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Sign Writing System of writing movement explained.

Sign Writing is a system of writing the movements and handshapes of sign languages. It was developed in 1974 by Valerie Sutton, a dancer who had two years earlier developed Dance Writing.

As Sutton was teaching DanceWriting to the Royal Danish Ballet, Lars von der Lieth, who was doing research on sign language at the University of Copenhagen, thought it would be useful to use a similar notation for the recording of sign languages. Sutton based Sign Writing on Dance Writing, and finally expanded the system to the complete repertoire of MovementWriting. However, only SignWriting and DanceWriting have been widely used.

From: SignWriting <>
Subject: Feedback Literacy Group - 2 April 29, 1998

Dear List Members:

All participants in the Literacy Project receive free materials in return for their written feedback. They are asked to complete three reports. Here is the first report from the group in Canada:

SW Literacy Group #2: Private Tutor, Ontario, Canada
Contact Teacher: Kathy Akehurst

From: "Akehurst"
To: "SignWriting" <>
Subject: Re: Web Report #1
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 1998 10:45:28 -0400

1. Why do you want to learn SignWriting?

We feel that it will add a rich dimension to ASL, as well as contribute research to a subject which will dignify and complement ASL as a complete language. We feel that, one day, this will be a widely accepted form of communication and we are pleased to be in 'at the beginning' of its emergence on a larger scale.

2. What have been some of your past frustrations when teaching?

In order to expand my students' horizons, I have often suggested that they 'read' certain things. Obviously, these things have been written in English. In order for them to benefit fully, their command of English must be very good or they are reduced to 'waiting' until someone is around to help them understand the written material. It is as if they must be extremely proficient at two complete languages in order to function. This has proved difficult for them and, while I (and they) feel it is helpful for them to learn English, I do feel that it should be in its proper place as a 'second' language.

3. Are you hoping that SignWriting might help? If so, in what way?

It will help the students in that it adds a concrete dimension, of which they can be proud, to an already dramatic and forceful language. It will certainly be a way for them to record and share their own thoughts, feelings and observations in their own language, and it will help those who are hearing skeptics to take ASL more seriously as a language - complete in its own right and worthy of respect and due consideration. If they wish to communicate with hearing people who do not sign they must write and I have noticed that, because their English grammar is not perfect (and who's is?), they are, on occasion, treated as if they were of lesser intelligence. I believe that, when SignWriting is accepted, people will realize that the d/Deaf are very good at writing their own language and only slightly less good at writing their second language - and since this is true of by far the majority of most people who learn a second language, it will be accepted as nothing to be looked down upon and certainly will not be taken as the 'last word' on their true intellect.

4. How would you like to use your web page on the SignWriting web site?

I imagine it would be helpful to post notes about our progress and any questions or concerns we might have as we proceed with the Project. As the instructor, I will be grateful for this forum to seek out advice and suggestions if I find that my teaching methods are not having the desired effect or if I encounter an area I find difficult to present in an easily understood fashion.

5. Please write any other information about your group.

Two of my students are older adults and were raised and educated at a time when signing was frowned upon, if not completely forbidden. They were both sent to oral schools and were lost and alone in that system. It is only now, all these years later, that they can begin to express their feelings about those early years and about their sense of discouragement and abandonment at how the hearing world then treated the deaf. They both learned a sort of sign language in secret, and are grateful (and proud) of the opportunity to now learn their 'own' language and be seen and admired for their proficiency with it. I'm grateful to be a part of that process. The exposure ASL has had in the media, etc. over the past years has helped open up many doors for them and they are taking full advantage of these opportunities. Of course, their own experiences in the past have helped them develop, in their cases, great compassion for others who are misunderstood or left to their own defences and they are widely respected and admired in their neighbourhood for their kindness and gentle, good humour.

The other deaf students are younger adults and have benefited greatly from the strides made in the Deaf community over the past years. They are of great help to all of us as regards the history, etc. of their culture and they are enjoying 'refining' their signing skills in ASL as they, too, learned a type of pidgin sign since there were no schools or anything in this area offering ASL instruction.

The codas do not sign although they receive sign very well. Their parents thought they would be doing them no favour by teaching them to sign since this was so looked down upon at the time and they did not want to expose their children to ridicule. Now they realize that they were in error and the children (varying in ages from 23 to 12) are quite intrigued with what they are learning. As well, because (as mentioned above) of the sign language exposure in the media of late, they are enjoying some attention for how 'cool' it is that they are learning to sign! While it was not really our intent to be 'cool', it is a means to the end of having American Sign Language receive the respect and consideration now so long overdue.

Kathy Akehurst

If you would like to post a response to this message, send your email message to: and write "PLEASE POST TO SW LIST" somewhere in your message.

Valerie :-)

Valerie Sutton at the DAC
Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA
(619)456-0098 voice
(619)456-0010 tty
(619)456-0020 fax

SignWriting is a way to read, write, and type the movements of signed languages.

The SignWriting® Web Site, write, and type all Sign Languages...

Sign Languages are now written languages!

Valerie Sutton