Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Written Sign Language

Develop an ASCII-based symbology for sign language.
  [vote for,

Currently there is no universally accepted written form of sign language.

There is no record of anything for deaf people in their native language. Anything a deaf person reads has been translated into the dominant spoken language in which they are not necessarily fluent. And there's no way to accurately transcribe anything a person signs, [edit] except for a system using invented symbols, called Signwriting. That system has received very limited acceptance and I believe that's because of it's reliance on a non-ASCII symbology has severely limited it acceptance.[/edit]

I propose a written form of American Sign Language that uses the letters and symbols of a standard ASCII keyboard to mark the 35-odd handshapes of ASL as well as the other critical features of the language in the form of [Facial expression: starting location: starting orientation: handshape: ending location: ending orientation]

For instance, the sign for 'parents' could be '+_\5+-\' no facial (word without context:):+ (face) _ (lower): \ (palm facing left): 5 (handshape): +(face) -(upper): \ (palm facing left)

Even some of those symbols could be dropped because they're redundant (the second face marker--same general area assumed; both orientation markers--natural position assumed). So 'parents' could be written as '+_5-'

Once a person learns the rules of the writing, they could even 'pronounce' words they've never seen [edit] another user sign and create easily indexed dictionary. [/edit]

This system, of course, could be adapted to represent any signed language (say British Sign Language BSL or French Sign LSF) which have different handshapes and grammatical rules than ASL.

[edit] American Sign Language (for example) is very different than English. ASL has its own very distinct vocabulary, sentence structure, and way of forming compound words. A translation of ASL into written English is the equivalent of a translation of Chinese in written English. You lose a lot. Which is why the Chinese (even bilingual ones) write their novels and poetry using idegrams and not English. [/edit]

grip, Jul 23 2003

American Sign Language Fonts http://babel.uorego...mada/fonts/asl.html
[phoenix, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Stokoe Tempo Font http://www.panix.com/~grvsmth/stokoe/
"StokoeTempo is a variant of TempoFont, a public-domain font by David Rakowski, for the Stokoe notation used in transcribing signed languages, particularly American Sign Language." [phoenix, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Sign Language "Poetry" http://www.halfbake...uage_20_22Poetry_22
(a halfbakery idea) [beauxeault, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

ASL Primer http://www.deaflibr...sl.html#linguistics
Great overviews of sign. More accurate than the deleted link posted by earlier. [grip, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

SignWriting http://www.signwriting.org
"...Sign Languages Are Now Written Languages!..." [phoenix, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

http://www.signwrit...icode/unicod01.html http://www.signwrit...icode/unicod01.html
"He is a font designer who has contributed to the encoding in the UCS of a large number of scripts...He is working on proposals to encode a number of ancient and lesser-known scripts (including) Sutton SignWriting" [phoenix, Oct 05 2004]

Biography: Michael Everson - Everson Typography http://www.unicode....iuc/iuc21/b028.html
"He is a font designer who has contributed to the encoding in the UCS of a large number of scripts...He is working on proposals to encode a number of ancient and lesser-known scripts (including) Sutton SignWriting" [phoenix, Oct 05 2004]

Deaf Literacy http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Literacy/
Study from only Deaf liberal arts university in the world about literacy of Deaf High School graduates. [grip, Oct 05 2004]


       "There is no record of anything for deaf people in their native language."
Pah. Their native language is their native language. What they sign replaces what they speak, not what they write.
phoenix, Jul 23 2003

       Uh, not sure where you went with that phoenix, I think you're misunderstanding me. There is no way to record what the deaf sign/speak, except video which is unwieldy.
grip, Jul 23 2003

       I think what grip is after is that there is some translational losses and differences between sign and written language, because it is grammatically and structurally different. It would be interesting to compare / contrast how a person fluent in signing thinks of a word with its verbal equivalent.   

       For instance, signing has its own internal puns and jokes that make no sense in written form.   

       I think I would use Unicode instead of ASCII, personally.
RayfordSteele, Jul 23 2003

       "There is no way to record what the deaf sign/speak..."

       "For instance, signing has its own internal puns and jokes that make no sense in written form."
Like what? Information is information. I find it very difficult to believe there are any thoughts that can be conveyed via sign language that cannot be conveyed in written form. What would be the point?
phoenix, Jul 23 2003

       That's not fair. I cannot find proof of your accusation of [grip] suggesting that deaf people "have an illiterate culture". I think that what he/she is saying is that a by-product of using sign language is that certain gestures may contain meaning (which could perhaps a source of humour) that is additional, and not necessarily related to, the actual meaning of the word for the sign.   

       I completely agree with you grip. I'd obviously be interested to hear what a deaf person had to say.
sild, Jul 23 2003

       There is a very strong movement of Deaf people having their own culture, rather than it 'just' being a disability. I appreciate what [grip] is saying as there is very little cross-cultural transmission of ideas. Literacy (in written English) in 'native' BSL speakers is often lower than the English speaking population as a whole as for them, it is a second language and the structure/grammer is very different to what they are used too. Learning to read/write a language is a lot easier when you are hearing and using that language every day. If anyone is interested I can look up some sources for this in the literature at work as it's one of the fields that we cover here.
oneoffdave, Jul 23 2003

       "I find it very difficult to believe there are any thoughts that can be conveyed via sign language that cannot be conveyed in written form."   

       phoenix, surely you're aware that there are words and even concepts that cannot be translated from one spoken/written language to another with the full and accurate conveyance of all (and no more than) the original expression contains. Just look at the much-discussed debates about Bible translations.   

       And I bet you're aware, but if not, I can assure you that a work of art can convey things visually that cannot be expressed by words in any spoken or written language.   

       Even though I don't know much actual sign language, I am certain there is a dimension to the language that is lost in translation, and so I really wish I had time to learn the language well, so I'd have access to that richness that is so far denied me. I just don't have the time. (Same goes for learning Chinese to be able to appreciate the reportedly beautiful but untranslatable qualities of ancient Chinese poetry, by the way.)
beauxeault, Jul 23 2003

       // culture and country of origin have little impact on communication //   

       In Japanese Sign Language, the color "black" is signed by touching the thumb to the nail of the ring finger, then touching the hair with that finger. Similarly, "brown" is indicated the same way, except pointed to the eye.   

       It turned into a joke whenever I attempted to sign either one, as I have brown hair and green eyes. Unambiguous comprehension required my borrowing someone else's head.
lurch, Jul 23 2003

       "Just look at the much-discussed debates about Bible translations."
Okay, so words can have two meanings and the one the author intended has to be determined carefully or made explicit by the author.

       My point is that what's being conveyed are concepts. The *mode* of conveyance rarely limits the ability to complete the transmission. What causes interference is when the receiver can't complete the translation.   

       "...a work of art can convey things visually that cannot be expressed by words in any spoken or written language."
I had thought about the "picture is worth a 1000 words" phrase. I'm unsure how this relates to the discussion, but by your admission (and mine) images can generate feelings which can difficult to relate to others. Perhaps that's what makes them art, rather than language? The same with ballet, music, et al. As I said above, it would be difficult to describe a sunset to a blind person, not because either of you lack the words, but because one of you lacks a meaning for the words.
phoenix, Jul 23 2003

       excuse me if I missed something - but surely there are text books on the subject.
po, Jul 23 2003

       you must learn to speak Strine.
po, Jul 23 2003

       ato_de: well, they were all deaf, weren't they!
DrCurry, Jul 23 2003

       What's wrong with ASCII? Okay, if you have to have a glyph of a person performing the sign use SignWriting.   

       My point being: however you do it, you'll have to give definition to the symbol. Whether you're "writing" E A T or "writing" a pantomime of a person shoveling food into their mouth, it means the same thing.
phoenix, Jul 23 2003

       // A translation of ASL into written English is the equivalent of a translation of Chinese in written English. You lose a lot. //   

       I don't buy that even slightly, sorry. As a rule, deafness generally has no ill effect on a person's reading and writing skills, and they already have a language for those presumably.   

       For those few occasions where there is no linguistic equivalent for a sign (how such signs get meaning with no associated language to explain the meaning seems impossible, but I'll give you this one), don't create a whole new written language for it. Just create English (or whatever written language) words for the missing bits.
waugsqueke, Jul 23 2003

       ato_de: I was referring to your inability to talk to Australians...
DrCurry, Jul 23 2003

       [ravenswood] Thanks for the clarification. I would like to point out that there is a third thing to discuss:   

       3) Does the proposed method accomplish its goal?
grip, Jul 24 2003

       [waugs] //As a rule, deafness generally has no ill effect on a person's reading and writing skills, and they already have a language for those presumably.//   

       In terms of non-specific literacy this is most probably true. However for those people born deaf, it's much more difficult. As hearing people learn to read and wtire, that assimilate what they are reading and writing in relation to the language they are hearing. For a deaf person it's like being able to speak English and having to learn to read and write in French without having any other written language skills to refer to.
oneoffdave, Jul 24 2003

       [waugsqueke] and [phoenix] Think of it this way….A hearing child learns to read by learning the rules of pronunciation then pronouncing words she sees. She can look at a written word she’s never seen before and sound it out and if she’s heard it before (which is more likely) know it’s meaning. A deaf child cannot sound out a word. She must memorize each word to a concept. There is no ‘sounding out’ just rote memorization. It’s damned hard to learn to read a language you don’t speak which is one reason why most Deaf high school graduates read at the 4th grade level (see link).   

       When you write ‘eat’ you’re not directly writing a symbol for shoveling food into your mouth, you’re writing a guide to pronouncing a symbol for shoveling food into your mouth.
grip, Jul 24 2003

       It's not necessary to explain that to me. I understand it - they are essentially learning two languages. English and SL. They will need to learn English for writing and reading anyway, so why make them also learn a written SL too?   

       The written language would only ever be used by other signers, and even then only when the target audience was exclusively deaf people who could read it. Why would they do that when they could just use the native language and hit a wider audience? It adds a whole level of unnecessary complexity.   

       Your #1 above to ato is illogical and works against your point. Saying that because SL is visual, it's record should also be visual is actually advancing the comparison that vocal language records should only be oral recordings. We speak in phonemes, but we don't draw pictures of phonemes, we use letters. Deaf people 'speak' in signs, but they use letters too.
waugsqueke, Jul 24 2003

       "She must memorize each word to a concept."
And my point is that this is true whether the deaf person is learning sign language or a written one.

       Take the word "horse". As a set of five letters it's indistinct. There's no way, as you say, to correlate that word with the object it represents.   

       Now look at the sign for "horse" (right hand to the side of the head, two fingers pointing up then curling - like an animal shooing a fly from its ear). It's no different. It could represent just about anything. Its meaning has to be learned.   

       We could go on and talk about the Chinese, Arabic, Russian or Greek words for horse. We could look at cave paintings of horses. We can make up all the new symbols/glyphs we want. The issue remains one of conveying meaning and that has more to do with the participation of the sender and receiver than the language(s) being used.   

       I really think the author is looking for something like SignWriting. As the links indicate, it's available now as a True Type font and is being proposed for inclusion in Unicode. The DanceWriting and MovementWriting fonts are interesting, too.
phoenix, Jul 24 2003

       Just to be pedantic, waugs, I believe the Cherokee "alphabet" (more accurately, syllabary) conceived by Sequoia does involve drawing pictures of phonemes. Not that that disproves your point, though.   

       phoenix, I think we're actually substantially in agreement, based on your definition of art. I think the things that are not communicated in translation might be that which you call art (and I don't have any problems with that definition). A performance of "A MIdsummer Night's Dream" in German still adequately conveys the story, but a good deal of the "art" is destroyed, even in a good translation (and the goodness of the translation is judged by how much of the "art" is retained). The way I see it, though, the art is part of the content. For me, in fact, the art is sometimes more meaningful than the translatable part.   

       Sorry for the diversion from the actual idea.
beauxeault, Jul 24 2003

       <random story> I was in a pub once with a guy I know, who isn't totally deaf but can sign. This other guy, who was deaf, came in and started signing like crazy. I learned later he was trying to borrow money from the hearing guy I was with. Anyway, my mate made just one sign, really quickly, and crestfallen, the deaf guy left.   

       I asked him what he had said to him. He said, "I told him to get to fuck in a wheelbarrow."   

       Well, I laughed. </random story>
saker, Jul 24 2003

       Apologies to all for reacting to the tone of the presenter instead of the idea.
ato_de, Jul 24 2003

       A question from a hearing person who has no deaf friends/acquantances: Is sign language spoken-language specific? I have read in the above annos references to Japanese SL, American SL, and BSL (British?). Are these not all the same? I had the idea (admittedly based on absolutely no data) that with the exception of words that only exist in one language, the signs would be fairly universal.
gardnertoo, Jul 28 2004

       I don't get it. Can't deaf people read?
simonj, Jul 28 2004

       [gardnertoo] - I don't know how much difference there is overall. I do know Japanese sign well enough to translate real time, but I can't do much more than finger-spell in ASL. I know that both sign systems can use the trick of building a word out of partial homonyms (i.e., "knee"+"ear"="near"). In Japanese some words are signed based on shape or characteristics of Chinese characters. Neither one of those crosses base language boundaries well.
lurch, Jul 29 2004

       That's a shame. I had this idea that being able to sign with people whose native language was different would be a useful skill. But now that you mention it, sign languages in various languages must have arisen at least partially with inupt from those who became deaf after learning to talk as a hearing person.
gardnertoo, Jul 29 2004

       [simonj], I think most deaf adults can read a language (say, English) but the idea here is that they are being forced to communicate in what may be their second language. Fine for reading others' thoughts, but a pain when communicating original ideas to one's peer group. Imagine if the halfbakery arbitrarily decided to require all postings to be in Latin. Sure, many of us could muddle along but we'd sure as hell feel put out.   

       Many concepts can't be translated. One of many examples pointed out by Douglas Hofstadter is the book title "All the President's Men." Translate that into any other language and the real meaning is lost.   

       I think this is a fine idea [+].
bpilot, Aug 01 2004

       No, I'm still not with you. If they can read and write English, and lip-read English, then surely English is their first language? (Unless their first language is French or something). Your reference to Latin is simply baffling, as I don't know a single person who is fluent in it.
simonj, Aug 01 2004

       Every language carries with it a meaning beyond the dictionary definition of its words. This additional content can come from the etymology of the word, what other words it sounds like as well as echoes from famous uses or misuses of the word.   

       A sign may have the same dictionary definition of a written or spoken word, but it will carry with it different overtones. Write it as a word in a different language and these will be lost.
st3f, Aug 09 2004

       [simonj] Depending on the environment that they grow up in, a number of deaf people learn to sign before they learn to read or write English. All their concepts of grammer and sentence structure are based on the sign language that they use. It's as hard for them to learn as it was for me to learn French, if not harder as there's no shared characteristics.
oneoffdave, Aug 09 2004

       A thread revived! Love it.   

       [gardnertoo] Sign language is not universal, there's a similar diversity of mutually incomprehensible sign languages spread across the world in roughly the same reagional approximation as spoken languages, with many of the same parallels, though with differences. (Some regions have more than one sign language per spoken language region and vice versa.) Sign languages often have different developmental histories than spoken...French sign and ASL are as similar as Italian and Spanish, while ASL and British sign are like Italian and English because of a French educator who travelled to the US in the 1700s.   

       I'm not sure what [lurch] is referring too about homonyms, I've never heard of this in ASL.   

       [simonj] Pretty much all people learn spoken or signed language before reading and writing and the majority of that learning is done by about age 5, about the time we learn to read and write actually. You could say that for those deafen before age 5, their first language is sign. Yes, most deaf people (in the US) can read written English, but written English is not a representation of the non-written language they use.
grip, Aug 25 2004

       sign language isn't a written language. that simply isn't the medium. any written denotation of sign language would meerly be a guide, a map, but not an accurate account of the communication. I can give you the written denotation for the entire ballet moves of Swan Lake but it only maps what is a hugely more complicated form of communication.   

       Also, as has been said above i think that sign language is usually a way of communicating in a persons native language i.e BSL is a way of communicating english. If I am wrong please correct me.
etherman, Aug 25 2004

       [etherman] Sign language is not a representation of a spoken language. Completely dfferent syntax, conceptual basis, word order, etc.   

       Also, written english is mere a map to spoken english. No written form will capture the whole of a spoken or signed language. Compare Laurence Olivier reading "to be or not to be" soliloquy and your typical high school English student. Same text, different communication.
grip, Aug 25 2004

       Would love to read some input from the bakery's deaf community.
RayfordSteele, Aug 25 2004

       <Grip> written English is not a 'mere map to spoken english' as large amounts of it are not written to be spoken. It exists as a form of communicatiojn in its own right. Novels aren't written to be spoken the fact that they can be is irrelevant.   

       Your comparison between Olivier and a student baffles me. The student is crap at communicating the fullness of the language... so what... what does your example prove. Dramatic writing is a map to performances. Plays dont exist on the page, scripts do. I play is created in the space between the performer and the audience.
etherman, Aug 27 2004


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