SignWriting List Archive 1
October 1997 - May 1998

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February 18, 1998

SUBJECT: Help In Research

From: "Karlin, Ben" <>
To: SignWriting <>
Subject: RE: Help in Research
Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 11:23:00 -0600

Cecilia, this is not as unresearched a topic as you may think!

There is a wonderful book entitled "The Alphabet Effect" which chronicles the impact of having an alphabet on world culture. (James Burke from PBS does a similar thing in a book based on a TV series "The Day the World Changed" which focuses on Gutenberg's press popularizing books and their impact.) I do not have a citation for it any longer but it gives a short history of alphabets (from iconic glyphs to abstract symbols) then on to a discussion of the value of the alphabet as a linear system for organizing, cataloguing, indexing etc. This has had a tremendous impact on how we organize things cognitively.

ASL poetry shows similar linguistic impact by its structured use of hand shapes and/or movements, progressions of hand shapes in number stories and ABC stories, etc. I would suggest that the work of Stokoe, Casterline et al in identifying the primary parameters of ASL marked the start of the process that will naturally end in some sort of writing system which allows indexing and organizing.

You may want to check out the New Zealand Dictionary of Sign which recently was published on CD-ROM that uses HamNoSys for notation (and indexing). I think (just read a post that men's brains shrink as we age; the memory part of mine is nearly gone) Alexandre Bonucci was working on an online dictionary of LSF (lingue des signes francais) catalogued by HamNoSys.

As long as I've got the floor, the reason I've thrown in with SignWriting instead of HamNoSys is that I find it more user friendly, more accessible (just my opinion) and that HamNoSys seems to be building its user base among academics rather than in Deaf communities. HamNoSys seems technically more precise to me, but it may turn out that the SignWriting:HamNoSys relationship is similar to the Latin Alphabet:IPA Phonetic Symbols relationship.

Ben Karlin

Staff Interpreter for the Deaf,
St Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center H007B,
5300 W Arsenal St, St Louis, MO 63139-1494
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