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

Michael Everson everson at
Sun Feb 26 17:59:37 CET 2006

At 13:38 -0800 2006-02-21, Peter Constable wrote:

>First, I agree with others that signed expression of spoken languages is
>simply another modality, like writing, and a variant subtag -signed is
>the appropriate solution; e.g., en-signed for Signed English.

I disagree. I do not think it is another modality. Consider:

Ich unübereinstimme. Ich tue nicht denken es ist 
andre Modalität. Es ist eine ein-zu-ein Ersetzung 
für Englisch, aber das ist ein andres Ding.

This example is not English. It is a one-to-one 
substitution for English, but that is a different 
thing. It is more like German than English, just 
as Signed English using ISL is more like ISL than 
it is like English.

>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;

I think it is a good idea, as did Valerie Sutton 
of, who has implemented them.

>(note: with "sgn-XX" tags, the "sgn" is largely redundant,

It may be, but it is also useful in various ways.

>and a large part of the semantic distinction is in
>the country subtag):

Which is pretty useful, as Sign Languages are 
generally restricted to countries and their 
school/church systems.

>- 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.

Then we need to write the rules so that such 
implementations know that "sgn-" means something 
else. That's nor hard.

>- The "sgn-XX" template cannot accommodate cases in which multiple
>signed languages are spoken in a given country. This is a real scenario
>with multiple instances, and where it occurs you necessarily end up with
>some kludge.

Even where a country has more than one, both are 
usually contained within the country. No one said 
this was

>- Because a country ID is required to indicate the *language* identity,
>a region subtag is no longer available to support region-based
>sub-language distinctions (e.g. ASL as used in Canada rather than the
>US). I don't know of specific scenarios requiring this, though it's
>certainly plausible.

One could use sgn-US-canada for instance. (One 
would work out a whole system for this. This is 
off the top of my head.)

>I don't particularly see what benefit is gained by having a common
>subtag prefix for all signed languages. But I'm willing to consider
>arguments that there is some significant benefit.

They are very different kinds of languages, and 
it makes sense to give them their own "namespace".
Michael Everson *

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