Fellow Signwriters, educators, linguists and signers,

I continue to mull over the request for materials for the little Tunisian project.  I am ignoring the notion that SignWriting will help Deaf children with sounds (?????) or their "mother tongue"  (unless their mother is Deaf and signs and this means their "mother hand").

However, the request for materials to teach SignWriting is a valid request IF the request is really to teach signing, using SignWriting as an orthographic tool (which is what SW actually is.)  I am sure that many of us have been developing such materials in one form or another for years.  Maybe we could pool resources and efforts to produce something that many people will find truly useful.

Let's begin with a premise:  Signed languages tend to be grammatically similar (not the same, but not all that different, either.)  Vocabulary varies a lot, but all signed languages use classifiers and classifier clitics a great deal.  All these languages follow syntax rules using spatial and locative verbs.  This is the reason that natively fluent Deaf signers in one country pick up other signed languages so quickly, even when these signers themselves cannot articulate their own grammar rules.  (You don't have to know what a "predicate" is to use one properly in your sentence structure for your own language.  On the other hand, it is very useful to know grammar labels and rules when you are trying to learn the language of somebody else.)

I keep making a big deal that you can't teach SignWriting unless you have developed reading material that is FUN to read.  But, what I mean is that you want fun and engaging reading material to help teach signing -- and not just to Deaf children, but to their hearing siblings and parents/grandparents, as well.

I am picturing in my mind a text, divided into sections:

1) A RULES section that explains in detail the common grammar terms of signed languages.  This section would use illustrations from many signed languages.  And, this section would be translated into many spoken languages.  (That is, there would be an English version, a French version, an Arabic version, and so forth.  The educator then purchases or is furnished with the specified version.)  You will note that this section is intended for literate educators.  An ASL version, or translation in other signed languages, would be really cool, too.  Publishing something that will be understandable and helpful will not be easy.  However, please bear in mind that the reason that most hearing administrators do not accept that signed languages are bona fide languages (and the reason that so many Deaf people don't believe it either is that publications like this are rare.)

2)  A VOCABULARY section -- perhaps 1,000 signs -- again, specify the signed language you want.  Each sign is depicted in photos or diagrams, SignWriting, and "the mother tongue".  A cute illustration would be nice, too.

3)  A SIGNWRITING WORKBOOK to accompany the vocabulary section.

4)  A READING section:  20 illustrated children's stories, to be practiced and enjoyed by all.  If you produce a simple illustrated version of Little Red Riding Hood in German, it does not take a lot of effort to reproduce the same story in English.  This should be even more true for signed languages.

This concept will take a lot of work -- several years, I expect.  But, in the end, when someone somewhere asks for materials to teach SignWriting, we will have something really impressive, fun and useful to offer.

-- James



Valerie Sutton
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