SignWriting List
September 11, 2011

Beautifully explained, Adam...That is exactly what we discussed this summer - Writing signs is where we can see if the hand symbols are working or not...

I am excited that you are presenting private SignWriting workshops at Gallaudet University now, Adam... I read about it on

If anyone at Gallaudet wants to learn SignWriting, write to Adam:

Adam Frost
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Val ;-)


On Sep 11, 2011, at 11:01 AM, Adam Frost wrote:

Yes, Charles. It is something that Valerie and I have talked about for several hours (actually days) about. We are very aware of the issue. The problem is that every time we try ways that could make it consistent, more problems come up. We finally decided that since people are writing with these symbols (generally) without any problems that we would see what it is that makes them ok even with the seemingly inconsistent patterns. Even if we call them "exceptions", it is really more an explanation as to why some symbols are "inconsistent" so that the readers can more readably read them. While the "write what you see" is a good general rule of thumb, everyone see things differently so it cannot be THE rule or there will be no standard to go by. It is really the same with English. Even England and America have very different opinions how to write and even say things, but it is still English. Go figure! ;-) 

That is really all this manual is, an agreement between Valerie and myself as to how we write as well as how we have seen several others write. Agreements always have compromise. Both of us feel that there are things that could be improved, but how to do so without creating more problems is the dilemma. That is why Val asked if you had any specific writings that gave issues since we are talking about how to write rather than the theory of writing. That goes for everyone including myself. If anyone has some problem, ask here. While most likely it will be something that we have already had some solution with in the past, you never know unless you ask. :-)

Hope to see your questions. :-)


On Sep 11, 2011, at 11:31 AM, Valerie Sutton wrote:

SignWriting List
September 11, 2011

Hello Charles, Adam and everyone!

Thank you for this message, Charles. And thank you Adam, for your hard work doing all those photos of 261 handshapes, of your own hands, and then enlarging the SignWriting symbols so we could place the symbols next to the photos...

Adam and I are co-authors on the new book "SignWriting Hand Symbols". We did not change any of the hand symbols. These are exactly as they are in the International SignWriting Alphabet 2010, so the book is a documentation of the symbols that exist right now in SignPuddle 1.6 online.

The plan is, to add detailed explanations of exceptions, and also to explain about the fact, that seeing the symbols directly beside photos gives the misimpression that these symbols do not rotate or have exceptions - but there are lots of exceptions when people actually use them...One of the reasons that you may not have noticed some of the thumb issues before is because people use the symbols the way it feels best for them, and it is amazing how, with what we have right now, we can write many sign languages and usually the signs look very visual with what is really happening...

The thumb issues have always been in the SignWriting system, since its beginning in 1974...there have always be issues with "thumbs" - smile - thumbs can be confusing because sometimes the side thumbs can look like a thumb forward, and so of course consistent rules are a good idea, but since 1974 we have not completely solved all the problems with thumbs - meanwhile people are writing all over the world since 1974, and there is no other writing system used to write literature...we have 500 page books now...and I can read every sign with no problem - 

No one is saying anything is perfect...please know we know the ISWA 2010 is not perfect...and back in the SignWriter DOS program you will see that the symbols are the same except for a few - the C hand always had the problem you mention, Charles, even back when you and I knew each other in the early 1980's - so it is not really different - the difference is that now that we see the symbols in a great big reference manual all one after the other with photos, and the symbols are not in an actual written sign, but just sitting there with no meaning attached to them...the inconsistencies are more obvious...but these inconsistencies existed back in the early system may not have noticed them as much because we did not have a reference manual of this kind before...

That is why I really am happy that Adam and I are working on a series of books called the SignWriting Reference Manuals...There will be five manuals when we are done:

SignWriting Reference Manuals
Manual1: SignWriting Basics Instruction Manual (2009)
Manual 2: SignWriting Hand Symbols Manual (2011, with Chapter 12 added in 2012)
Manual 3: SignWriting Movement Symbols
Manual 4: SignWriting Head, Face & Gesture
Manual 5: SignWriting Literature Composition

You can see that we are planning to add to Chapter 12 in the back of the SignWriting Hand Symbols Manual, so I guess I was wrong to say that the book is "complete", although we are selling the 310 page book right now and we plan to send each person who buys the book, Chapter 12, in the future...

I look forward to discussing the inconsistencies later, but today I have my nephew Michael here from Florida visiting. He has been here for a week visiting his grandparents (my parents) and will be leaving tomorrow - perhaps later this week, we can start these discussions and of course it will be helpful for Chapter 12!!

So here is my suggestion, Charles - If there is a sign that you simply cannot write with the ISWA 2010 the way you want to write it, please show us that specific sign - the application of the symbols is what matters - because as far as getting symbols to look exactly as they do in real life - just like the photos that Adam took do not show the hand positions exactly either - the symbols are no better than the photos - they are imperfect - but it is the writing of the signs that matters - so finding signs that cannot be written is what is important - writing systems are strange because they are never perfect, just as a camera or a tape recording is never perfect - so it is the understanding of the readers and writers between themselves that matter -

So we see the inconsistencies too - but they have always been in the writing system - if you feel you must change something for your own writing, please inform us, and then show us how you constructed the symbol in SignPuddle, so we can see what you prefer for a specific sign -

Before I go, let me all show you the one page that I started in Chapter 12 in the SignWriting Hand Symbols manual...See page is based on a sign for WET or SOFT, in the Cat in the Hat document - I like the way Cherie Wren wrote this sign! well done, Cherie.... It shows how the symbols can be rotated in different directions to show the "direction of the fingers" for meaning - we hope to add many pages like this in Chapter 12 showing different ways to write the same sign - If someone disagrees with it, they can write it the way they want...Adam told me he would have written this slightly differently too, and I had planned to add that one on the next page but then we did not have time - We had to finish the book before Adam went back to Gallaudet University on August please see the attached diagram showing page 294... and thanks for your interest and devotion, Charles - (and for those who ordered the book...thank you for your order...they will be shipped this coming week - please forgive the delay) .... Val ;-)

SignWriting Hand Symbols Manual

attached is page 294


On Sep 11, 2011, at 4:54 AM, Charles Butler wrote:

As I have stated before, the placement of the thumb on more than 30 of the handshapes seems arbitrary and confusing. I look at my hand and it does not match the signwriting shape. 

The thumb is on the wrong side from looking at it. The drawings don't try to put the little finger on the wrong side, why do you do that with the thumb? '

I'm supposed to teach this when my own students will ask the same question. But teacher, if I lay my hand down on the drawing, it doesn't match. Are my students blind? 

And on some of them the index finger which clearly shifts sides of the palm is rigid as if I can't count fingers and look at the edge of my palm and see which side of an icon it ought to be on. 

If I cannot look at my hand, and lay it down on the icon and see which side is up or down, then the system really needs to be looked at again. When this system was created, we did not debate it. We taught "look at your hand" and "write what you see".  That is not here now.

Black and white are palm facings and fingers must be on the side they actually are on, not one shape, without rotation for the same hand. The hand mirrors, why not the icon? I want an answer that makes actual literal sense. Show me how my thumb does not move? 

The C hand in particular makes no sense. The same icon for both the front and the back of the same hand when the thumb clearly moves is truly odd. How can a mirror image NOT be a mirror image?

The rule of "point to the center" when the thumb just isn't there is not what I learned when the system was created, and now ALL of those old drawings, including a lot of what I edited in Brazil are wrong? I don't think so.

It is a triumph to get all of the icons in a graphic volume, but there is clearly something odd going on here. 

Charles Butler

--- On Mon, 9/5/11, Valerie Sutton <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

From: Valerie Sutton <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: NEW: SignWriting Hand Symbols Manual completed!
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Monday, September 5, 2011, 9:03 AM

SignWriting List
September 5, 2011

On Sep 4, 2011, at 6:33 PM, Alan Post wrote:
Yay!  I've been waiting for this.  My order is placed! -Alan


Thank you for our first order for our new book, Alan!

Adam Frost and I worked on this book for several years. The first four chapters were on the web for download in the past year. But the book was not finished until a week ago...

Finally we have photos and symbols of 6 palm facings for all 261 hand symbols of the ISWA 2010 documented in a book...Thanks to Adam's patience with taking photos of his own hands, and then enlarging the symbols. I wrote the instruction sections, but Adam provided the photos of himself for the instruction sections. I did the book layout and design, but without Adam's improved graphics of the enlarged symbols we would not have a this was a true co-authorship....

Thank you, Adam, for your hard work.....I truly enjoyed working with you on this big project...

And Alan...your copy will be in the postal mail tomorrow - smile- -

Val ;-)


On Sep 4, 2011, at 3:10 PM, Valerie Sutton wrote:

SignWriting List
September 4, 2011


SignWriting Hand Symbols Manual
by Valerie Sutton and Adam Frost

The SignWriting Hand Symbols Manual is a thick 300 page, paperback, spiral bound book that devotes a full page to each of the 261 hand symbols of the International SignWriting Alphabet (ISWA 2010), used to write over 40 sign languages.

Each page shows one handshape with 6 photos showing 6 different palm facings. The corresponding SignWriting symbol is placed next to each photo. Additional SignWriting instruction is included in the front and the back of the book.

Useful for beginning and advanced SignWriting students, sign language linguists, teachers and researchers.

Now available for download online:

Go to:
SignWriting Lessons

and available for purchase online:

Go to:
SignWriting Shop

Val ;-)

Valerie Sutton
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