sign writing

sign writing

One of the challenges of describing how to play "lo do ckiku ma zvati" is communicating how to sign. "lo do ckiku ma zvati" relies heavily on sign language during play. Teaching signs in person is a fast process, and the rapid ability with which a player goes from knowing no sign language to being able to use it in fluency play is one of the early "Wow!" moments in the game.

Most players effortlessly begin signing, and within 30 minutes they are combining the words and phrases they've just learned in new ways. They have stopped using ?Technique: Copy Cat and have moved into word play.

It is a wonderful feeling to go from knowing no sign language to fluently conversing with other players the first time you play.

That rapid learning environment can't be created by communicating through a website. I've struggled with how to communicate sign language at all: I have an American Sign Language Dictionary, which includes pictures and textual descriptions of signs. It doesn't come with a license that permits remixing, so I can't remix it for this project.

There are commercial websites, like ASL Pro, which include videos of how to sign. This is great if I'm in front of a computer, but that website also doesn't allow remixing, so I can't embed videos here, and if I could, I wouldn't be able to remix the videos to create phrases.

This had left me with a very unsatisfying answer: Rely exclusively on textual descriptions of signs and recreate the images of signs already available in my dictionary. I had reluctantly settled upon purchasing Poser and doing sign animation myself. This would be a huge task, and I'd rather spend time working directly on "lo do ckiku ma zvati."

It wasn't until reaching this point that I discovered SignWriting. SignWriting is a complete orthography for writing sign language. I quickly skimmed the introductory material: my first task was to look up signs I already knew and see how they were written.

I was relieved and excited to see how easy SignWriting was to read. For signs I was familiar with, seeing the written form had me automatically performing the gestures for the word. I felt the words leaping off the screen into my hands.

This was the moment at which I decided to use SignWriting for "lo do ckiku ma zvati." The software for rendering signs is Free Software, licensed under the GPL 2.0. It is extremely well engineered. It has been a long time since I've seen a software architecture so fundamentally open: there were hooks already available for remixing and integrating the software, and I had it installed and running on my server within a day.

I opened this entry with an example of how to say SignWriting. There are two words there, sign+write. "Sign" has both your hands perpendicular to the ground with your index finger out, circling around each other. "Write" is the open palm of your left hand acting as the writing surface, and the right hand acting like a pen. You "draw" on your left hand with your right hand. The page notci lo xanbau provides a starting point for detailed information on reading SignWriting.

You can see an example of how I'm using SignWriting on the Technique: How Fascinating! page. The significant benefit of using SignWriting is that I can freely translate the signs into Lojban. My print dictionary is ordered by the English phrase implied by the sign, and translating those phrases into Lojban would mean a user would have to translate them back to English to look up the sign--an error prone process.

With SignWriting, I can write the sign directly, and freely associate it with a Lojban word. I can also render words and phrases both for print and web, meaning I can create print reference material perfectly suited for play!

I'd like to thank Valerie Sutton and Steve Slevinski for the work they've put into SignWriting. It vastly improves my ability to describe "lo do ckiku ma zvati."