University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

SIL colloquium will feature Stuart Thiessen July 26

Stuart Thiessen will present his findings on “A Grammar of SignWriting” at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 26, in 300 Merrifield Hall. He holds a master's in Linguistics from UND, and has presented on SignWriting and deaf languages at several workshops in the U.S. and internationally.

Thiessen’s research stems from a long interest in writing systems, particularly for writing sign languages. While most writing systems for spoken languages use symbols to represent sounds, writing systems for signed languages must represent the configurations and movements of the hands, head, and body to used to convey meaning. One writing system for signed languages is SignWriting, which makes use of the spatial relationships of symbols in a two-dimensional “sign box” to represent a sign; signs are then written vertically down the page to represent signing. Thiessen has analyzed the approximately 35,000 symbols used in SignWriting to determine the internal structure of the symbols and the rules underlying their relationships with one another.

While Thiessen firmly believes that the decision to use SignWriting or any other written system for sign languages is a matter to be decided by each deaf community, he hopes that this research will contribute toward resolving the technological barriers so that technical issues are no longer a factor in their decision-making processes.

-- Douglas Fraiser, 352-215-2697,

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