Sign languages (was: Re: additions to ISO 639 and the IANA language subtag registry)

John Cowan cowan at
Tue Feb 21 23:20:26 CET 2006

Peter Constable scripsit:

> > Signed English in the US and Ireland is different
> > from signed English in the UK. 
> Just like Pinyin and Wade-Giles romanizations of Chinese are different.
> It's still Chinese in both cases, so the tag should begin with "zh"; the
> fact that it is Latin transliteration is the next most significant
> attribute, and the choice of Romanization is a further refinement of
> that. Similarly, the language is English whether signed using the
> gestural "notation" conventions of US or of Ireland; the next most
> significant attribute is the signed modality, and the choice of signing
> conventions is a further refinement of that.

On reflection, I think that's exactly backwards.  The major barrier to
mutual intelligibility is in lexicon; it can be quite a difficult matter
to decide whether a dialogue is ASL or signed English or a varying mixture
of the two, but there is no doubt whether it is ASL or BSL.

I throw this suggestion out for what it's worth: tag the signed spoken
languages as the corresponding SL, using an 's' extension to specify
the spoken language being encoded.  Thus signed American English would be
"sgn-US-s-en", distinct from both "sgn-US" and "sgn-GB-s-en".

Her he asked if O'Hare Doctor tidings sent from far     John Cowan
coast and she with grameful sigh him answered that
O'Hare Doctor in heaven was. Sad was the man that word
to hear that him so heavied in bowels ruthful. All      cowan at
she there told him, ruing death for friend so young,
algate sore unwilling God's rightwiseness to withsay.   Ulysses, "Oxen"

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