Monday, May 26, 2008

The Question of Space and Other Things In Writing ASL

The question of ASL writing has popped up with a few recurrent areas of concern: spatial referencing, the use of NMS (Non-Manual Signals, or facial/body expressions) and Palm Orientation.

The three, as far as I can address as a writer and reader, has been confronted and worked out in this proposal I have for the community.

Spatial usage: As many have questioned the foremost issue of the use of space in sign language, how can this be applied to writing?

Answer in a three-letter word: map. The map of the world, of the country, of the state, of the town, of the region, of a building, a microcosm, the atomic structure…has been used for centuries. Is the world flat, the atoms flat? The map says so. No. We already know the world and atoms aren’t flat. Therefore, we apply this pre-existing knowledge to map land and objects as we navigate across the land by sea, land or air; or in the science lab. The usage of symbols for the maps to represent three dimensional space are the compass, the longitude and latitude and altitude. In writing, we use diacritics to address those three dimensional mapping of writing symbols. Readers use contextual interpretation in reading messages the way pilots read the map. It's a two-way relationship where authors writing novels has come to become related with readers. Like pilots, readers navigate through the bodies of passages.

The question of Non-Manual Signals in writing:

Simple. We establish a common pattern of NMS for wh question expressions, yes/no question expressions, topical expressions, classifiers expressions and head nodding/shaking diacritics to punctuate in the sentences of the sentence similar to quotation marks. They help guide the sentence the same way signers move their hands in the areas below their eyebrows. Since NMS guides the whole expression of sign language inasmuch as voice inflection guide aural conversations (and sometimes are used as italics in writing) this writing system has the NMS to guide inflections in signing. And, how it has been made simple is the use of patterns in establishing the charts of ASL parameters. Those and the parameter charts can be easily taught.

The question of palm orientation: Like voice inflections and contextual interpretation, the palm orientation--however contrary to popular opinion, is not that crucial for writing. There are other ways to hint at palm orientation. It is the same with the lack of tongue positions in the mouth for spoken/aural languages. Writing is not to explain how to pronounce words but to recognize words to understand the message.

I also have included the left-handed and right-handed Digibet charts. This helps establish the dominant/support hand digibets. An example, left-handed signers “Southpaws” use the left-handed dominant Digibets in writing. This is a new dimension we can bring into the world of writing. Readers can then detect that the author is a left-handed signer or right-handed signer. As seen in the trials of writing during my study, the left-handed signer relates to the left hand digibets better than the right hand digibets. Should I argue with the Southpaw?

This adds to the three dimensional writing. The possibilities are endless. That’s what writing does. Right?

Here, we write because we want to convey thoughts. We don't write to explain how we produce/pronounce words. Other sign writing systems are bogged down with this notational expression.

More rules (not notational but expressive rules) makes for better language discipline and word-play. This elevates the language to the higher level of double interpretations enjoyed so much in puns, idioms and word play in the spoken language. It is because there are rules. Without rules language is simply to function as servants of thoughts. Robert Frost once said that poetry without rules is like playing tennis without a net. I believe that writing will greatly enhance the qualities of ASL, that it will bring upon linguistic rules and study, and elevate ASL to a new realm of consciousness. With the net up, we will have idioms, puns, word play, genres, and quotes-on-the-classroom-walls popping up.

This is not the writing to call my own; this belongs to our ASL/Deaf community and to our youth of tomorrow. They deserve this L1 (first language) acquisition in writing as well as in manual lessons. This will help record their thoughts at home and any place other than the classroom, that this will help teachers of ASL to understand and study the language development progress that will reflect the language cognitive process. Above all, this will bridge the young ASL users to the English language in writing, that they can bridge and compare the two on pages outside of the classroom, and in the homes where the majority of their parents are English users. Parents can also learn some of the ASL in writing.

All begins in the home. What is more literate pervasive in a home than written forms? Parents can finally magnetize their child’s writings on the refrigerators.



Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues said...

You wrote (in your the header of your blog): "ASLian is a proposed name in English translation for written ASL."

That isn't really a good idea at all. Why don't you just call it "written ASL" or to be more specific "a certain form of written ASL."

English is not called "English-ian" when it is written. Likewise, ASL should not be given a different name like that for a written form.

RWArnold said...

I agree. I had the same thought as you raised, for a long while. Then, I got into the vein of discussion on the name of ourselves, the people of ASL, as Aslians, the term that's open for discussion in our community. As the British call themselves the British, they have British English and we have American English. As my thesis is titled "A Proposal of a Written System for ASL", the term would be apt to be called written ASL, like written English. Correct me if I'm not precise about this: We have seen Canadian ASL and Mexican ASL??, (or so some have claimed that ASL is used in Canada and Mexico) and I've heard some south American and Asian countries have mixed in ASL with their native language. That's another topic discussion, and a good one at that.

Written ASL. Simple. Anyone agree?


Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues said...

Also, the word "Aslian" already refers to a completely different language unrelated to ASL. See:

Jules said...

Why don't you post more pictures of the ASL written language? I am hungry to keep learning. I'm writing a script right now that requires to be in ASL, and I need it. :)

Sparrow said...

I'm a professional writer who is fluent in both English and ASL. I was just doing some preliminary work on developing a written form of ASL and found this blog. I also looked into SignWriting and found it helpful in that most all the elements of ASL are included, but it seems very cumbersome, takes up a lot of room, and would be somewhat time consuming to write by hand.

I'm interested in developing a more simple and easy-to-use system. I've noticed many handshapes are simple modifications of the same basic shape. K and P, for example, are the same shape with different palm orientation. O and C are even basically the same, with the only difference being that one had fingers touching and the other doesn't.

I narrowed the handshapes used in ASL down to 17 shapes, with five possible modifications (open, bent, curved, thumb-out, thumb-bent-in).

I'd be interested in talking with you about any progress you've made on a written form of ASL. Please contact me if you are still pursuing this. My email is contact [at] sparrowsflight [dot] net. Thank you!