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On Mar 27, 2012, at 6:06 PM, Arthaey Angosii wrote:

> But for *myself*, I sure would like to be able to write myself notes
> about what I learn in my ASL class, make flashcards, etc.

First, let me say that I feel your pain. I felt EXACTLY the same thing when I was taking ASL. I mean, when you take any language, you want to take notes and look at what you wrote later and practice—and you just can't do it! It was a powerless feeling at first, because when you get home, you feel like there's really nothing you can do: you just have to wait for the next class.

In class, I started a writing system that used simplified body pictures (all based on triangles) where I tried to sketch out the signs. I'd have a named handshape up in the corner if I needed it, and would draw in the eyebrows. Eventually, though, this became too cumbersome and I gave it up. This had the benefit, though, of forcing me to kick lazy memory into gear, and I really felt that I remembered a lot more from my ASL classes than I did from my other language classes.

And to another comment regarding SLIPA, Arthaey's reply was spot on:

On Mar 27, 2012, at 7:43 PM, Arthaey Angosii wrote:

> But I do see that David's goal was to make an sign-equivalent of IPA
> (hence the name). As he writes himself, "[SLIPA is] primarily intended
> for transcription. I don't think SLIPA is a good orthography or
> romanization for a signed language, just like I don't think the IPA is
> a good orthography for any spoken language."


At the end, I tried to suggest a way you could use SLIPA to then devise a romanization system for a simpler sign language. I don't think the examples I give would cover ASL—or any other natural sign language, for that matter: the movements don't fall into categories that are that neat.

Ultimately I think what would work best is, basically, employing two or three different systems simultaneously, much like Japanese or Middle Egyptian. There are a series of signs in ASL that can be spelled phonetically and convey everything you need to know about the sign—especially those signs that simply involve a hand shape and movement from one place to another (you can pretty much ignore the movement in such cases). For that, some kind of an alphabet-like system would work. For those that it doesn't work for, it'd be best to employ a different system.

For certain signs, I think either a Chinese-like glyph system or a Egyptian-inspired system would work best. Each will have advantages and disadvantages. With a Chinese system, you can imagine taking a SLIPA description, making symbols of the various bits and adding a semantic component, and then you could start building three- or four-part glyphs that will stand for whole signs. So for a verb like CHANGE, you could have these four parts:

1 - X handshape
2 - 2 hands
3 - Verb
4 - transfer

Or maybe place in place of 2 hands, or something. Each of those would have a picture associated with it, and you'd draw it in a box, like a Chinese character:

1 2
3 4

This wouldn't tell you exactly how to form the sign, but it would give you a lot of information about it—perhaps enough to recall it to memory, which is the point, in this case. This, I think, would really well for certain types of jargon. Consider the various scientific vocabulary (I learned linguistics specific vocabulary that might not be as common, just as a caveat): SCIENCE, BIOLOGY, MORPHOLOGY. All of these are formed the same way: you make each of your hands into the handshape of the first letter, and your hands do kind of an infinity sign in front of your body, like an old reel-to-reel tape deck. For such signs, you could do this:

1 - S/B/M handshape
2 - 2 hands
3 - Noun
4 - science

Now imagine that you were actually reading someone else's writing. You knew their background was in linguistics, and you saw this same glyph written but with a P for the handshape. This would lead you to the conclusion that they're talking about phonology (or maybe phonetics, depending on context)—and not only that, you'd know how to make the sign.

This approach, again, takes a lot of the precision of movement and orientation out of the equation, but it might do the trick.

Now for the Egyptian method, you could stick with part 4, which would be your determinative (like in Egyptian). The rest would be characters for handshapes—in sequences—and perhaps special glyphs denoting very short types of movements, and also places. There would be less precision, but you'd have a linear sequence, and hopefully enough information there that that plus the determinative would help you arrive at the sign.

Those are just a couple ideas. I'd be eager to see what system you come up with! Personally, though, I'd leave eyebrows and facial expressions out of it. Mouth shape will often be a part of a sign, but it's rarely contrastive (i.e. sign with lips in neutral position = X, sign with lips drawn back = Y [and a totally unrelated Y at that]), and I think our English punctuation system encodes eyebrows, etc. about as well as it encodes intonation in English—i.e. not at all, but we manage, anyway.

David Peterson
LCS President
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