A Linguistic Comparison
Two Notation Systems for Signed Languages:
Stokoe Notation & Sutton SignWriting

Joe Martin
Western Washington University


COMPARISON continued...

3. Location
For signs on the body, SN follows its usual taxonomic approach, giving mildly iconic symbols for 12 distinct locations. Again, later research has shown there to be many more; Corina lists 36 (Corina 30), while Liddell and Johnson found 56 (Liddell & Johnson 274). For two-handed signs, both systems treat the base hand as a location and describe it in terms of its hand shape. This shows its location within the signing space but not the relation between the two hands, for which SN includes a number of diacritics. The ASL sign meaning "coffee" is made with 2 fists, and a small horizontal line placed over one of them indicates the proper relationship, one hand under the other.

SSW has no symbols for Location. The parts of a SSW character are not written in left to right order, but in whatever relationship they actually take in a Sign. For "coffee," one hand is written underneath the other. The SSW "symbol for location" is the visual image itself, with its physical arrangement. This is a radical departure from any kind of linguistic thinking, but then so were languages that use space instead of sound (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Location of Two Hands, One on Top of the Other
The ASL sign for "coffee."

Stokoe Notation

Circular motion, while remaining in contact. Line over first A-hand means it is lower of two stacked hands.

Sutton SignWriting

Two fists with light colored palms visible. Circular motion. Stacked position of hands is mapped.


...back to Table of Contents....





Describing Language