SignWriting List Archive 1
October 1997 - May 1998

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To: SignWriting.Email.List
From: Tane Akematsu
Reply To:
Date: October 27,1997

SUBJECT: Literacy In SignWriting

Date: Sat, 25 Oct 1997 00:48:22 -0400
From: Tane Akamatsu or Terry Watada <>
Subject: Re: Literacy in SignWriting

On October 24, 1997, Ronice M. Quadros wrote:

>Hello Valerie Sutton and others from DAC!
>I am from Brazil, but I am living in USA by now. I would like to put my
>email adress from here, because I have interesting to know about sign
>writing and, specially, about literacy in signwriting. My intuition
>tells me that literacy in signwriting will help a lot of the acquisition
>of writing by deaf people. Please, if you know who is working with this
>let me know.

>I am native signer, but I am hering person and I am learning to write
>signwriting. Signwriting has been useful to me because I am doing
>reserch about Brazilian Sign Language in syntax and I think that is much
>easier to write the examples from this language in signwriting than to
>write in any other system. Moreover, I like to write things that I think
>in sign language through signwriting.

>I am so glad to be with you for signwriting improvement!

>Sincerily, Ronice M. Quadros


>Delamar Weber and Ronice Quadros
>Address: 115 Courtyard Lane
>Storrs - CT 06268-2285 USA
>Phone: (860) 429-1709


This is an interesting question.... Research on bi-literacy with other
languages would suggest that there are two levels of knowledge required
to write in a second language. First, one must *know* the other
language (e.g., have a large enough vocabulary, know the grammatical
rules, the semantic constraints, the pragmatic rules, etc.). Second,
one must know the orthography of the language; the more similar, the
easier the transfer between the languages is. Thus, between French and
English, because the actual alphabet is almost 100% identical and there
are many cognates, the transfer is "closer" than, say , between English
and Chinese, where there is NO similarity between the writing systems
and very little in the way of cognate words.

Given that scenario, I would imagine that deaf people who could sign the
signed version of that national language (e.g., "signed English" in the
USA, or at least "contact sign") would have an advantage over those who
signed only ASL, simply because they would have some idea of a) what
words are needed, and b) in what order. That still leaves the second

SignWriting, which uses a different system of mapping lexicon to print
than does English (i.e., the "orthography" is different), would render
it rather opaque to certain languages (I'm thinking English and
Portuguese, since Ronice Quadros asked the question) -- and I would
imagine to logographic languages such as Chinese and Japanese, as well.

All of this is armchair psychology, drawing upon research literature
from biliteracy in two spoken languages. I think SignWriting may be
terrifically useful for biliteracy in two SIGNED languages, since one
would then be using the same orthography and be working in two language
from the same modality.

I still maintain that SignWriting, in its current state, is a great way
to notate signed languages, and can be wonderfully useful for people
studying signed languages as languages. I'm watching eagerly for
research results from teachers using SignWriting in their classrooms to
see if it does indeed translate to better national language literacy

Tane Akamatsu


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