SignWriting List
September 12, 2011

Hi Charles -
Thanks for this message!

The word intuitive is used in different ways - no one says the thumbs match - of course they don't!

But it is intuitive for us in other ways - we like placing the right hand on the right side of the body, because for us, it goes back to the old stick figure - before we used to write the arm lines attached to these hand symbols and they still do in Denmark and sometimes in schools, and since the right arm is on the right side of the body, it feels best to me anyway, to have the right hand on the right side of the body...but of course the details of the thumbs are not perfect - you are absolutely right - in the long run though, people do read stick figures and when you take the stick figure away and leave just the hands, you have the hands on the right side of the face - so we were never saying that the photo and the symbol match one hundred percent - they never have since the beginning of the system - but when we write, there is an intuitive feeling to the writing system anyway - at least that is what others tell me - I respect your concern and please go right ahead and write as you wish - we are just documenting what the symbols represent to us -

On Sep 12, 2011, at 12:03 PM, Charles Butler wrote:

Adam, Stefan, Valerie, et al. 

The fact that you and Valerie agree in what I must strongly DISAGREE is exactly the point. You have published, in a book, something that is counter-intuitive.

If you overlay the symbol on the hand it DOES NOT MATCH. No matter what you do, the THUMB is on the right not on the left.

I must respectfully disagree with you, Adam, and agree with Stefan and Mr. Parkhurst. 

I follow the orientation of the hand first. Is it toward me or away from me. 

If it is away from me, then the thumb MUST be on the actual hand as the photo is, but not as the drawing. If it looks awkward, I would put the hand directly over the face so that it would lay on top of it, which is the whole point of the clown face, it lays on top of the face, not to one side or the other. Then one can clearly see which hand it is, that the orientation is wrong.

Quoting your published notebook is EXACTLY the point. I disagree to the point that I would edit that textbook marking it wrong if it came across my publishing house in sign writing to publish. I did it in Brazil any number of times until they got the point. Don't make a sign identical with its mirror image, it simply ISN'T. 

The fact that I rotate this same hand around and it now is exactly the same glyph when pointed in the opposite direction is just plain wrong. It is not a disagreement, it makes no logical sense, the grasp is happening in the opposite direction. You have rotated the hand, it cannot grasp left and right the same way. I have two hands, they are mirror images of each other. A grasp with one away must be the same glyph as the other pointed toward me.

I go for awkward writing and consistency every time. You showed that with "crumble". The hands are up there, and the thumbs are on the outside. You admit it there, so your argument is inconsistent.  

You can write it in a textbook any way you want to, that does not make it any less WRONG. I cannot teach this, I cannot bend my mind around it. It does not make intuitive sense. Two orientations, no matter WHAT fingers are involved cannot be the same glyph.

I will continue to teach, and point out that the software is wrong. It is software, and it NEEDS to be fixed.

You are working with educators, and I think that the educators who are NOT just "shrug and make it go away" are on the better side. When they work with Deaf students in classrooms and get the same questions every day, I think the educators know more than the software.

If I were in your classroom, Adam, I would contradict you at every "turn" as it is not logical and I cannot bring myself to write what is simply wrong. I would strongly disagree, and Valerie knows it. I don't buy the "grasp" logic as I'd rather write the sign on the opposite side.

If the sign for Clown, Cockroach and Bug are compared, it is clear that COCKROACH (written by me) shows the right hand on the left side of the body, with the correct orientation, it is still the right hand, rotated 45 degrees with the left hand rotated 45 degrees and the hands crossed. BUG is the right hand at the halfway point so that the thumb presses the nose (written by VALERIE using her own textbook notes to move the hand until the features line up) so your argument simply does not hold water.

When the inventor of the system has to put the right hand on the left side of the body so that a simple orientation rule does not get violated, I think that the orientation we have proposed is the better one. She makes sure that the thumb STAYS on the right place, sticking out so it should stay there. 


--- On Mon, 9/12/11, Stefan Wöhrmann <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

From: Stefan Wöhrmann <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: AW: NEW: Clown correction
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Monday, September 12, 2011, 2:08 PM

Hi Charles, Valerie, Adam and friends,


well – this has been a     v e r y   intense discussion in the past.  From time to time it became an emotional discussion.


Now looking at your wonderful book about hand shapes and their matching symbols, I felt pretty much disappointed and confused to find some symbols with this kind of interpretation, violating my intuitive understanding of the “thumb-rule”

I do not agree with your idea of how the hand looks like.  I do not follow your point of view.

Why ? Well  Charles explained the point of view I understand best. And if you would look at the good old “Lessons in SignWriting” second edition page 36 you will understand – that at least some of us “old scribes”  prefer the thumb to be seen where it belongs ... right thumb right side of the symbol.


The whole confusion is connected to the fact that originally there have been more but three basic orientations. I discussed it several times and have had a hard time to explain my doubts and ideas about different interpretations.


This discussion came up several times in the past. It is a pity that people feel frustrated to accept  the use of symbols if it does not go along with their understanding.  But I can understand the feeling of irritation. Personally I follow Valeries advice to write my documents the way I think it feels best to my understanding. And of course – I do no teach these symbols in question the way they are shown in this list because my brain refuses to accept the logic you try to explain.  I simply do not see, what you would like me to see. I can’t – no matter how intense I try.


I agree that sometimes the fingers or the thumb on the right side touching the nose or the ear  are somehow funny – but at least this kind of representation does not hurt the general concept: write what you see.


Personally I would not write the sign for clown with this “left hand” –  smile  (I understand that you – Adam and Valerie  can see this hand as a  “right hand” – but I cannot.


Same problem with some other symbols for hand shapes  ;-(   and this “direction of fingers is important”- idea – I do not agree with that either.  


When I started to “learn” the meaning of SW-symbols 11 years ago, I followed the Parkhurst interpretation. It made absolute sense to me and everything seemed to be consistent.


So now we can restart to understand that there are at least two different “schools” to use some symbols differently. It might be worth to just have a table showing a given symbol from the two points of view – this would not blame anybody but give a chance to accept what is going on – We do not follow the same way of thinking.




Von: SignWriting List: Read and Write Sign Languages [mailto:[log in to unmask]] Im Auftrag von Adam Frost
Gesendet: Montag, 12. September 2011 18:30
An: [log in to unmask]
Betreff: Re: NEW: Clown correction


I'm assuming the sign you are referring to is:



While I personally don't do it with this down movement, we aren't talking about that at the moment. ;-)


Technically speaking, the hand symbol is the correct one for what the symbol was intended to mean. If you look at the book that Val and I just wrote, the image of my hand and the symbol match.



 I know that the thumb seems to be on the wrong side; so do the fingers. There is a reason for that. This isn't official because I need to test it, but from personal observation I have found that when a handshape has the thumb interacting with the other fingers (ie as if it can hold a physical object), the symbol construction points the fingers to the center of the body and is static and does not rotate like most of the other symbols. So this hand symbol falls in that category. 


Now, my understanding is that there are some who say that these hand symbols should rotate just like the other symbols. That means this writing of clown should be:



The problem is that since the hand is on the left side of the face, many readers feel that is for the left hand as opposed to the right hand. That is the reason all those symbols were made static and not rotate like the rest.


I hope this helps clarify why the hand symbol used is actually not wrong.




On Sep 12, 2011, at 9:00 AM, Charles Butler wrote:

Please look at "CLOWN" on the ASL Sign Puddle.


The fingers point to the right and the hand is white, therefore it is the left hand, yet the arrows indicate the right hand. if you turn it at a slight angle then the thumb is clearly on the wrong side, pointing up the axle on the left side of the square. This, to me, is the easiest test. 


If I were to see this sign in an ASL SW exam I would mark it wrong. This is not a matter of "variant" this is simply wrong. 


If I cannot mark a test unambiguously then there is something wrong. The hand is not "pinching the nose" from the side it is "facing the nose".


As I can't edit it, I can't fix it.


Charles Butler


For m