SignWriting List
December 4, 2010

Hello Meryeme and everyone -

Signed languages and spoken languages are languages, with or without any writing systems. Writing systems are just that - writing systems, but a writing system is not a language - English is a language, but the Roman Alphabet that is used to write English is an "alphabet" - so the grammar lies in the way English is spoken, not in A, B, C or D...a, b,c and d just write the way English is spoken...the alphabet documents the grammar and structure of the spoken language.

So SignWriting is not a language. It is a unique movement-writing "alphabet" - we call it the International SignWriting Alphabet (ISWA), and the ISWA is used to write any sign language in the world. But the symbols are not the grammar - the grammar and syntax of sign languages are within the sign languages themselves - SignWriting is just a way to write the grammar and syntax of different sign languages, but the sign languages have their different grammars and stuctures, whether the languages are written or not -

For example, the Roman Alphabet is used to write French and German and Spanish and English. Yet each one of those spoken languages have different grammars and structures. So yes, while translation programs may have problems getting "exact" and perfect translations between the languages, in the cases of the four above-named languages, they are all using the Roman alphabet to write those translations.

SignWriting is used to write French Sign Language, German Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language and British Sign Language and all of those sign languages have different grammars and structures. There are some common grammar elements across all sign languages, when compared to spoken languages, but generally each sign language is considered different.

And American Sign Language is not the same as British Sign Language. Just because both countries speak English, does not mean that their sign languages are the same - not at all - ASL and BSL are quite different.

So from the programming point of view, programming translations programs between two sign languages, or one sign language and one spoken language, is a hard task that will take years to perfect, but the work is worth it...

And we already have a Translate feature in SignPuddle, based on the data that is already entered into one dictionary. I assume you have used the Translate Feature in SignPuddle already, Meryeme?

If not, we can discuss how it works if you wish -

In our terminology, a "symbol" is one character in the SignWriting alphabet. Like, one handshape, or one Facial Expression. But a "sign" in a sign language, is like a word in a spoken language. So is your question below "Do we have one sign for each meaning, or are there multiple signs that mean the same thing?" Is that your question below?

Yes.....Just like spoken languages, signed languages are naturally evolved languages, and naturally evolved languages tend to have similar fuzzy issues - there are several signs that mean the same thing, depending on how they are used in a sentence, and so forth, and just as in spoken languages, the placement of the signs (or words) in the sentence are in different places depending on the sign language being written, and ASL does not always have a present tense "to be" like English that sense it is a little more like Russian, which drops the present tense "to be" in some cases (I am no expert on Russian ;-)...

My point is that the same kind of translation issues that have appeared for programmers between spoken languages, will pop up in different ways for programmers of translation programs for signed languages.....there will be a fuzzy experience in both tasks...

Even though this is true, I use translation programs on the internet daily - I love the Google Translate features and the BabelFish on AltaVista - and they work remarkably well and are getting better all the time - without Google Translate I could not understand the Portuguese, French and other spoken languages posted on the List and I am so happy to have the translate features and I thank every programmer around the world who has contributed to this great gift of translations -

So we need your help with more translation programming between signed and spoken languages, and between different signed languages - There have been several projects in the past i can tell you about using SignWriting to do this...

One was from Canada - they translated the weather report between English and ASL I believe - ha!


Go to SignPuddle Online to this story:

Why SignWriting by Adam Frost

And let's start learning how to read this story together...On the web page above, you can see the English translation and the video and the SignWriting underneath...It looks like this: