Re: Writing a proposal for an unusual script: SignWriting

Date: Fri Jun 11 2010 - 22:21:46 CDT

  • Next message: Curtis Clark: "Re: Writing a proposal for an unusual script: SignWriting"

    I've already sent specific comments to Steve, but a few items that I would like put on the record are as follows.

    From: steve (
    > Greetings Unicode List,
    > I'm working on a character encoding model for SignWriting. I just
    > finished the 3rd major revision. Instead of needing an entire plane, I
    > only need 1280 code points. Since 1024 code points have already been
    > tentatively reserved for SignWriting on the SMP (1d8 thru 1db), I'm very
    > happy with my latest update.
    > SignWriting is an unusual script because it does not follow the same
    > rules as other script. I do not believe SignWriting can be changed to
    > follow the same rules without breaking the script.

    I disagree. In the end, Sutton SignWriting has a logical order, and the elements combine together in predictable ways. In some ways, it calls for a somewhat more abstract encoding model than other scripts, but it has text flow, recurring elements, and rules for proper syntax. Having experience with shorthands - another set of writing systems in which position may need to be defined - I can say that the character encoding model is more powerful than you can probably see right now. It certainly was for me.

    > Before discussing the primary difference, I'd like to stipulate three
    > assumptions. First, sign languages are real human languages. Second,
    > sign language can be written. Third, SignWriting can write sign
    > language.

    I think anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the subject matter would agree wholeheartedly.

    > We have an international user base. People write by hand or computer.
    > We have tens of thousands of signs in different sign languages from
    > around the world. We have hundreds of documents including "The Cat in
    > the Hat" (translated with permission), whole books of the Bible, and
    > others. All of this writing can be encoded using 1280 code points. I
    > have a 12-bit encoding with bi-directional conversion with UTF-8 working
    > for planes 1, 15, or 16. I'm currently using plane 15: fd800 thru
    > fdcff.

    > The primary difference between SignWriting and other scripts is that
    > SignWriting is a spatial script. The graphemes of SignWriting are not
    > written sequentially and do not have definable attachment points.
    > Imagine a two dimensional canvas. The graphemes can be written anywhere
    > on the canvas. A completed sign (or word) will consist of several
    > graphemes spatially arranged on a canvas. There is an infinite number
    > of signs that can be created.

    Even though script elements can be written on the canvas anywhere, there are a limited number of /relative/ positions in which given elements can appear. Furthermore, from what I understand, there is a definite abstract space in which the elements are defined, and appearing in which defines an element in relation to other elements. I also take exception to the contention that there are an infinite number of signs that can be created: it may be many millions, but there is most definitely a finite number of complete signs that can be defined.

    > A spatial script requires a coordinate system, either cartesian or
    > polar. I do not believe Unicode currently includes any spatial scripts,
    > but it is impossible to use SignWriting without a coordinate system.

    This is the big whopper that I vehemently disagree with. It may be handy to just define placement with coordinates, but a proper script encoding will only define those elements that are contrastive and salient. For signwriting, there will undoubtedly be numerous relative placements for hand elements (over the head, beside the face, chest height, wide, forward, waist height, opposite side, etc), but it would be truly sad if we were forced by lack of imagination to settle for a coordinate system.

    > The character encoding model is called Binary SignWriting and is
    > documented online:

    I'm looking through it, and it seems to me to be a graphics encoding model, rather than a character encoding model. It will take a bit of a shift in thinking, but this is still a pretty good starting point.

    > All of the graphemes of the script are documented and encoded.

    > I was hoping to start on the Unicode Proposal in the near future.

    > Any suggestions, comments or discussion is welcome.

    > Regards,
    > -Steve

    My best,

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