Friday, October 18, 2013

#SignWriting, #sign languages - an #Interview with Valerie II

Half of the people who sign are not deaf. Therefore the number of people who benefit from a sign language that can be written is more than just the number of people who are deaf and sign.

Thanks to SignWriting, sign languages can move on from only having an "oral tradition". I have been privileged to witness as the SignWriting community moves slowly but surely ahead in gaining recognition by making their languages and their cultures equal to any other language in the age of Internet.

Knowing Valerie is an inspiration. She is a real mover and shaker for so many people. I rate her as highly as Jimmy Wales. Anyway, these are the questions I put to her. Enjoy!

How do you explain what it means when a language cannot be written?
If I understand it correctly, most of the world's languages do not have a written form. All languages CAN be written. But most languages are not written.

Sign languages are now written languages!  ;-))

But it takes effort by people who know their languages to want to develop a way to write it and lots of languages, for example, in Africa and Asia, may not have the political position, nor the funds, to invest in the development.
How many languages are written in the SignWriting Script?
That is also hard to say, but we estimate that small groups of people are writing their sign languages in around 40 countries…based on real written literature and also by word of mouth…we have definite proof for many, and some proof for some…. Some sign languages have 100s if not 1000s of written documents - ASL and DGS are two examples
Can you recognise what sign language it is from a written text?
Yes, between written ASL and written DGS (German Sign Language) we can definitely see a difference immediately - Other sign languages, not so much yet, because we do not have that much experience comparing written documents - as each sign language has more and more literature, it will be easier to recognize differences in the sign language literature - a lot has to do with the choice of style of writing… German Sign Language is written with more mouth movements than our ASL written documents… so one can see which language it is quickly
What are the most active sign languages (that are writing with SignWriting)?
American Sign Language, Argentine Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language, Catalan Sign Language, Czech Sign Language, French-Canadian Sign Language, French-Belgian Sign Language, French-Swiss Sign Language, French Sign Language, Flemish Sign Language, German Sign Language, German Swiss Sign Language, Italian Sign Language, Jordanian Sign Language, Korean Sign Language, Maltese Sign Language, Nicaraguan Sign Language, Norwegian Sign Language, Polish Sign Language, Portuguese Sign Language, Saudi Arabian Sign Language, Slovenian Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language, Tunisian Sign Language and more…

The use of SignWriting is growing rapidly. How do you know about how it develops?

Through the internet, in different ways. And through individuals sending me documents. And through mentions on the SignWriting List. Some write documents publicly in SignPuddle. Some get their school degrees - Ph.Ds and Master Degree theses are posted written on SignWriting or using SignWriting… Papers are presented about SignWriting and they are listed in publications, and occasionally people write to me privately or join the SignWriting List or Facebook or Twitter… but I actually do not know how many people use SignWriting and I never will, because it is free on the Internet and the way it spreads is like it has a life of its own
Can SignWriting be used on mobile phones or is there an app for that…
Yes, we have two apps for the iPhone…one from Germany and one from California:
SignWriting App from California, by Jake Chasan (age 16 ;-)
Signbook App from Germany, by Lasse Schneider, University of Hamburg
Are there many schools where they teach SignWriting
SignWriting is spread freely on the internet, so lots of people learn SignWriting on their computers, but there are schools with official courses too, such as

  • Osnabrück School for the Deaf in Germany
  • A school in French-Canada (Quebec)
  • Schools in French-Belgium
  • A school in Flemish-Belgium (Brussells)
  • A school in Poland
  • A University in the Czech Republic
  • A Catholic School for the Deaf in Slovenia
  • Bible Translators teach SignWriting in Madrid
  • A university in Barcelona (Catalan Sign Language)
  • ASL classes in a hearing high school in Tucson, Arizona
  • ASL classes at San Diego Mesa Community College in San Diego, California
  • ASL classes at UCSD, University of California San Diego
  • Courses on SignWriting are taught throughout Brazil, by Libras Escritas, also online
  • A School for Deaf Children in Brazil: Teacher Sonia Messerschimidt
  • Santa Maria-Rio Grande do sul - Brasil , Escola Estadual de Educação Especial
  • Letras LIBRAS , UFSC Florianópolis, (SignWriting is an integral part of the curriculum)
  • the list goes on and on ... 
How hard would it be to have the pupils at these schools write two articles a month ... How many Wikipedias could be started that way…
Just as soon as Steve Slevinski and Yair Rand are ready for us to move Nancy Romero's 37 articles, and Adam's 2 articles and Charles Butler's 1 article, from the Wikimedia Labs to the Incubator, and we have tested the ASL User Interface, and we have tested the new features like linking and selecting text, and when Steve has completed the new SignWriting Editor program that will make it possible to write articles directly on the Incubator site, then of course we can ask teachers and students to test our new software and start writing articles… our software isn't ready yet though. 
That is why Nancy Romero, our most prolific English-to-ASL translator and SignWriter, is writing enough articles to lay a foundation so we can get started - we could ask students to write the articles over in SignPuddle Online, and then we can move those articles over to the Incubator for them - but until the Editor software is completed it wouldn't be as much fun for the students as it will be later - that day is coming and it is an excellent idea for the future.
Why is Wikipedia strategically important for getting more people to know about SignWriting.
I consider it VERY important because it provides us literature for readers to read written in ASL that are not children's stories or religious literature. Ironically we have plenty of children's stories written in ASL, including Cat in the Hat, Goldilocks, Snow White and others…and Nancy Romero has written close to the entire New Testament in ASL based on the New Living Translation, and another Deaf church has also written much of the Bible - but we are really grateful to have articles to read in Wikipedia that are general non-fiction - educational, historical, scientific.
Wikipedias are also important because they will encourage others to write articles in ASL which will indirectly teach people how to write ASL. Another wonderful indirect result will be an added respect from the general public. Surprised visitors will realize that ASL and other sign languages can now be written -
Val ;-)

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