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Silent News, March 1999
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Has something like this been attempted before? Sutton points to a Cherokee Indian chief, Sequoyah, who in the early 1800s fought to do the same thing she is doing, and succeeded: "(He invented) the written form for his language. His own people burned his books and it took him 25 years and the threat of being executed before his own people finally realized the value of preserving their traditions." Today, though, Sequoyah's Cherokee Alphabet is still used by Cherokees.

"SignWriting has been compared to that because we are seeing it being used during the liftime of the inventor. Most written forms are not used for centureis. English was very slow to be written, and it is only in recent centuries that the average person can read and write English." Compared to English, then, SignWriting took off relatively fast.


To learn more about
the SignWriting diagrams
on this page, click here.




English glosses, which have been used for many years to represent ASL, shows a picture of a person signing a sign, with the written English version beneath the sign. Sutton is adamant that English glosses don't work well even for linguistic purposes: "English glosses are awful and definitely not accurate. There are multiple signs for each English word - so which sign are you choosing when you place an English word on the page? It is totally non-visual. It is wrong to try to write one language with another - if I wrote Danish grammar with English words, the Danes would kill me!" SignWriting, because it records native sign languages far more precisely, does a better job.

Sutton observes how learning SignWriting seems to increase self-esteem for both Deaf children and even some Deaf adults, who then find it easier to learn written English; however, she humorously pointed out that "I don't want to save the Deaf - I have enough problems saving myself - thank you very much!" Her primary goal in SignWriting is to merely record sign languages as precisely as possible so that other people can use them for their own purposes.

SignWriter software can be downloaded for free from the SignWriting Site at

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Silent News
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Alexandra Han
Silent News Columnist

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University of New Mexico Linguistics Department


...other Silent News articles...

A New Controversial Approach to Literacy:
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