Grants:Project/slevinski/ASL Wikipedia 2-D Font Development for SignWriting

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statusnot selected
ASL Wikipedia 2-D Font Development for SignWriting
summaryIncrease availability of sign language on Wikimedia projects using SignWriting with the creation of a 2-D font and full Unicode.
targetSpecifically: the American Sign Language Wikipedia and the Brazilian Sign Language Wikipedia on Incubator. Generally: all sign languages for all Wikimedia projects.
amount20,000 USD
contact• slevinski(_AT_)
this project needs...
created on14:30, 16 December 2016 (UTC)

Project idea[edit]

What is the problem you're trying to solve?[edit]

Users of sign language have a difficult time collecting and developing educational content under a free license or in the public domain. Current video technology is a poor substitute for text when working in a collaborative environment. Even with perfect video editing, adding sign language text to the sum of human knowledge would be an amazing step forward for diversity of language, experience, and thought.

While it is possible to write SignWriting on Incubator, there are several usability issues that need to be addressed.

There are no sign language Wikipedias on the production Wikimedia servers. There are no top-level sign language Wikipedias, such as for American Sign Language.

Before the move from Incubator to the production server for any sign language Wikipeida, the SignWriting script must be fully encoded in the Unicode standard. Unicode is a long term project that will require years to complete.

What is your solution?[edit]

Our solution is to develop, document, and promote the Sutton SignWriting script as a text alternative for writing sign language. The presentation "A sign by any other name" discusses using a formal language to write sign language using words.

A Unicode string is the right solution for a SignWriting word. UTC members have supported the idea that SignWriting signs should be encoded in Unicode. They have also expressed the idea that a conversion routine will be possible for our current data.

The development of a true 2-dimensional font for SignWriting along with an improved character design will make it easier for sign language users to collect and develop educational content.

This project will simplify the transition from Incubator to production for a sign language Wikipedia once the sign language Wikipedia has sufficiently developed and passed an expert review.

Project goals[edit]

Create a 2-dimensional font for SignWriting using a full Unicode design that writes signs using words. This will enable written sign language on any of the various Wikimedia projects without the need to configure a special JavaScript gadget on each of the projects.

Project plan[edit]


We will be building on the existing Sutton SignWriting TrueType Fonts to create a true 2-dimensional font for SignWriting. The individual SignWriting symbol glyphs are available in SVG and TTF format. Some preprocessing of the fonts may be required to produce a true 2-color font before the 2-dimensional layout is addressed.

We are targeting two Unicode designs: an optimal encoding and a compliant encoding. A document regarding these options was submitted to the UTC in July of 2017. Design Options for Sutton SignWriting with examples and fonts

Development of the 2-dimensional font will have two possible avenues. First, the Open Type Font format may contain enough flexibility with GPOS (glyph positioning) to properly support SignWriting in 2-dimensions. This development would focus on Python scripting with FontForge. Second, if Python scripting is insufficient, the Universal Shaping Engine for complex scripts will be targeted. This development would focus on Volt and the USE font scripting language.

There are a number of design issues that will be addressed during development.

  • 2-D layout of glyphs
  • Centering of glyph cluster
  • Correct margins
  • Proper handling of sorting prefix
  • 2-color glyphs
Escola Estadual de Educação Especial Dr. Reinaldo Fernando Cóser


The majority of the budget will focus on font development. This will be primarily handled by Steve Slevinski, who has been working with SignWriting font issues for the past decade. The Project Administration line item will cover admin costs and any incidentals such as software or specialized consultants. The UTC Meeting line item will cover travel costs and meeting prep for UTC #156.

  • Font Developer: 17,000 USD
  • UTC Meeting: 3,000 USD

Community engagement[edit]

Many within the Wikimedia community are familiar with and supportive of Sutton SignWriting. The ongoing 2017 Wikimedia Community Wishlist Survey includes a Request for Vertical Writing Mode. SignWriting is one of several scripts that needs vertical writing mode. This grant covers the Two-D Font and that survey request covers Vertical Writing Mode. These projects are symbiotic and each benefits from the other.

On Wikimedia Incubator, there are many users interested in sign language projects using SignWriting, including: Wikisign1979, Yair rand, StevenJ81, Midnight Gambler, LeptonMadness, Gareth422, SurdusVII, Icemandeaf, Great Brightstar, JasonASL, and others.

The ASL communities on the English Wikipedia and the English Wiktionary are interested in using SignWriting to document ASL. Without the necessary fonts and characters for SignWriting, they have been unable to include SignWriting except as images. Because an image is not a good page name, a few editors on the English Wiktionary have invented a home grown solution for page titles. A sign is written as OpenB@Chest-PalmBack-OpenB@Trunk-PalmBack_RoundSurface-RoundSurface. SignWriting can be used for page titles and for text within an article. Once available, the fonts and characters will be used on both the English Wikipedia and the English Wiktionary.

  • In any event, I think that since SignWriting (the real thing, not our version) will, I hope, be Unicode characters, we'll be switching over anyway, so any current system is temporary and need not be ideal; so we might as well leave it the way it is for now even if we do think ASLSJ is better.—msh210℠ 18:47, 13 April 2009 (UTC)
  • I take that back. It looks like there has been significant progress since I last researched this. w:SignWriting now has designated Unicode code points. We may want to base our transcription and/or sort order on SignWriting. —Rod (A. Smith) 20:38, 14 February 2016 (UTC)
  • I'd like to add SignWriting to every example in this article. Any objections? I'll start doing it in a few days if not. Psiĥedelisto (talk) 09:31, 5 February 2017 (UTC)

System administrators on Incubator and within the Wikimedia Clouds services are familiar with SignWriting. Requests are approved and system resources are made available for SignWriting as part of normal operations.

The Deaf community in Brazil has widespread adoption of SignWriting. Over 20 schools and Universities in Brazil know and use SignWriting. Each of the schools in the document above have expressed interest and hope in joining the Wikimedia movement. Four of the Universities have written letters of interest on school letterhead stating their interest in using Wikimedia projects in the classroom.

There is no large scale discussion or community engagement regarding the 2-D font or Unicode proposal. The talk page of this grant contains some interesting discussion.


People are more likely to share share text that looks like text, rather than text displayed as data, or text available as an image file.

The 2-D font, once created, will be able to support the written form of any sign language. All of the Wikimedia projects will be able to use sign language as text for viewing and editing within a group of writers. The sign language Wikipedias and Wiktionaries will be a great source of material for people to read and use.

The 2-D font will be a major component of a future Unicode proposal. While the final form of SignWriting in Unicode may be completely different than either of these character design options, the fonts will illuminate design requirements that any future character encoding for SignWriting must satisfy.

Developing new text requires an editor of some type. The 2-D font and stable characters makes it easier to develop editors of all types: from keyboards, to drag-and-drop, with touch screens, and texting. The current keyboard method on Incubator can be ported to an updated character design.

While the 2-D font isn't the final technical development for SignWriting, it will be a milestone that creates a stable platform for growth.

Measures of success[edit]

1) Complete Two-D Font
1.1) Support every sign currently written in Sutton SignWriting
1.2) Support any possible sign that can be written in Sutton SignWriting.
2) Unicode
2.1) Support Unicode 8 with 17 additional characters
2.2) Support the experimental character set SignWriting in Unicode (SWU)
2.3) Official submission to the UTC

A completed Two-D font will support all of sign currently written with Sutton SignWriting. A complete Two-D font will also support any possible sign written in Sutton SignWriting. This is a major contrast with some scripts, particularly Chinese. Support for new Chinese characters or for new variants requires a font update. A complete Two-D front for SignWriting will be final and will not require updates to support new signs. We've had a working Two-D prototype font since 2014.

Unicode is a long term project that will extend beyond this grant. It is our hope to move the Unicode discussion forward and to create a standard by which other implementation can be judged.

Community Involvement[edit]

For this project to really be successful, more people need to become involved. For this to happen, a stable international standard is vital.


Get involved[edit]


  • Steve Slevinski – The script encoder of Sutton SignWriting, who has been involved with SignWriting since 2004. Since Steve started with Valerie Sutton, he has been the technical half of her invention, addressing issues of characters, fonts, software, and computer design. Steve has been involved in the efforts to create an ASL Wikipedia for the past decade creating MediaWiki extensions and gadgets. He successfully moved the proof of concept ASL Wikipedia from the SignWriting private server to Wikimedia Labs and finally to Wikimedia Incubator.

Community notification[edit]


Do you think this project should be selected for a Project Grant? Please add your name and rationale for endorsing this project below! (Other constructive feedback is welcome on the discussion page).

  • Support It is challenging for me to estimate how much labor and cost should go into this. I will ask for the budget to be more developed to describe how much labor would be funded for how many people. Also I wish to know how much funding for staff would go to the organization requesting the grant and how much is likely to go to contractors.
Even though I am not sure how I give an opinion on the funding pace of the project which is most likely to advance it, I am ready to say that this seems like an important project that should be considered for the amount requested. This team spoke at WikiConference North America in October 2016 and described a striking problem of creating text records for sign language. I am not sure how the wiki community handles proposals for incorporating fonts. At the WikiConference, this team demonstrated that they already have a body of translated Wikipedia articles which could go into an incubator to be developed into a new Wikipedia, if that seemed like a good initial direction for development. Blue Rasberry (talk) 19:57, 11 January 2017 (UTC)
  • I was very impressed with the ASL SignWriting project and team members when we met at last year's WikiConference North America. The importance of making knowledge available to everyone, of every ability, calls for being able to include better accessibility for those of us who use ASL to communicate. I remember first discovering that ASL is not the same as English in its grammar - I'd grown up assuming it was. I'm very supportive of the development of better fonts for representing sign language online. Anything to improve inclusivity and accessibility! DrMel (talk) 15:46, 21 March 2017 (UTC)
  • Having a working 2D font for SignWriting would make many of the largest technical obstacles much easier to deal with, and would be a major step toward bringing Wikimedia projects to the millions of sign language users around the world. --Yair rand (talk) 01:42, 22 March 2017 (UTC)
  • I think this is a great opportunity for all sign languages of the world. An awesome idea. We absolutely need this! It will allow us to concentrate on creating content without the current technical hassles. Eduardo Trápani
  • Because signwriting is one of the main sources for writing Sign Languages in any sign language. It helps deaf and hearing people in learning the structure and grammar of sign languages around the world. 2A02:1810:3988:F300:64A6:D223:E449:3AD3 17:20, 23 March 2017 (UTC)
  • I have learned to correspond with a deaf friend from an other country via sign writing.
Tini Pel
Canada. 17:59, 23 March 2017 (UTC)
  • Signwriting is becoming more popular everyday and it is a significant resource for deaf people to communicate on the web. Also, it supports different sing languages, as the ASL, French Sign Language, Tunisian Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language an any other. So, many software can benefit from a truly UTF Singwriting font because this font will ease translation of these systems into sign languages, making them available to deaf people and enabling deaf culture expression. Ronnie Fagundes de Brito, from the Brazilian Institute of Science and Technology
These steps will remove technical obstacles and improve ease of access to this highly useful writing system for signers and scholars around the world. Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway
  • This project will make it so that several issues that we are currently having with the ASL incubator (including struggles of editing for editors) will be greatly reduced. It will also make it so pages render with greater ease than what they are right now as some users have mentioned that they see weird strings of code for a little while before the page is fully rendered. This won't happen when this project is done and will be less confusing for the everyday user. Icemandeaf (talk) 18:40, 23 March 2017 (UTC)
  • The Deaf community in Malta are able to learn and use SignWriting easily and we adopted it as our research tool at the University of Malta Institute of Linguistics many years ago. We teach it to our Linguistics Honours students and it is our writing tool for the Maltese Sign Language dictionary which we hope will be online within the next 12 months.
Maltese Sign Language was officially recognised in March 2016. We hope to build resource packs with stories and other material for teaching young Deaf children and adolescents and to share information with the whole community. This will help us use the power that the Law gives us.
SignWriting is also a great teaching tool for hearing people who want to learn sign language too. As far as the Maltese Sign Language Research Project is concerned SignWriting is an indispensable tool.
We wholeheartedly support the request being made for a grant.
Professor Marie Alexander, Maltese Sign Language Research Project Coordinator, Institute of Linguistics, University of Malta 06:09, 24 March 2017 (UTC)
  • I believe that this will be an important stepping stone in font development for writing sign languages. As mentioned we currently rely heavily on the web browser itself for layout out the symbols for signs. Having the font technologies do it would be much better. It will also encourage widespread adoption of writing sign languages in the Wikipedia. 13:45, 24 March 2017 (UTC)
  • Signwriting is an important way to transcribe sign language as well as to write them. We are currently using Signwriting very successfully in our Signtyp project at -- Rachel Channon 19:28, 26 March 2017 (UTC)
  • Support. SignWriting is a brilliant way to give the deaf means to document and communicate their thoughts. On the technical front, the effort done so far is near completion. With the few characters that are left, a powerful tool would be ready for the deaf to use on Wikipedia and virtually everywhere else to communicate. This project is important and it is worthy of all the support we can offer. Ahmed M Farrag (talk)
  • There is currently very little accessibility to Sign Languages in remote areas. The creation of a 2-D font for SignWriting would drastically increase remote access to sign languages, both via print and digital mediums. Hanleyweng (talk) 23:35, 29 March 2017 (UTC)
  • SignWriting is the only script that supports any and all Sign Languages. I have followed the development of SignWriting for many years and it has come a long way. At this stage it is a recognised script, a lot of work has gone of including it is Unicode and the script actually works with MediaWiki. Both very important and significant achievements. I am pushing the SignWriting Foundation to go on a limb and have schools write stubs in sign languages so that the language committee I am a member of can approve of the first Wikipedia in SignWriting. When they do, I am certain many Wikipedias will follow. Thanks, GerardM (talk) 11:06, 10 October 2017 (UTC)
  • It would be useful to think and develop new tools on our projets and further. GrandCelinien (talk) 19:34, 14 November 2017 (UTC)
  • Signing community suffers from the lack of unified writing system. Creation of wiki with unified Sign language writing would give native signers an opportunity to learn, create, and colloborate in their native language. 12:35, 17 June 2018 (UTC)
  • SignWriting system would be highly beneficial to Wikipedia and Wikimedia as a whole. Vulphere 11:55, 10 June 2019 (UTC)
  • Strong support Strong support. Je pense qu’il est important d’accroitre les contenus en langue des signes sur l’encyclopédie pour la rendre plus accessible et réutilisable. Modjou (talk) 13:21, 18 February 2020 (UTC)
  • a 2-dimensional font is need to fully use the Unicode standard for sign languages. 16:45, 27 February 2020 (UTC)
  • The SignWriting 2-D Font is sorely needed for the improvement of Wikipedias in written sign languages. The American Sign Language Wikipedia, the Tunisian Sign Language Wikipedia and the Brazilian Sign Language Wikipedias are currently located on Incubator, which is an excellent test site, but for the Wikipedias in written sign languages to become "more official" it is necessary to develop the SignWriting 2-D Font. The SignWriting Script is currently in Unicode 8, but without the SignWriting 2-D Font, the Unicode cannot provide the necessary technology needed for writing SignWriting in the visual way it is composed, in vertical writing mode and so forth. With the 2-D Font, the problem will be solved. It is an exciting project and I wholeheartedly support and endorse Steve Slevinski in this important work. Thousands of sign language users around the world will benefit and the Wikipedias will grow quickly once it is easier to compose articles. ValSutton (talk) 19:33, 27 February 2020 (UTC)
  • Signwriting is the most representative written form os sign languages, and used by people from many countries. Steve is the person who made great improvements on signwriting codification on the web, proposing a codification on UTF and also implementing computational resources to present it on digital environments. Its work is so important and must continue in order to grant deaf community a communication tool tha grants its linguistics rights! 12:03, 28 February 2020 (UTC)
  • Accessibility is an important value of the Wikimedia movement, and that includes for those whose native languages are sign languages. We should be supporting free knowledge in sign languages both in the form of video and in written forms as well, of which the principal community globally is SignWriting.--Pharos (talk) 01:28, 4 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Thanks for the support. That is an interesting document from Martin Hosken. You can see follow-up discussion about support in Graphite here. More references here. -Slevinski (talk) 15:01, 9 March 2020 (UTC)
  • Support Support, also to use as a vector source for the symbols on Commons. Arlo Barnes (talk) 15:58, 8 March 2022 (UTC)