Sutton in 1985. Photo by Barry H.Slobin.
Movement Writing is a global writing system. It is no accident
that it has been invented at a time when the entire world
is coming together, learning from each other and benefiting
we are all a product of our experiences, and I was blessed
to be born at a time when the world was becoming smaller.
There were telephones, radios, televisions and airplanes when
I was born in 1951. And later the personal computer and the
internet has had, and continues to have, an enormous influence
on the success of my invention.
thing is for sure....Sutton Movement Writing & Shorthand
would not exist, if I had not been born.
although the invention turned 25 years old in 1999, its acceptance
by the global community is just beginning. The seeds were
planted in the previous millenium, but the true use of the
writing system will be in the 21st century.
do not realize the impact Sutton Movement Writing will have,
because they have never heard of it, or do not understand
why it is needed...and yet the need is great, and the impact
will be felt in time.
have been inventors of writing systems in history. I am luckier
than many of them, for I am seeing my invention used in my
lifetime. Other inventors have not been so lucky. Louis Braille,
born in France in 1809, was blind himself, and died in 1852
at the age of 43, before the value of his invention was recognized.
The Braille writing system was actually banned in some schools
for the blind in his lifetime, although he did have a small
group of followers. Several decades after his death, Braille's
invention was used worldwide. But being born in the 1800's
held him back from reaching multitudes of people quickly in
his lifetime. He did not have the internet!
am sure we can all relate to the feelings of frustration he
must have felt, and I only wish he could see today what a
blessing Braille is for thousands of blind people.
although the Cherokee Indian chief Sequoyah did see his writing
system used in his lifetime...he almost didn't, because his
own people tried him for treason for writing the Cherokee
language. It was a culture shock for the Cherokee Indians,
to think of their spoken language as a written language. They
thought it was witchcraft. If he had not taught the jurors
in his treason trial to read and write, which they found surprisingly
easy, Sequoyah would have been put to death! So he would not
have seen it used in his lifetime either, if the confusion
and fear of his own people had won over his vision and foresight.
It took 25 years for Sequoyah to receive acceptance. Because
of him and his patient persistence, the rich Cherokee language
is preserved for posterity. Today there is even a computer
program named Sequoyah for typing Cherokee, a far cry from
writing by hand as the Cherokees did while Sequoyah was alive
in the mid 1800's.
just as Sequoyah's writing system started to be used around
the 25th year of development, SignWriting also started to
spread in the late 1990's, around the 25th year of its development.
SignWriting, although used by hundreds of people today, is
still a writing system in its infancy, since more years are
needed to solidify writing grammar and teaching people to
read and write. But the phenomenon of "reading and writing
Sign Language Literature" is now occurring in 16 countries...something
that has never happened before.
people confuse SignWriting with other transcription systems
used by linguistic research, or they confuse DanceWriting
with other dance notation systems. These other systems do
not have the same goals or uses. There is no way to truly
categorize Sutton Movement Writing, for there is no equivalent
to imagine this:
ONE sound-writing system for
writing all music, all noises that have no meaning,
screeching, animal sounds, automobile sounds, airplane
sounds, the sounds of the wind, PLUS the same writing
system used to record German, French, Chinese, Arabic...all
spoken languages...all with the same symbols invented
by one inventor. Since (as far as I know), English
is not written with music notes, and music is not
written with the Roman alphabet, it appears that this
scenario never happened!
the equivalent is occurring in the world of writing
movement with the invention of Sutton Movement Writing...
It is ONE movement-writing system for writing
all dance, all mime and gestures that have no meaning,
all sports, body language, animal movements, machine
movements, the movement of the wind, PLUS the same
writing system, called SignWriting in Deaf communities,
is becoming the daily writing system for real languages
such as American Sign Language, German Sign Language,
or Brazilian Sign Language. But whether it be SignWriting
or DanceWriting, all movements are written with the
SAME symbols invented by one inventor (with LOTS of
input from the users of the writing system of course!).
you can see why I feel very blessed...I have been given the
gift of living to see my invention used....and how blessed
I feel that so many truly wonderful people have contributed
to the writing system's success. To all of you, I say "thank
you" from the bottom of my heart. Everytime someone sends
me a note written in SignWriting, or shares a beautiful dance
with me, written in DanceWriting, I feel like a treasure has
been handed to me.
see...all this happened because of a unique set of circumstances...
handed me a "deadline".....I was aware as a child
that my life was tenuous, and that I was lucky to make it
through childhood. I was born with a rare skin condition that
was at times life-threatening, and I was told I would die
several times throughout my life. Everytime I survived, I
felt re-born, and each inspiring gift of renewal made me even
more determined to leave the world a better place before I
die. So my ongoing life-long struggle of being invalided,
being forced to face my own mortality, and then miraculously
recovering, created the perfect conditions for the development
of the invention. I have lived many lifetimes within my 48
years, but each lifetime has only reinforced my dedication
to my life's work.
all...what does a dancer do when she is too ill to dance?
She invents a way to write dance of course! If I had not been
born ill, I would have been too well to want to sit around
and write - ha! So the combination of a dancer with time on
her hands...was a terrific combination!!
would ever have thought that the unique circumstances of a
dancer who was trapped by her own physical limitations, would
have led to the written form for signed languages used by
deaf people? I could not have predicted that.....
personal limitations led me to a writing system that
is limitless, freeing others from the limitations
human imagination has no boundaries, and by bringing
the illusive to written form, SignWriting is giving
the previously-unrecorded literature of the Deaf,
a concrete foothold in recorded history.
feel that the special circumstances that have made
Sutton Movement Writing the system that it is, was
created by a higher power. Somehow I have been blessed
to bring this invention to the world, and I accept
my duty seriously, and with optomistic conviction.
January 5, 2000
La Jolla, California