need a way to write new signs, Deaf people who want to write ASL poetry, plays, stories, in school education, & also other countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Ireland, & England are starting to write their own signed languages using SignWriting.

I see. That's good. You know, that makes sense because spoken languages have a way to write their own languages. But we as Deaf people, haven't really had a way to write our signed languages. Now, with this system, it seems possible to do that.

Right. The purpose of this video is to show a few handshapes, movement, contact, and facial expressions, and to show a sign sentence written in ASL. Now I'll learn.

Let me explain the difference between the Receptive and Expressive points of view. Receptive means watching another person signing. Expressive means seeing signs from your own perspective.

Back in 1981, we wrote signs Receptively, but we learned through experience it is better to write Expressively. Why? Because we're not demonstrating signs. We are expressing our own language.

Here is the flat handshape. Remember we are using the Expressive point of view. The palm of the hand is always light. The side of the hand is one-half dark, one-half light. The light shows where the palm of the hand is facing. The back of the hand is always dark.

The Flat Hand

Do you have an example? Like the sign “to know”?

Yes. Let me show you a few things. The circle represents the head. Look at the hand symbol. The dark part means the “back of the hand”. The two contact stars mean “two times contact”.

So the two asterisks mean “two contacts”?

Yes. That’s correct. The sign is “to know”. It is from the Expressive point of view. Imagine that you are looking through the back of the head and feeling it on the right side of the head.

Can you represent exact locations on the head?

Oh yes. We can do that. Let me show you the sign for "know" lower on the cheek. The circle represents the head. The handshape is at an angle, touching the cheek. We have two stars for contact. Next we have the facial expression with the mouth up on the right side.

So is this face looking out toward the viewer?

Well, not really. Try to imagine looking through the back of the head and feeling it for yourself on the right side of your own face. In this diagram one sign is for the right side, and the other one is for the left side.

Left Side of Head

(hand on the left side)
Right Side of Head

(hand on the right side)
Left Side of Face

Pretend you can see through the back of the head.
You are reading and writing how your face "feels" when you sign:

(mouth pushed up on the left side)
Right Side of Face

Pretend you can see through the back of the head.
You are reading and writing how your face "feels" when you sign:know
(mouth pushed up on the right side)

This is the symbol for the fist. Look at the first symbol at the top of the diagram. The palm of the hand is a light square. Look at the second symbol. It is one-half dark for the back of the hand, and one-half light for the palm of the hand. The light part shows where the palm of the hand is facing. Then, looking at the third symbol, you see the back of the fist, which is dark.

Now I will show you a sign. You can see there is a square for the fist. Then you see circular movement two times with the right hand. That’s the sign for Saturday:

The Fist Hand


Now let's look at the next symbol. Look at the first symbol at the top. A line, representing the index finger, is sticking out of the square for the fist. The square is light because the palm is facing you. In the second symbol, you see one-half dark for the back of the hand, and one-half light for the palm of the hand. In the third symbol, you see the back of the hand, which is always dark.

Is that handshape the “D” handshape?

No. It is not a “D” handshape. It is the “index” handshape. It is the closed fist with the finger sticking up.

Here is a sign that uses the index hand. We have a circle for the head. Then we have two places for location showing where it is contacting on the face. Then we have the hand symbol showing the index finger and the contact star showing contact. It is the sign for “Deaf”.

The Index Hand

Would you like me to try writing this?


Remember to write the sign, signed with the left hand.

(signed with the left hand)

(signed with the right hand)

That is very good. Let us see if it fits. Perfect! If you compare them. That’s the sign for “Deaf”. Wonderful.

Now we have a sentence written in ASL, written from left to right, just as English is written from left to right. Let me explain a few things. Let us look at the first sign. We have a circle for the head, and two lines showing the eyebrows up. And then we have the next sign which says “ASL” in fingerspelling. And then you see two vertical lines. Those two lines mean a pause, or a break.

In the next sign, you see the head with the eyegaze looking right diagonally, and a facial expression with a tense mouth. The hand is also moving two times right diagonally, in the same direction as the eyegaze. Then there is a thick line at the end of the sentence, which means the “end of the sentence”. An English translation of this sentence might be: “Writing ASL from Deaf people’s perspective".

Another way to write. We just saw the sentence going across the page, but now we see it going down the page. How did it happen that Deaf people started writing down the page? Well, we Deaf people found through experience that it was natural to write down the page. We think perhaps it is connected with space and location, but anyway, of course, we are still experimenting.

Let me show you a few things that are different. They are the same signs we saw written from left to right across the page. They are now simply written down the page. The two-lined symbol representing a pause was vertical before. Now it is horizontal. And the thick line marking the end of the sentence is now horizontal as well:

eyebrows up

Written ASL ,end of

Deaf their perspective.


This seems more comfortable reading it this way.

Yes. I think so. It seems that we Deaf people prefer to write down the page, but of course, we are still experimenting. Maybe we’ll throw out writing from left to right , and start writing down the page all the time. Who knows?!

This seems to be printed by computer. Is that right?

Yes. That’s right. This was printed by computer. We have a computer program called “SignWriter®” that is really a “sign language processing program”, a little like a “word processing program”, but now the signs pop up while you are typing along the screen. It is a nice way to write SignWriting.

I personally prefer to write by hand because way back when I started writing SignWriting we had no computers. Then computers came into the picture. But other Deaf people love to type by computers. Really, a person can continue to write by hand or choose the computer. It’s their choice. It really doesn’t matter.

Yeah. It seems like this offers a person a choice to write by hand or use the computer

Yes. That’s right.

Well, I guess we are finished with this lesson.


If you want information about SignWriting contact us!

Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting • P.O. Box 517 • La Jolla • CA • 92038
USA • • SignWriting Web Site:

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