Excerpt from article published
in SIGNMatters, June 2005

by Cathy Heffernan

Putting SignWriting
to practi
Dr. Bencie Woll is the Chair of Sign Language & Deaf Studies in the Department of Language and Communication Science at City University London. She used SignWriting in a research project with Lorna Allsop a few years ago. This is what she has to say about it.

"Lorna Allsop and I were doing a project on International Sign (IS). The existing transcription systems are designed to represent the phonologies of sign languages, but International Sign is not a full language, so it is impossible to make decisions about whether (for example) two handshapes contrast with each other, since there are no people who are native signers of IS. SignWriting was useful because there are no assumptions about the underlying structure of the signing.

I arranged for Lorna Allsop, who was working with me on the International Sign Project, to travel to San Diego to be instructed by Valerie Sutton herself. When Lorna came back, she trained me. I think she spent a week there. I also made use of the training manual to teach myself.

Dr. Bencie Woll

I have always been interested in the idea of writing sign language for several reasons. It would benefit learners if they could write signs instead of just trying to remember them. Writing is a way for deaf people who don't have access to technology (for example, in the developing world) to be able to record their signing and communicate at a distance with other signers. Being able to read and write a language enhances and changes the way one uses one's language in face-to-face communication.

In order to take off in the UK, I think it would need the support of the Deaf community, teachers and parents of deaf children."


A paper about the writing of international signs using SignWriting was published in 1994:

Presented at the Fourth European Congress on Sign Language Research that was held in September 1994 in Munich:

Paper Title:
Lorna Allsop, Bencie Woll, Jon Martin Brauti: International sign: the creation of an international deaf community and sign language

Published in:
Sign Language Research 1994
Proceedings of the European Congress on Sign Language Research Munich 1994, 1995

360 pages
ISBN 3-927731-57-9

International Signs Project 1993-1994
A Message from Valerie Sutton about the project...

Dr. Bencie Woll and others at the Centre For Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol, England used the SignWriter Computer Program for several years for different projects. One project in 1993 involved typing large amounts of sign language from videotapes. One of the Deaf people working on the project was Jon Martin Brauti from Norway. Jon typed pages of "international" signs into documents on the computer. Jon sent our Deaf Action Committee some of his files in December, 1993. He has done stunning work - it is really beautiful! And members of our Deaf Action Committee could read much of what he typed. It is very gratifying for us to see SignWriter being used so well!

Since that time, Dr. Woll moved to City University, and in August, 2005 to University College London. For more information about projects using Sign Writing in the UK, please contact:

Bencie Woll, BA, MA, PhD
Chair of Sign Language & Deaf Studies,
Department of Human Communication Science,
University College London
Chandler House, 2 Wakefield Street,
London WC1N 1PF, England, UK
Voice: +44 (0)20 7679 4200
Fax: +44 (0) 207 713 0861