Sign languages (was: Re: additions to ISO 639 and the IANA language
dewell at adelphia.net
Tue Feb 21 00:20:30 CET 2006
Michael Everson <everson at evertype dot com> wrote:
> RFC 3066 registed sgn- as a generic (and non-genetic) indicator of
> the type of language (signed not spoken). Then the use of language
> tag and geographical tag corresponds to what the languages are
> usually called (generally in spoken languages with which the
> coexist). This notation is flexible enough to distinguish between
> American Sign Language and Signed English (as used in America). The
> Ethnologue and 639 give arbitrary three-letter codes for only the
> former class. I think this is a poor decision on the part of the
> editors of the Ethnologue, and we still have the problem of the
> latter class.
> But I have said this before, and no one seemed to take me seriously.
> So now we have an RFCbis which probably doesn't help the Deaf
> community very well. Particularly as no one probably discussed this
> issue with Deaf community leaders like Valerie Sutton, who actually
> use the codes.
I certainly agree that both true sign languages and signed spoken
languages should be supported, and distinguished from each other. For
the latter, within the next week I will introduce a proposal to register
the variant subtag "signed", which would indicate the signed version of
a spoken language. Using this mechanism, for example, Signed Spoken
English would be "en-signed".
For the former, I am not convinced that not grouping all possible sign
languages under a common "sgn-" umbrella constitutes "not helping the
Deaf community very well." We don't group Romance languages or
Dravidian languages under such an umbrella, nor is there ever any
guarantee that subtags are mnemonic (cf. "myv" for Erzya). The
existence of a language subtag (or code element) for a given language at
all is what confers support.
In any event, all of the tags in "sgn-" that were considered critical
enough, or in high-enough demand, to be registered under RFC 3066 are
still perfectly valid under RFC 3066bis. No new "sgn" tags had been
registered since November 2001.
It was never the case that "the Deaf community" -- if indeed there is a
single, unified Deaf community -- could conformantly use any of the tags
listed in Michael's "Table B: Provisional Codes" , any more than
users of a spoken language could invent their own (non-private-use)
language tag. Any language tag would have to have been registered
before use, under either RFC 1766 or 3066 or 3066bis.
If there is a future revision to RFC 3066bis to incorporate the
forthcoming ISO 639-3, which is based on Ethnologue codes but which
should replace "Ethnologue" in our discussions, then I strongly support
including the ISO 639-3 code elements for sign languages as primary
language subtags at that time.
Fullerton, California, USA
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