The official blog of Safari Bill (Dr. William Vicars)-- Lexicographer, protologism developer, enchiridion author, ASL evangelist, and immersion excursion guide.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In a message dated 12/3/2008 1:58:50 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, daryl writes:

Dr. Bill,
I have a question that I’m hoping you will not mind answering. I have a friend who is writing a paper on the writing style of those who are Deaf. In particular she is writing about (in her words) ‘the use of ASL by Deaf individuals when writing’ (especially in e-mails and web forums). We have entered into a technical debate, which we realize is irrelevant in all practical use, but is technically interesting (especially to me as I’m an engineer and have often been accused of focusing on the immaterial minutiae :-). I’m hoping you will shed some light to clarify this once and for all. Her claim is then that most Deaf individuals’ (whether, or not, by conscience choice) will (in her words) “write in ASL.” An example would be something as simple as writing “Who you?” instead of the English “Who are you?” I describe the former as writing in English, but using ASL syntax, not “writing in ASL.” Although we both agree that ASL is a language, we differ on the point of it being (technically) possible to write in ASL without having a way to reproduce the actual ASL handshapes for words. I understand that one can go as far as installing a fingerspelling font and fingerspelling words while typing, but that is not considered ASL. For instance, if I were to fingerspell every word to someone in front of me (even if using ASL syntax or phrasing), it would not be considered ASL. I’m hope I’m being clear as it is somewhat difficult to express. I guess the exact question would be, to restate the above, is it possible to write (as in ‘write down’ with a pen or pencil) in ASL without coming up with a way to represent the animated handshapes? In addition, I contend that ASL differs from most languages in that, although the language can be spoken (so to speak), and read (as in from another’s hands), it cannot (easily) be written down (evidenced by reviewing ASL instruciton books and dictionaries). In addition, it is my assertion that writing down “Who You” is (technically) not “writing in ASL.” Do you agree or disagree with my positions?Sorry to waste time on something that is irrelevant in a practical sense, but I think that it is an important issue to clarify when doing a paper on “people writing in ASL.”
God Bless,

"Who you" is using the orthography of English to list two common "labels" for ASL signs.Some might consider the writing or typing of "who you" to be a form of gloss. (But there are specific conventions for glossing that go way beyond just writing the labels of words, see:
So, it seems to me that you are right when you state that "Who you" is not the equivalent of writing "ASL."
However, ASL does have a "writing system."See: You can obtain software that allows ASL to be "typed." So, ASL does have a "written" form. Signwriting doesn't depend on English. Signwriting is used by only a small fraction of the overall deaf community. Now that we can stream video so easily I doubt "writing" of sign language will ever catch on with a larger audience (beyond researchers).
Dr. Bill