January 8, 1998
MESSAGE TO THE SIGNWRITING EMAIL LIST
SUBJECT: SignWriting Is NOT A Language
Sutton's Note: The message below is very eloquently written
by James Womack, a Deaf professor formerly from Gallaudet, and
now in Las Vegas, Nevada. Before I post it on our web site, I
want to share it with all of you. It was written in response
to someone who was against SignWriting because they thought SignWriting
was a "new language". The person was concerned that
we "change ASL". Many people think that SignWriting
is another form of "SEE" signs.
Of course, if they learned SignWriting they would know that
SignWriting records ASL exactly as a video would record it, except
with symbols instead of pictures made by a machine. And if they
met me or the many wonderful Deaf people who work with me, they
would know we are "ASL purists" who want to preserve
the language exactly as it is.
That is why I appreciate James' response so much. Here it
From: Krakadoom <Krakadoom@aol.com>
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 09:12:13 EST
Subject: Re: SignWriting Is NOT A Language
SignWriting is not a language. Nor is writing of any form
a language. They are graphic representations of a language. Languages
exist in true form as either spoken means of communication or
a manual means. This encompasses such lingual forms as the drumtalk
used by certain African tribes, the whistling language of another
tribe in Africa, the signs used by Native Americans for trading
purposes, and the various sign languages of the world.
When we formulate a graphic means of representing these languages,
we call it writing. Writing can take more than one form. It can
be phonetic representations in the form of symbols called letters,
words, and sentences. It can be hieroglyphics like those used
by ancient Egyptians and the Sumerians. It can be highly abstract
symbols such of those of Asian nations. It can even be a light-based
system like Morse Code. But never, never, never is writing the
language itself. It is an artificial representation of a language.
And that's all it will ever be. And that is what SignWriting
Before I understood the above, I used to automatically reject
( indeed held a total abhorrene for ) SignWriting. But then I
saw how even audists inside schools for the Deaf prevented ASL
from being a "written" part of their program and recruited
parents in favor of this. That is while mouthing support for
ASL, they refused to write it into the curriculum or program
goals. One of the arguments they used was that ASL was not really
a language because it has no written form. This is a stupid argument
because all languages pre-date their written form. If these audists
accept this argument, they must also accept that all languages
were not languages until they had a written form. That includes
their beloved English. They refuse to do this and we know why.
The very nature of the argument is absurd beyond belief. Yet
this is what they used against ASL and got away with it. However.
SignWriting removes this frivilous argument. But if Deaf people
insist on attacking and automatically rejecting SignWriting,
we only hurt ourselves because we literally give audists ammunition
to effectively work against us.
SignWriting is not a language. It is a representation of a language.
ASL was here long before SignWriting. English was here long before
it had a written form. Some South American native tribes to this
day have no written form. One day they will and that form will
NOT be a language, it will be representative of the language.
Someday, we Deaf people will understand this fundamental fact
and realize SignWriting is an ally and not an enemy. Someday.
Community College of Southern Nevada
Department of International Languages
3200 East Cheyenne Avenue, #N2C,
North Las Vegas, Nevada, 89030-4296