A few months ago, we did a piece on Si5S, a written form of ASL. Si5S deserves your attention because it nullifies the argument that ASL isn’t a language due to the fact that it has no written form. But its relevance goes beyond that. For one thing, it can help non-Signers learn the language. Because this isn’t a hieroglyphic writing system – but rather a method for notating actual signs – ASL students can use it as a mnemonic aid for learning physical signs. In fact, an essential part of learning your first language – be it English, or whatever – was your learning to read and write. You had some limited speaking skills from as early as about 2-years of age, but you didn’t become conversational in your native language, until you could read.
A segment of the several-hundred-odd characters are intentionally left handed. If the writer signs with his left hand dominant, he would use these characters rather than their right-handed counterparts. The reader would know that the writer is left-handed.
I recently acquired the official Si5S textbook, by the system’s creative team, Robert Arnold Augustus, Elsie Ritchie and Suzanne Stecker and edited by Elisa Abenchuchan Vita. I have only skimmed through it in the past few hours, but I’m beginning to understand it much better than I did when I wrote the original piece.
This is not fingerspelling, although all 26 fingerspelling characters are represented. It is also not – as I said above – a hieroglyphic representational writing system. The characters don’t represent things, like trees or bridges. They represent signs.
Notice the upper left character in the above graphic. On top, you see the hand as it would look, being viewed by someone looking at a signer. On the bottom, you see the Si5S character for that handshape. The character is reversed, because Si5S is written from the writer’s perspective. The symbols represent what the actual signer is seeing. The character’s foundation is something that looks somewhat like a musical half note. That represents the thumb contacting the finger tips in a O-hand posture. The staff of the half note represents the index finger – sticking up. The smaller vertical mark represents the pinky finger. Finally, the little dash inside the circle represents the thumb – folded over. If that dash were sticking out to the left, this would be the written form of the sign for “I love you.”
But those are static images. Si5S includes diacritical marks to show movement, location and direction. The sign for “tell you” is a different sign from the one for “you tell me.” Similarly, the characters for those signs reflect that difference.
Above is a graphic that shows the stationary views of the potential poses for the basic open palm. Each alteration to the primary U-shape shows the position of the fingers. In a writing environment, these symbols would be accompanied with more marks to indicate the other parameters of an ASL sign.
As I said, the book contains a massive number of characters – far more than English writing. Each character represents a movement or a handshape as used in signed ASL.
Si5S is a game-changer. This brilliant system could not only change the lives of native ASL signers, but could change the way hearing people learn sign.
BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.