SignWriting List
February 11, 2011

Hello Steve -
Thank you for explaining our coldpress history, and for all you are doing to give users the flexibility to let SignSpellings evolve naturally through use, in your software. Thank you for sharing your vision for SignWriting with us too. I do share the same vision.

Regarding our work before computers, which you mention...It is fun to think back at our history...I designed wax transfer sheets, back in the early 1980s, and we used to press the wax symbols on layout boards, because we were writing a 20-page tabloid size newspaper in written American Sign Language and Danish Sign Language. This was 1981-1984, before personal computers were actively we prepared publications, like newspapers, with wax and ink pens - it was called the SignWriter Newspaper - and through that research project, which was a newspaper published every three months (it took us three months to prepare one issue of the newspaper with ink pens, like the monks used to write Bibles with ink pens)...we learned a lot ...what Deaf signers really wanted: 1. writing in visual clusters without stick figures... 2. writing Expressively... 3. writing in vertical to approach writing grammar better...and the fact that we needed computers to help us input the symbols...etc...

History of SignWriter Newspaper

Here is a picture of Miriam Ina Schroeder's hands, our Deaf co-worker, showing how she wrote with ink pens and a template, back before we stopped using the stick figure in 1984, at the request of Miriam and other Deaf writers:

Now, in 2011, SignWriting is stable in regards to its symbols, with the ISWA 2010, which will be installed in the upcoming SignPuddle 1.6 (thank you for SignPuddle, Steve).

Visual clusters (written signs or words) do have "centers" and that is a very important part of Steve's programming in SignText in three Lanes -

Thanks again Steve, for this message about software history, and your vision, and for encoding the International SignWriting Alphabet 2010. Without your encoding of the ISWA 2010, we would not know how to move forward, so you have paved the path and respected our symbols and past achievements. I love these web pages, which you have created. They summarize the ISWA 2010 well:

Formal SignWriting Plain Text


ISWA 2010 HTML Reference

Val ;-)


On Feb 11, 2011, at 12:57 PM, Steve Slevinski wrote:

Originally, I wrote this message to a list of people who don't understand SignWriting, but do understand Unicode and Font technologies.

I'm happy to announce that an official proposal for the symbols of the ISWA 2010 may be a reality sooner rather than later. 

Unofficially, the proposal for the symbols as plain text has already been finalized through the Center for Sutton Movement Writing.  The Unicode characters are a small but important aspect to the ISWA 2010 standard.  Some of the character names may change a little, and additional specifications for the ISWA 2010 will be cataloged.

Above the symbols, there is a standard data format for the SignPuddle data and several potentials encoding models based on general ideas and researched theory.  Fortunately, we'll all be able to use the same symbols no matter how we encode the details above plain text.

For the SignPuddle data, I know we need better editors.  I'm hoping that Open Office becomes a reality through SIL's Graphite sometime this year.  Imagine using SignWriting in a spreadsheet and having it sort properly. Cut and paste with the SignPuddle data will be a reality. I am one step away from a font file, then we can try a custom Graphite viewer and printer.  It will be based on SVG. It is greatly needed for text and book presentation. Rather than the current editors, publication is the real bottleneck.

Later, keyboarding shouldn't be that hard to restart, although perfecting a smooth typing system will take time to develop and master.

Many ideas for text editors will be tried, all using the same symbols.  Different encoding families will use the same symbols, but with different founding philosophies, so that a conversion between the data will be required.  Below I try to explain my encoding family and ask for your reaction.

Here's the soapbox
Imagine if you will that Valerie created a hotpress catalog of symbol glyphs: 37,811 of them.  You can imagine each as a physical block of metal.  The history of hotpress is very interesting for Asian scripts. Thousands upon thousands of tiny blocks of metal organized by topic and size.  Each publishing house had a unique and prized collection of slugs.  This attitude continues with font files and technologies.  There are amazing craftsmen who do amazing things with text.

In the western world, a much smaller set of hotpress characters created the printing press and mass communication.

Since hotpress chunks are physically bound, they can not overlap.  Recent advances in font technology have enabled glyphs that morph and can overlap.  There are several competing visions for how font technology should work on the computer.  It's often platform specific.  I believe True Type is very different that Open Type.  So it is a real concern how the Unicode specification and the font features are implemented on a wide variety of platforms and devices.

Interesting article here:

I live in a different world.

Cold type is based on the precise placement of potentially overlapping images.  Historically, some publication houses used cold type technology.  Images were optically displayed and captured by film negative.  SignWriting has roots in the cold type family.

Amazingly, Valerie has already passed through the printing press stage.  Wax symbols were dipped in ink and individually placed on a master sheet for copying.  The painstaking work continued for some time.  It was never mechanized and dropped out of favor.  One Wikipedian confused the wax & ink printing with handwriting.  He foolishly dismissed the writing system as too slow to be practical because he didn't understand.

I have continued that vision with the catalog of symbols that Valerie created.  It was a unintended continuation, but my work has many historical precedents.  I take this as proof that we are writing grammatically correct.  Grammar can not be imposed, but must be created by a group of people over time and discovered after the fact.

With a cold type mentality, I allow the writer to become the fontographer.  We agree that I will not change the general size and shape of the symbols and that I'll remember the precise placement of each symbol.  The writer has the choice to create something new using Valerie's symbols or can use something previously written by themselves or another human being.

When the writer has made their choice, I consider it rude to fiddle with the appearance.  Suggestions can be offered based on previous writings, but nothing should be forced.

This is the writer taking part in the design and perfection of the visual representation.  I respect the writer and Valerie's cold type vision.

To simplify SignWriting's cold type technique, several rules were made and one truth was uncovered.

1) Each symbol has a general restriction for size and shape
2) Symbols do not change size individually
3) Symbols do not rotate

I found out that given a cluster of symbols, I can always determine the correct visual center.  No matter what symbols the writer used.  No matter where the writer placed the symbols.  A simple algorithm could find the center.  Very important for sign text layout.

This vision has shaped the existing SignPuddle data.

I hope some of you share the same vision.