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SignWriting List
April 9, 2011

On Apr 8, 2011, at 10:51 AM, Erika Hoffmann wrote:
> In the article I am revising I want to address briefly in a footnote the issue of ordering of signs in SL dictionaries using SW. The reviewer of my article was speculating that Stokoe might have chosen to arrange the elements of a sign in a linear fashion to facilitate clear ordering of signs for the creation of dictionaries. S/he wondered how this issue is handled for SW. I have a sense of how the issue is approached, but I figured it was better to ask the list rather than risk getting it wrong in print! Thanks! Erika
> Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway
> Assistant Professor of Anthropology
> Oberlin College

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Hello Erika and Charles -
Thank you for this question, Erika, and thank you, Charles, for sharing your work (which is below).

First, Erika, your reviewer has asked an understandable question, which is commonly asked. The answer is that SignWriting is sorted by Sign-Symbols daily in software, such as SignPuddle (and other software), and by hand by writers, and has been sorted by Sign-Symbols since the early 1980's, when we started using the term "Sign-Symbol-Sequence" which is equivalent to "alphabetical order for Sign-Symbols".

Second, writing horizontally with symbols in a string from left to right, like the Stokoe system, is not what Deaf writers have requested or need. Our skilled Deaf writers requested that we write in visual clusters - that is to say that the symbols are placed visually in relationship to each other, and this provides a true writing of the visual nature of sign languages... So writing horizontally...with each symbol one after the other from left to write like spoken languages in the western world, looses the important spatial relationships between handshapes, faces, head movement and other parts of the body... which is one of the reasons that Stokoe notation is not written on a daily basis by everyday signers...it was developed more for the linguistic research world... SignWriting was first and foremost developed for the everyday world so that signers have a tool in their daily lives... the writing in visual clusters is just natural to sign languages and natural to SignWriting...

So we do not need to write horizontally...we already sort by Sign-Symbols in another way...

So how do we sort dictionaries by Sign-Symbols?

First, we establish the "SignSpelling Sequence"...In SignPuddle for example, the writer of the sign adds their choice for the sequence of the symbols within one sign (word), called a SignSpelling Sequence, so SignPuddle knows how to sort the signs, based on 1) the SignSpelling Sequence, and then 2) once all the signs have a SignSpelling Sequence, then all the signs are sorted by the alphabetical order of the symbols in the International SignWriting Alphabet (Sign-Symbol-Sequence)...

Here is a screen capture of the SignSpelling column in SignPuddle where the writer adds their choice for a SignSpelling sequence: