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Silent News, March 1999
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How did Sutton stumble into SignWriting? "In my youth, I was a dancer. I am an American who moved to Denmark at age 19, in 1970, to work with the Royal Danish Ballet. I developed a way to read and write all body movement called Sutton Movement Writing...Just as I preserved the historic dance steps of the Royal Danish Ballet in DanceWriting, I also began writing Danish signs, and even though I did not know what they meant at the time, Deaf people whom I met in Denmark could read the signs and they knew what they meant! I decided that I would dedicate my life to developing the written form for hundreds of "movement based" languages."


Photo right: Valerie Sutton
in a Danish class which is learning both written Danish and
written Danish Sign Language.

 

"I used to take the bus a lot, at age 19, when I first moved to Copenhagen. I was glad, when I stood on the Danish bus, that there was a way for me to read the signs (posters) on the bus, which were written in both Danish and English." Due to this experience, she can identify with some Deaf people's frustration in navigating their way through society. "Years later, in 1984, when I returned to Denmark because SignWriting was being used in the Danish school system , I visited some classes of Deaf children learning to read and write Danish and Danish Sign Language. There, on the walls of the classroom, and in the hallways, were signs (posters) written in Danish and Danish Sign Language in SignWriting. It was a feeling of deja vu, and a memory I will never forget!"

Why would there be such a strong resistance to learning SignWriting? "I lived a life of controversy the moment I started writing signs in 1974", Sutton says cheerfully, pointing out that "Historically, new ideas that create 'social change' are always met with resistance in the beginning, and SignWriting is no exception."

When she was first invited to use her Sutton Movement Writing to record sign languages, "people were still getting used to the idea that signed languages were real languages, and that idea was a major social change too. (Deaf people) had been taught that their own language was inferior, so it took them time to adjust to the fact that they could be proud of their own language now. And reading and writing it (their own sign language) was just one more thing, piled on top of all the changes in thinking, and it was overwhelming for them...It took 25 years for them to get used to ASL and other signed languages as being 'true languages'. " However, "once that idea became more established, the need for writing the language became greater."

"We have all heard about the 'war between the oralists and manualists'," she adds. "SignWriting certainly has nothing to do with that "war", but many people were wary of any new idea in Deaf education, because they were steeped in controversy between oralism and Sign Language already." As well, "They were skeptical that a hearing person might respect and want to preserve American Sign Language and other signed languages."

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Silent News
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http://www.SilentNews.org

Alexandra Han
Silent News Columnist
sandlh@ns.sympatico.ca

...related articles....

1
SignWriting In The USA
Literacy Projects in American Schools

2
The Albuquerque Public Schools
SignWriting Literacy Project
Letters & Web Reports, Mona Sherrell & Cecilia Flood

3
Classroom Experiences Teaching SignWriting
in the Albuquerque Public Schools
Excerpts from email messages by Cecilia Flood

4

Research Project
Albuquerque Public Schools Research Project
Assessing Deaf Children Learning SignWriting

...Cecilia Flood 1999 & continuing...
University of New Mexico Linguistics Department

5

...other Silent News articles...

A New Controversial Approach to Literacy:
SignWriting: Will It Work?

...by Alexandra Han....
Silent News, November 1999