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SignWriting List
February 24, 2015

QUESTIONS ABOUT RECEPTIVE AND EXPRESSIVE WRITING
by
Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway

Professor of Anthropology
Oberlin College
King Building 305
10 North Professor Street
Oberlin, OH 44074-1019
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ANSWERED IN ASL (with English captions)
by
Adam Frost
ASL & Sign Language Linguistics Professor,
San Diego Mesa College & ASL Teacher at
University of California San Diego (UCSD),
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ASL Answers on Video:

Expressive and Receptive from the Deaf Perspective
http://youtu.be/xRpL1sro6UU

Below are the Questions and Answers from the transcript:

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ERIKA’S QUESTION 1:
Here’s a quote from the conference panel I was planning to present on about this topic:

 “Anthropology, like other sciences, has been accused of perpetuating a “colonial attitude” in deaf research (Ladd 2005; De Clerck 2010) whereby “research subjects are reduced to objects, and indigenous knowledge of the informants is granted secondary status in the production of scientific knowledge” (De Clerck 2010:436).

 I understand that the original shift from receptive to expressive writing had to do at least in part with Deaf users’ political resistance to being treated as objects of study.

 (How) do you feel that adopting an expressive writing perspective has succeeded in making Deaf writers more clearly marked as subjects, rather than research objects?


ADAM’S ANSWER 1 (transcript of captions): In your first question, you asked me if the change from receptive to expressive writing had an impact for Deaf Writers being viewed as the subjects rather than objects in research. I don't think so. Whether the writing is receptive or expressive, I don't think there is any true impact. The reason is that often writers will aim for a standard of writing that can be uniformly understood by everyone. So even if the viewpoint being used is expressive, I would still be writing what would be mutually understood.

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ERIKA’S QUESTION 2:
In the instructional materials and in other discussions I’ve seen of the shift to expressive writing, I’ve heard it described as “seeing through your own face” or “signing from your own perspective”.

 That usefully characterizes what it’s like to write expressively. However, I’ve rarely heard people discuss the impact this has on reading “through someone else’s face” or “from someone else’s (spatial) perspective”.

 How do you feel this affects the ways in which you read other SignWriters’ texts? What skills are involved in reversing the perspective to imagine that you are being addressed and/or in imagining yourself in the (literal and possibly figurative) place of the writer?

 Does this possibly encourage readers to adopt the perspective of the writer in ways other types of writing systems might not?

Rather than see expressive writing as allowing readers to take on someone else’s perspective John Lee Clark, a deaf/blind blogger, frames expressive writing as making it more possible to make the text “your own”.  He posted these comments about the future of ASL literature on his blog:

“Someone else’s voice. Someone else’s hands. It’s not that we cannot enjoy ASL performances. Readings, videos, and theater are still important. But there’s something about the abstract, bare symbols on the page that invites our minds to engage, argue with, and absorb the language before us. We cannot do these things as well when we are only spectators.

One of the most important things the new developers did with written ASL was to make it a rule that writers are to project themselves spatially onto the page. If the writer is right-handed and says “Hello,” his hand, from his own point of view, moves right. He is to write “Hello” in that way. He is not to write as if it’s someone else saying “Hello” to him. Written ASL does not create a movie screen or a line of mannequins. Instead, it creates space for us to say things as ourselves. And it creates space, when we are reading it, to fall into the text. In that space, we are there.”

How do these comments resonate with your experiences as a skilled SignWriter and reader? Are these mutually exclusive ways of understanding the effects of expressive writing, or just different ways of experiencing it?


ADAM’S ANSWER 2 (transcript of captions): On to your second question. When comparing receptive verses expressive writing, is there any impact on how you read other writer's writing? Okay, let me start by saying this. I am not really skilled with receptive writing in general. I have only learned to use expressive writing, so receptive writing is difficult for me because I am used to writing directly from my thoughts; I don't watch someone signing when I write. If one were to record what someone was signing in front of them, receptive writing would be easier. If I were to use receptive writing directly from my thoughts, I would have to do a mental view shift. where I would have to imagine watching myself signing Now when reading something written receptively, if I am given another person's writing for example, I would have to do a mental view shift because I am used to expressive writing when reading. It is possible for me, however, to imagine that someone is standing in front of me signing. Once I have done that, I can read the document well. Whereas writing expressively, it feels natural to me because I can write directly from my thoughts. That is just my feelings, my experience, my -uhh- When I see myself signing, the writing matches that. That is why writing expressively is easier for me. Now when I am reading another person's expressive writing, I will mentally take on the persona of the person signing. There may be a few times that I might notice a sign as their specific signing, but that doesn't really happen that often. Because there is standard way of writing that is emerging. Just like when reading English, you don't notice that you are really not "hearing" the words in your head of the writer speaking. You are "hearing" your own voice as if it were the writer's. So, I think it is actually very similar regardless of language. Now if I were to write in English phonetically, the experience of reading would be more of a realization of how the writer speaks. An example would be "Catcher in the Rye" which does write phonetically. You also asked me about a Deaf-Blind blogger, John Lee Clark. He gave his thoughts on reading and writing sign language. I feel that he's explanation is right on the money to what my experiences are. You continued by asking me if reading and writing can both be used to understand the expressive writing experience, or if they are different experiences with different viewpoints. I think they are just different experiences. Because if I had never written before, there wouldn't really be much difference on how I read. The same is true for the reverse. If I only write, there wouldn't be much impact on how I read because I wouldn't have experience it yet.

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ERIKA’S QUESTION 3:
When I asked questions about receptive/expressive to the listserv a while back, André Lemyre imagined some possible futures involving playing with writing from different perspectives:

“I would read a book with intense emotions written expressively by the narrator to make me feel in the shoes of the character.  Then comes the mean character, whom threatens my character that I read receptively.  There would be a tendency to make mean character left handed (even with a scar on a hand).  Until the identity of the mean character is known, no sign would display a face...
 
Other narrators may write in the receptive perspective to keep a distance from the reader, example an official report.
 
The view from above could be selected for a character like Spiderman...
 
Poetry would swap between left-right, expressive-receptive, even top view to exploit shapes of the signs.  The arab calligraphy use geometry sometimes...”

As the range of genres written with SignWriting expands, what do you think about the possibility of adopting multiple visual perspectives in writing? 


ADAM’S ANSWER 3 (transcript of captions):  In your third question, you asked me if writing in SignWriting enters more genres, is there a possibility that there will be documents with multiple viewpoints. It is possible that may happen. I don't think it is likely, however. The norm of writing will be expressive writing. In a few cases, it might be possible that multiple viewpoints might be used. Most likely we would see that happen within the fiction genre, just like the story "Catcher in the Rye". There was the standard written form, as well as a phonetic form of writing. So I think that it is possible to have in fictional stories where it is used as an intentional literary device. I hope this answers your questions.

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