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Sign languages: facilitating learning, diffusion and use in linguistic research of SignWriting through re-arranging its structure

  • Bianchini, Claudia S.
Publication Date
Jul 05, 2021
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Sign Languages (SLs) are the visual-gestural languages of the deaf. Although not provided with an “ordinary” writing system, there have been numerous attempts to represent them graphically; this work deals with the graphic system that seems most promising: SignWriting (SW). SW is composed of nearly 40 000 glyphs (symbols), which are organized into Classes and Families on the basis of some functional and/or graphical affinities.During the years, the creator, Valerie Sutton, and her collaborators have developed different versions of SW, adding new glyphs always maintaining its original structure; however, in 2010, with the aim of comply with Unicode requirements, SW went through a substantial make-up, still without touching the core of the system. As a consequence, the latest version is more coherent but remains somehow inconsistent, as it is full of exceptions that do not allow establishing a clear linkage between a glyphic "prototype" and all of its connotations, making SW apparently very complex to master.Therefore, the aim of this study is to reorganize SW, of course without changing its nature, but nevertheless shaking the foundations and modifying some methodological pillars of SW, in order to re create the regularities that were lost during its evolution, and which are necessary to facilitate learning and use, both on paper and with computer programs, thus allowing a greater diffusion of SW in the deaf community and within the linguistic research.The new classification and arrangement of SW "bricks" is based on graphic and functional features, whose primary purpose has been to promote SW teaching to deaf and hearing signers, but which thereafter became also the basis for developing a novel editor for texts written in SW, called SWift (SW improved fast transcriber).

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