[Ltru] RE: Sign languages (was: Re: additions to ISO 639 and the IANAlanguage subtag registry)

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Tue Feb 21 23:16:41 CET 2006

Peter Constable scripsit (in two different messages which I have partly merged):

> As for tags for signed languages (not signed expression of spoken
> languages), I think the use of region IDs in the template "sgn-XX" to
> identify *languages* is a bad idea; (note: with "sgn-XX" tags, the "sgn"
> is largely redundant, and a large part of the semantic distinction is in
> the country subtag):

I agree that it's a bad idea considered de novo; however, we have a bunch
of 3066-registered tags of this form which people have been encouraged
to use.  We can't just sweep that history under the rug.

This is closely analogous to the "zh" and "ar" problems that caused you to
devise the macrolanguage machinery.

> - As Mark Davis pointed out, many matching implementations will treat
> "sgn-XX" and "sgn-YY" as though there was some significant common
> relationship even if in fact the two are entirely unrelated.

The same is true of macrolanguages in general.  Spoken zh-cmn and spoken
zh-yue are not usefully interchangeable, but matching implementations
will treat them as related.  It can't be helped.

"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history."  --Hegel

> > Country designations (or some other designation)
> > are necessary in some instances.
> The key here is "or some other designation". In no case is a country
> subtag *necessary* to provide a distinction between language identities.

They're necessary because history has made them necessary.  It is not
*necessary* that some language subtags are 2 letters and others are
3 letters, but history has compelled us to make this arbitrary

> Frankly, it seems to me that a need to take some time working out a
> scheme arises only when we've got a hair-brained scheme that tries to
> use country subtags in some cases and (necessarily) not in others. If we
> just use treat signed languages like any other normal language using
> tags like "ads", or if we agree on a consistent template using alpha-3
> extlang subtags e.g. "sgn-ads", then there's nothing to be worked out as
> far as the tagging scheme is concerned; the only open issue is
> identifying what are all the distinct signed languages out there.

I agree with all that.  I just don't think that's where we are.

We are lost, lost.  No name, no business, no Precious, nothing.  Only empty.
Only hungry: yes, we are hungry.  A few little fishes, nassty bony little
fishes, for a poor creature, and they say death.  So wise they are; so just,
so very just.  --Gollum        cowan at ccil.org  www.ccil.org/~cowan

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