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On Mar 28, 2012, at 2:18 PM, Arthaey Angosii wrote:

> On Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 2:03 PM, David Peterson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> Opposition isn't purely political, remember. I think SW is an awful system for
>> a variety of reasons—none of which have anything to do with who invented
>> it or why.
> 
> Can you share your objections? I'd love to hear them!
> 
> My objections are largely aesthetic, to be honest. It looks so blocky!
> So gif-y! It doesn't look like a real writing system to me. (As a side
> note, I am asking on the SignWriting list about the "shorthand"
> version of it, because I'm hoping that will behave more like a usable
> script without being [too] lossy.)
> 
> I also dislike the lack of density. Not many sentences fit on a
> standard sheet of paper, or above the fold. (Again, I'm hoping the
> "shorthand" version will help.)

Lord, where to start...

I agree with both of your objections, but the first is, of course, completely subjective. We need not go that far.

SW is both too precise and not precise enough—both in very bad ways. Its lack of precision can be seen right on the home page with the sign DEAF. Hopefully everyone knows what the sign DEAF looks like: the signer touches their ear and then their mouth (or in the other order; I think both work [though order is also a problem for SW]). If you look at the SW version, though, you have no idea where to touch. It looks like it's just the general area around the bottom right-hand side of the face (receptive), and then the top of the head. Of course, there's a reason you touch the mouth and ear specifically. If this is just a conventional sign that we're meant to memorize, that's fine, but then there should be *less* detail so it's easier to write and more iconic. SW has the same problem with signs with subtle place distinctions like APPLE and ONION.

In that case, it's a lack of precision. I also think there's entirely too much precision with the eyebrows. Personally, I don't think they should be written at all. There are signs where the eyebrows do something for the sign, but, again, it's not contrastive. Much more often the eyebrows convey intonational information. So imagine you have two sentences:

She drove the car today.
Did she drive the car today?

In ASL, both of those sentences use exactly the same signs in exactly the same order. In SW, you'd need to specify different facial expressions with something that could just as easily be done with a question mark (after all, if it's a yes/no question, you *know* where the eyebrows are supposed to be). It would pose further problems for yes/no questions with multiple facial signs, e.g. "Do you like apples and onions?" It'd be something like doing this:

How? are? you? doing? today?

Even topics could be specified just with, say, a comma (setting off an NP or phrase at the beginning followed by a comma indicates well enough that it's a topic, and a signer knows where the eyebrows go with all topics). An option (if SW use it) is to use the "phrase" marking for eyebrows and then with signs that use the face, don't write anything for the eyebrows; not sure if that's standard.

SW is a phonetic system (by intention), but it can't encode innovative signs (e.g. where the sign just utilizes a class marker and does, basically, whatever it wants. One of the best I saw was a little kid's description of something that was happening in a Ninja Turtles episode, where the Turtle Van plunges off of a freeway overpass and then a parachute comes out of the top, and the van floats to the ground. All of this was done with one sign and two handshapes. It can't, at present, be encoded by SW—and there's a lot of spontaneous signing like this in sign languages). If it attempts to, it will require new movement glyphs—potentially an infinite number of them—which isn't something that makes sense for a writing system.

For a handwritten system, SW requires too much drawing—and coloring. Off the top of my head, I can't think of another writing system that requires you to fill in shapes—let alone halfway. It's far too time-consuming for regular communication (e.g. writing e-mails back and forth). It'd make more sense to just record a video and post it to YouTube. For longterm transcription, it makes more sense, but again: video!

Ultimately, SW is a 20th century solution and doesn't make much sense in the 21st century. My uncle, for example, would never use it because the iPhone doesn't support it for texting—and even if it did, it's more cumbersome than using English or FaceTime. That's a very specific objection, but it's a real world objection. It's the world we live in now. A Unicode encoding is a step in the right direction if implementation is desired, but it's a bit like having a way for your beeper to forward pages to your cell phone via text message. People are still going to use Word to write documents and still use standard e-mail clients or the web to write e-mails. Even if they support the new Unicode encoding, will they support top-to-bottom writing?

And then the system itself is full of way too many glyphs whose distinctions are often too fine (such as the distinction between a finger attached directly to the hand and not directly attached to the hand). I think, in fact, that'd cause more problems with handwriting than typesetting. It's too small a space to require that level of detail with respect to the rest of the glyphs in the system.

Speaking of typesetting, how are you going to be able to take handshapes and position them as precisely as is required to make the various signs? Forget using their program: I mean in regular, day-to-day programs (Word, e-mail, chat, Facebook, etc.)—stuff that people use. Either it's not going to be possible to position handshapes with respect to one another (e.g. to do signs like HOUSE vs. APPLE vs. DEAF vs. MARRIED), or it's going to require a whole series of pre-arranged glyphs in Unicode, which would defeat the purpose of having a phonetic system (unless the font had ligatures so that you could conventional [again, defeating the point of a fully phonetic system] type in a series of signs that would then produce the larger glyph).

To sum it up:

-SW is too precise. SW is also not precise enough.
-SW is too phonetic. SW is also not phonetic enough.
-SW is too logographic. SW is also not logographic enough.
-SW is too difficult to write. SW is too difficult to type.

About the only thing that isn't difficult is reading, which makes it a not-so-bad method of longterm storage. Otherwise, the system really needs to be reconceptualized with a modern audience in mind, and utilizing modern technology.

David Peterson
LCS President
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www.conlang.org