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

Joe Martin
Western Washington University


COMPARISON continued...

4. Orientation
Stokoe argued that Orientation was a part of Hand Shape. Others later argued that the original SN treated this parameter as Movement in some cases, and part of Hand Shape in others, and it would be better to show Orientation as a separate parameter. This view is now standard, and researchers in Britain have incorporated it into SN. They modified the basic ordering formula so that every Hand Shape symbol is followed with a subscript for Orientation. In fact, they split the parameter in half and write it with two subscripts; the first one showing the way the fingers point and the second showing the way the arm is oriented (Figure 11).

Figure 11


In SSW, Orientation has three parts. Taking advantage of the fact that the back of one's hand is darker than the palm, coloring in the back of the hand symbol indicates which way the palm faces. The other part of orientation, that of the arm's alignment, SSW handles in a completely different arbitrary way, by leaving a small gap in the symbol whenever the arm is aligned parallel to the floor (Figure 11b).

Figure 11b: SSW
Left column below: Hand parallel with your chest. Right column below: Hand parallel with the floor.


The third aspect of orientation in SSW is the unique fact that the symbols can be rotated to point in different directions (Figure 11c).

Figure 11c
In SSW, the fingers can point in different directions.



The Cree syllabary, another partly featural script, uses the orientation of its letters to represent vowels (Campbell 41), but SSW takes this idea even further. It points its Hand Shapes in the direction dictated by the grammar, just as the signed languages themselves do, and thereby solves the difficult problem of how to write signed pronouns (Figure 11d).

Figure 11d
ASL Pronouns written in SSW.



HE or SHE located left

HE or SHE located right



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





Describing Language