SignWriting List Archive 1
October 1997 - May 1998

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May 8, 1998

SUBJECT: Standardization of ASL

Date: Fri, 8 May 1998 14:21:00 -0400
To: (Valerie Sutton)
From: (The Watsons)
Subject: Standardization of ASL


Hello everyone,

I have been following the list with great interest for some time now, and have become firmly committed to the promotion of SignWriting.

I did not get into SignWriting from a professional point of view, though my background is in Speech Pathology, but from a personal one. My husband and I recently expanded our family to five, by adopting a little boy who is deaf, and I have therefore been looking for as much information as possible relating to ASL. We have been learning for about a year, so are still novices, but our son is doing incredibly well.

Something that I have noticed in taking classes, following videos and reading books, is that ASL vocabulary differs widely across North America. No sooner have I learned a sign, but we have to relearn it as it is not the sign of use in this part of Ontario. Some signs are in use only at the local school for the deaf. Now that I have been reading the grammar file in the SignWriting programme, I realise that the grammar is also different! For instance, we have been taught that the verb must always come after the subject and object of the sentence. Some examples from the file include the signed sentence, " you go home " where our signed word order would be " home you go " with the object first, subject second and the verb last.

A couple of other examples:-

" Suppose I money, I buy book " here becomes " Suppose money I have, book I buy "

" Suppose rain, I stay home " here becomes " Suppose rain, home I stay "

I was very intrigued to find this difference in grammatical structure, and can't help but feel that SignWriting is the way to standardize ASL across North American to the benefit of all users, deaf and hearing alike. After all, this is what increased literacy has done for every other language in the World.

I firmly believe that if children learn SignWriting before they learn English, their literacy level in English will increase and English will be easier for them to learn. After all, as it stands, English is not only a second language to native ASL users, but it is also limited only to the written form. That is a much harder way to learn any language, particularly if you cannot already read your own..

Here in Ontario, my two older sons attend a French Immersion school. It is unusual in that it is 50% immersion, ie. half the day is spent learning in French and half the day in English. Kindergarten is 100% English, and the children learn to read and write in English in Grade 1, and although they are exposed to French writing at the same time, they are not formally taught to read and write it until midway through Grade 2. This allows the kids to be confident in their first language before embarking on a second, and when the kids finish High School, they are on a par not only with their peers who attended English only school, but also, interestingly enough, with their peers who went to 100% French Immersion.

I mention this because I can see this method's usefulness for teaching SignWriting and English in all our schools in the future. I hope the future is soon!

Shiona Watson


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