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

Joe Martin
Western Washington University

COMPARISON continued...

5. NMGSs
Non-Manual Grammatical Signals is the newer technical term for "facial expression," the most recent parameter to be described. This includes not only movements of the mouth and brows, but also movements of the shoulders, head and body. Without them no signed language is possible (Liddell 1977, 1). They not only signal questions, relative clauses and other grammatical information, but adverbs typically consist of only facial expressions (Figure 11e)

Figure 11e. Facial Expressions & Head Movement in SSW





SN ignores NMGS, and for an interesting reason. Stokoe realized that it was an "integral part of the formation of a sign" but analysis of them "presents many difficulties" and "will be much more feasible after the analysis of the basic aspects" had been carried out (Stokoe 1960, 38). He was wise to do this; today at least six channels by which information is transmitted in Signing have been identified beside the use of the hands: Facial Expression, Eye Gaze, Lip Movement, Body Posture, and Shoulder and Head Position (Kyle & Woll 29). All of these are shown in SSW. In fact chapters 10 and 11 of the SSW textbook are entitled "Facial Expressions" and "Head & Body" respectively, and show these in the usual schematic way (Sutton 1997a). English phrases like "she said happily," can be signed in ASL with a typical adverb, basically a smile, which in SSW looks like a little happy face. Children's stories in SSW are often full of these (Figure 11f)


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Describing Language