Written ASL/Philosophy

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Design Choices[edit | edit source]

Iconicity: How closely should written ASL attempt to visually match the signs it records? (easier to see connections) How much should written ASL attempt to decompose signs into abstract patterns? (fewer items to remember)

Completeness: How much should written ASL attempt to preserve the details of the signs it records? (less deduction to "pronounce") How much should written ASL attempt to be succinct and brief? (quicker to write)

Medium: How much should written ASL attempt to be compatible with the flexibility of signing? (more intuitive) How much should written ASL attempt to be compatible with the restrictions of modern computer technology? (farther reach)

Arrangement: How are the signs composed? (linear vs spatial)

Layout: How are sentences written? (horizontal vs vertical)

Variability: Should a script contain various styles of writing? (Block printing, cursive, or short-hand)

SignWriting's Philosophy[edit | edit source]

The SignWriting Script uses 2-dimensional writing that is visually icon and full of featural information. This is true on the symbol level and on the sign level. A symbol represents phonemic information and is full of featural information to better understand the phonemes of the symbols. A sign is a 2-dimensional arrangement of symbols and is full of featural information to better understand the morphemes of the signs.

Logographic signs are mixed with punctuation to form text. SignWriting can be written either vertically or horizontally. For vertical writing, body weight shifts are represented by a horizontal offset to the left or the right. Body weight shifts are important to the grammar of sign languages, used for two different grammatical aspects: 1) role shifting during sign language storytelling, and 2) spatial comparisons of two items under discussion. One "role" or "item" is placed on the right side of the body (right lane), and the other on the left side of the body (left lane), and the weight shifts back and forth between the two, with the narrator in the middle (middle lane).

The SignWriting Script has two major families: Block Printing for the reader and Handwriting for the writer. Block Printing uses more features and Handwriting often uses less. Block printing is used in education, publishing, and is the basis of the computerized model.

Valerie Sutton writes, "SignWriting Handwriting is easier to write by hand, than the [Block] Printing. It is designed for the writer. There are several variations of Handwriting, and since most of the time, the writer is only writing for private notes, some writers create their own shortcuts that work just for them...and that is fine!"

The purpose with handwriting is not to recreate the iconic symbols of the International SignWriting Alphabet exactly by hand, but the purpose is to enable the writer to quickly write notes on paper or chalkboard. Handwriting often drops features of the SignWriting Script for efficiency and speed. If too many features are dropped, the writing may loose it's clarity over time as the writer is distanced from the writing. This is common for Shorthand.

Valerie Sutton writes, "SignWriting [Block] Printing is easy to read. It is designed for the reader. The Printing can be written by hand as well as by computer. If I am writing a letter to a friend in ASL, I write the letter in SignWriting Printing, taking the time to make sure that my handwritten-symbols are easy and clear to read. I try to write as clearly as if I were using a computer. Of course it is slower, but it is worth it, knowing that my friend will be able to read my letter!"

With Block Printing, a sign is a cluster of several symbols arranged in 2-dimensions space. Each symbol has a definite appearance and understanding within an established symbol set. The exact form of each symbol is structured, standardized, and highly featural.

Since 1986, SignWriting has been available on the computer. The latest standardization has been stable since 2010 for the symbols and 2012 for the script. The formal language of SignWriting is a set of strings that are constrained by specific rules. Any sign of any sign language can be written with Formal SignWriting as a string of ASCII characters. The computer model has been optimized for common usage and processing, such as advanced searching using regular expressions and basic sorting using a binary string comparison.