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

John Cowan cowan at
Tue Feb 21 03:05:19 CET 2006

Doug Ewell scripsit:

> 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".

I support this.  Signed spoken languages are spoken languages in a different
modality, just as written (spoken) languages are.

> 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."  

That took some serious decoding with the three "not"s.

> 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.

Quite so.

> 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.

I, on the other hand, support keeping the 'sgn' subtag with the existing
country codes, for reasons of backward compatibility.  The difference
between (true) signed and spoken languages is huge, much larger than the
barriers between different signed languages (it is not unknown for signers
with radically different languages to learn to communicate in one day).
In addition, backward compatibility is very important.

I propose that in 3066ter, the 'sgn' subtag should be treated as sui
generis: partly a language, partly a macrolanguage.  For the national
sign languages, it is a language and the country subtag serves to
discriminate; the corresponding 639-3 code element is suppressed from
the subtag registry.  For the non-national sign languages, it is a
macrolanguage and the 639-3 code would be used as an extlang.

I agree that this is messy, but we know that people have used codes like
sgn-US, and there can be no assurances that they have not used 3066-valid
codes like sgn-CR even though they were never registered with IANA.

Here's my specific proposal:

    Adamorobe SL  [sgn-ads] (Ghana)
    Algerian SL  [sgn-DZ] (Algeria) (suppress asp)
    American SL  [sgn-US] (USA) (suppress ase)
    Argentine SL  [sgn-AR] (Argentina) (suppress aed)
    Armenian SL  [sgn-AM] (Armenia) (suppress aen)
    Australian Aborigines SL  [sgn-asw] (Australia) (non-Deaf)
    Australian SL  [sgn-AU] (Australia) (suppress asf)
    Austrian SL  [sgn-AT] (Austria) (suppress asq)
    Bali SL  [sgn-bqy] (Indonesia (Java and Bali))
    Bamako SL  [sgn-bog] (Mali)
    Ban Khor SL  [sgn-bfk] (Thailand)
    Belgian-Flemish SL  [sgn-be-nl] (Belgium) (grandfathered) (suppress bvs)
    Belgian-French SL  [sgn-be-fr] (Belgium) (grandfathered) (suppress bvs)
    Bolivian SL  [sgn-BO] (Bolivia) (suppress bvl)
    Brazilian SL  [sgn-BR] (Brazil) (suppress bzs)
    British SL  [sgn-GB] (United Kingdom) (suppress bfi)
    Bulgarian SL  [sgn-BG] (Bulgaria) (suppress bqn)
    Catalonian SL  [sgn-csc] (Spain)
    Chadian SL  [sgn-TD] (Chad) (suppress cds)
    Chiangmai SL  [sgn-csd] (Thailand)
    Chilean SL  [sgn-CL] (Chile) (suppress csg)
    Chinese SL  [sgn-CN] (China) (suppress csl)
    Colombian SL  [sgn-CO] (Colombia) (suppress csn)
    Costa Rican SL  [sgn-CR] (Costa Rica) (suppress csr)
    Croatia SL  [sgn-HR] (Croatia) (suppress csq)
    Cuba SL  [sgn-CU] (Cuba) (suppress csf)
    Czech SL  [sgn-CZ] (Czech Republic) (suppress cse)
    Danish SL  [sgn-DK] (Denmark) (suppress dsl)
    Dominican SL  [sgn-DO] (Dominican Republic) (suppress doq)
    Dutch SL  [sgn-NL] (Netherlands) (suppress dse)
    Ecuadorian SL  [sgn-EC] (Ecuador) (suppress ecs)
    Egypt SL  [sgn-EG] (Egypt) (suppress esl)
    Eskimo SL (not in 639-3 yet)
    Estonian SL  [sgn-EE] (Estonia) (suppress eso)
    Ethiopian SL  [sgn-ET] (Ethiopia) (suppress eth)
    Finnish SL  [sgn-FI] (Finland) (suppress fse)
    Finnish-Swedish SL  [sgn-fss] (Finland)
    French SL  [sgn-FR] (France) (suppress fsl)
    German SL  [sgn-DE] (Germany) (suppress gsg)
    Ghanaian SL  [sgn-GH] (Ghana) (suppress gse)
    Greek SL  [sgn-GR] (Greece) (suppress gss)
    Guatemalan SL  [sgn-GT] (Guatemala) (suppress gsm)
    Guinean SL  [sgn-GN] (Guinea) (suppress gus)
    Haiphong SL  [sgn-haf] (Viet Nam)
    Hanoi SL  [sgn-hab] (Viet Nam)
    Hausa SL  [sgn-hsl] (Nigeria)
    Hawai'i Pidgin SL  [sgn-hps] (USA)
    Ho Chi Minh City SL  [sgn-hos] (Viet Nam)
    Honduras SL  [sgn-HN] (Honduras) (suppress hds)
    Hungarian SL  [sgn-HU] (Hungary) (suppress hsh)
    Icelandic SL  [sgn-IS] (Iceland) (suppress icl)
    Indian SL  [sgn-IN] (India) (suppress ins)
    Indonesian SL  [sgn-ID] (Indonesia (Java and Bali)) (suppress inl)
    Irish SL  [sgn-IE] (Ireland) (suppress isg)
    Israeli SL  [sgn-IL] (Israel) (suppress isr)
    Italian SL  [sgn-IT] (Italy) (suppress ise)
    Jamaican Country SL  [sgn-JM or sgn-jcs, to be decided] (Jamaica)
    Japanese SL  [sgn-JP] (Japan) (suppress jsl)
    Jordanian SL  [sgn-JO] (Jordan) (suppress jos)
    Kenyan SL  [sgn-KE] (Kenya) (suppress xki)
    Korean SL  [sgn-KR] (Korea, South) (suppress kvk)
    Kuala Lumpur SL (not in 639-3 yet)
    Laos SL  [sgn-LA] (Laos) (suppress lso)
    Latvian SL  [sgn-LV] (Latvia) (suppress lsl)
    Libyan SL  [sgn-LY] (Libya) (suppress lbs)
    Lithuanian SL  [sgn-LT] (Lithuania) (suppress lls)
    Lyons SL  [sgn-lsg] (France)
    Madagascar SL  [sgn-MG] (Madagascar) (suppress mzc)
    Malaysian SL  [sgn-MY] (Malaysia (Peninsular)) (suppress xml)
    Maltese SL  [sgn-MT] (Malta) (suppress mdl)
    Maritime SL  [sgn-nsr] (Canada)
    Martha's Vineyard SL  [sgn-mre] (USA)
    Mexican SL  [sgn-MX] (Mexico) (suppress mfs)
    Moldova SL  [sgn-MD] (Moldova) (suppress vsi)
    Monastic SL  [sgn-mzg] (Vatican State) (non-Deaf)
    Mongolian SL  [sgn-MN] (Mongolia) (suppress msr)
    Moroccan SL  [sgn-MA] (Morocco) (suppress xms)
    Mozambican SL  [sgn-MZ] (Mozambique) (suppress mzy)
    Namibian SL  [sgn-NA] (Namibia) (suppress nbs)
    Nepalese SL  [sgn-NP] (Nepal) (suppress nsp)
    New Zealand SL  [sgn-NZ] (New Zealand) (suppress nzs)
    Nicaraguan SL  [sgn-NI] (Nicaragua) (suppress ncs)
    Nigerian SL  [sgn-NG] (Nigeria) (suppress nsi)
    Norwegian SL  [sgn-NO] (Norway) (suppress nsl)
    Nova Scotian SL (not in 639-3 yet)
    Old Kentish SL  [sgn-okl] (United Kingdom)
    Pakistan SL  [sgn-PK] (Pakistan) (suppress pks)
    Penang SL  [sgn-psg] (Malaysia (Peninsular))
    Persian SL  [sgn-IR] (Iran) (suppress psc)
    Peruvian SL  [sgn-PE] (Peru) (suppress prl)
    Philippine SL  [sgn-PH] (Philippines) (suppress psp)
    Plains Indian SL  [sgn-psd] (USA) (non-Deaf)
    Polish SL  [sgn-PL] (Poland) (suppress pso)
    Portuguese SL  [sgn-PT] (Portugal) (suppress psr)
    Providencia SL  [sgn-prz] (Colombia)
    Puerto Rican SL  [sgn-PR] (Puerto Rico) (suppress psl)
    Quebec SL  [sgn-fcs] (Canada)
    Rennellese SL  [sgn-SB] (Solomon Islands) (suppress rsi)
    Romanian SL  [sgn-RO] (Romania) (suppress rms)
    Russian SL  [sgn-RU] (Russia (Europe)) (suppress rsl)
    Salvadoran SL  [sgn-SV] (El Salvador) (suppress esn)
    Saudi Arabian SL  [sgn-SA] (Saudi Arabia) (suppress sdl)
    Scandinavian Pidgin SL (not in 639-3 yet)
    Selangor SL  [sgn-kgi] (Malaysia (Peninsular))
    Sierra Leone SL  [sgn-SL] (Sierra Leone) (suppress sgx)
    Singapore SL  [sgn-SG] (Singapore) (suppress sls)
    Slovakian SL  [sgn-SK] (Slovakia) (suppress svk)
    South African SL  [sgn-ZA] (South Africa) (suppress sfs)
    Spanish SL  [sgn-ES] (Spain) (suppress ssp)
    Sri Lankan SL  [sgn-LK] (Sri Lanka) (suppress sqs)
    Swedish SL  [sgn-SE] (Sweden) (suppress swl)
    Swiss-French SL  [sgn-ssr] (Switzerland)
    Swis-German SL  [ssgn-ch-de] (Switzerland) (grandfathered)
    Swiss-Italian SL  [sgn-slf] (Switzerland)
    Taiwan SL  [sgn-TW] (Taiwan) (suppress tss)
    Tanzanian SL  [sgn-TZ] (Tanzania) (suppress tza)
    Thai SL  [sgn-TH] (Thailand) (suppress tsq)
    Tunisian SL  [sgn-TN] (Tunisia) (suppress tse)
    Turkish SL  [sgn-TR] (Turkey (Asia)) (suppress tsm)
    Ugandan SL  [sgn-UG] (Uganda) (suppress ugn)
    Ukrainian SL  [sgn-UA] (Ukraine) (suppress ukl)
    Urubú-Kaapor SL  [sgn-uks] (Brazil)
    Uruguayan SL  [sgn-UY] (Uruguay) (suppress ugy)
    Venezuelan SL  [sgn-VE] (Venezuela) (suppress vsl)
    Yiddish SL  [sgn-yds] (Israel)
    Yucatec Maya SL  [sgn-msd] (Mexico)
    Yugoslavian SL  [sgn-YU] (Serbia and Montenegro) (suppress ysl)
    Zambian SL  [sgn-ZM] (Zambia) (suppress zsl)
    Zimbabwe SL  [sgn-ZW] (Zimbabwe) (suppress zib)

That you can cover for the plentiful            John Cowan
and often gaping errors, misconstruals,
and disinformation in your posts      
through sheer volume -- that is another         cowan at
misconception.  --Mike to Peter

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