Re: Writing a proposal for an unusual script: SignWriting

From: Stephen Slevinski (
Date: Sat Jun 12 2010 - 11:56:14 CDT

  • Next message: Joó Ádám: "Re: Writing a proposal for an unusual script: SignWriting"

    Sorry if this is a repost. Initially sent from the wrong email address.

    Thanks everyone for all the great comments. wrote:
    > I can say that the character encoding model is more powerful than you can probably see right now. It certainly was for me.
    The Duployan Shorthands is very interesting. I'll need to review it in
    more depth.

    > 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.
    Good writing is based on aesthetics. It is an iconic writing system.

    Logically, there should be a limited number of relative positions, but
    there are many exceptions.

    Just considering how to position a hand and a head, there are numerous
    positions inside and outside the head. The palm could be on the chin,
    nose, forehead, right cheek, left cheek, right ear, left ear. And those
    are just the obvious positions inside the head. Sometimes it takes a
    fine adjustment to make the writing feel right.

    For movement arrows, it may appear obvious where symbols before and
    after attach, but it does not always work.

    There is also the problem of divergent paths. Consider 4 handshapes and
    2 movement arrows. Both hands start in the middle and then they both
    move outward. In this situation, there is no symbol in the middle. If
    we start with the right hand, attach it's movement, and then it's
    finishing hand, we end up on the right side of the sign. How do we
    return to center to start the second path for the left hand?

    > 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.
    True. I initially wrote potentially infinite, but reworded the
    sentence. However, we're dealing with all of the world's sign
    languages. These languages are still changing at a greater rate than
    that of spoken languages. There are different dialects between
    communities and unique signs used within families and between friends.
    The vocabularies have not been enumerated and are still evolving. There
    are no accepted spellings, and pantomime can be a large part of story
    telling. Instead of infinite, I should have said innumerable.

    > 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.
    Do you have any reading suggestions for understanding your definition of
    a proper script encoding?

    My qualifications would be that it accurately encodes the script as it
    is used. It is easy to search, sort, and parse. I'd consider
    coordinates to be salient, especially when they refer to the position
    relative to the center of the canvas.

    > 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.
    I'm trying to understand how any script encoding would not devolved into
    a convoluted coordinate based system of degrees and distance.

    But, I'll suspend my disbelief and assume that an alternate encoding is
    possible. What would be gained? Searching? Sorting? Parsing?

    For example, I recently change my model to encode using characters based
    on 652 BaseSymbols, rather than characters based on 37,812 symbols.
    Instead of symbols being accessed with a single character, it requires
    three characters: one BaseSymbol character and two modifiers. I did
    this change because of searching. I found that in my code, I had to
    pre-process a string and create a separate index string.

    I was reading about searching in Unicode and someone wrote the example
    of searching for all "e"s, both accented and unaccented. If the
    accented "e"s are stored as two characters, one "e" and one accent, then
    it is a simple search. It's now the same for my encoding. If you want
    to search for BaseSymbol 154, you can easily search for BaseSymbol 154
    without having to pre-process the string. It was a good change.

    I consider my current solution of Binary SignWriting as powerful and
    elegant. It can write anything from the 30 plus years of SignWriting
    history. Any of the writing in the last 6 years can be automatically
    converted to this new standard. This is a working solution, not a theory.

    Many have taken issue with the coordinate based writing, but other than
    personal ascetics of elegance and beauty, I do not see the disadvantage.

    I'm hoping to learn more as I write the proposal. I appreciate the


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