Writing Signed Languages
In Support of Adopting an ASL Writing System

Amy Rosenberg
Master's Thesis, University of Kansas
Department of Linguistics, 1999

...back to Table of Contents....
Introduction Chapter 5, Part 1 Appendix B
Chapter 1 Chapter 5, Part 2 Appendix C
Chapter 2 Chapter 6 Appendix D & E
Chapter 3 Summary & Bibliography Appendix F
Chapter 4 Appendix A Appendix G


The struggle to prove that American Sign Language is language has nearly ended. It began with the work of William Stokoe (e.g., 1965) and has been taken up from various angles by many linguists since then (e.g., Wilbur 1987, Valli and Lucas 1992, Siedlecki and Bonvillian 1997). The Deaf community has benefitted greatly from this movement to elevate the status of their mode of communication to equivalent to spoken English, the language that most educators had insisted they abandon their language for. I observed the growing pride in Deaf culture and the way this pride focused on ASL and was cultivated by it. I saw that the only missing piece was writing and wondered why ASL was not written. After finding the SignWriting system, I wanted to make a case for adopting a standardized writing system for ASL which could be used daily by Deaf people and in particular as part of Deaf education.

To deal with this proposition, I felt it would be necessary to discuss the history of writing as well as the various forms it can take. The importance of writing to civilization and to daily life also needed to be presented to emphasize the benefits SignWriting could have in the Deaf community. A picture of this community was given as well as a linguistic overview of its language, ASL. Finally, I tried to fit the writing system of choice, SignWriting, with the language based on the idea that a good writing system should aim for a one-to-one sound symbol correspondence.

Whether or not writing was the key element which brought forth human civilization, its importance cannot be disputed. It is useful in a daily and practical sense and it is a tool used to capture the abstract and artistic. It lends weight to a language, especially one with its status in question. And, it lends import to a culture or group of people who are set apart almost entirely by their language; it is indispensable for a culture that prides itself most on its language. Deaf Americans value and honor ASL above all else because it allows them to create art, to perpetuate their culture, to have a history and even to not be disabled. Adopting a pervasive writing system and teaching it in the educational setting, along with ASL, can only enhance Deaf culture and benefit Deaf people. SignWriting is the best system currently available to handle this task.



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...back to Table of Contents....
Introduction Chapter 5, Part 1 Appendix B
Chapter 1 Chapter 5, Part 2 Appendix C
Chapter 2 Chapter 6 Appendix D & E
Chapter 3 Summary & Bibliography Appendix F
Chapter 4 Appendix A Appendix G

Write to the author...

Amy Rosenberg