SignWriting Began With Video Transcription
To learn to transcribe Sign Language videos, you first
need to understand the structure of SignWriting and how the system
The writing system has no connection to any signed
language. To write signs from video, you do not have to know
their meaning. In fact, to record pure movement, you are actually
at a disadvantage if you know what the signs mean. Signers can
become so interested in what is being said, that they forget
to write what they see!
Since SignWriting is a "generic" movement writing
system, not associated with any one signed language, it becomes
a tool for beginning Sign Language students, to record signs
they do not know. Researchers can write signing styles and mime-like
gestures they have never seen before.
First Video Transcription in 1974 in Denmark
SignWriting began with a video transcription project
at the University of Copenhagen. Lars von der Lieth, Jan Enggaard,
and other researchers, wanted to record hearing person's gestures,
and compare them to Deaf people's gestures.
The research group asked me to view a videotape for three
months. It was a very interesting video, with hearing people
doing movements many hearing people take for granted, when speaking.
The video also included Deaf people doing movements I had never
seen before. That was the beginning of SignWriting. I developed
a way to write signs, from viewing and studying several videotapes.
See Figure 1.
I did not know Danish Sign Language at that time. In fact,
I knew nothing about signed languages. This was very fortunate,
since from that original video transcription project, SignWriting
evolved to record any signed language in the world, or
any mime-like gesture.
This published research, by Jan Enggaard, used SignWriting
to record hearing person's gestures. The research was conducted
at the Audiologopædisk Forskningsgruppe, University of
Copenhagen, Denmark, directed by Lars von der Lieth.
As you can see by the example above, a stick figure drawing,
with shoulders, arms and hands recorded movement from left to
right on the page, position by position. I transcribed this frame
by frame from video.