Sign languages

John Cowan cowan at
Sun Feb 26 04:09:11 CET 2006

Doug Ewell scripsit:

> Let me paraphrase this into a question:  In what way are sign languages 
> different from other languages that requires them to be coded using a 
> completely different model?

Three things: history, history, and history.

Is it a pity, in hindsignt, that we registered a bunch of tags for sign
languages based on a collective 639-2 tag and a country?  Yes.  Are we
stuck with it now?  Yes.  Can we easily change them to tags like ase or
sgn-ase instead of sgn-US?  No, not easily.

There's a partial precedent for this.  At one point, I proposed a
similar-style RFC 3066 tag for Haitian Creole French: cpf-hat, using
the collective 639-2 code element for French-based creole languages
plus the (14th ed.) Ethnologue code element for the language.  Michael
counter-proposed cpf-ht, using the same collective code element plus
the country code for Haiti.  I then dropped the matter and no code was
ever registered.

That's a Good Thing, since neither cpf-hat nor cpf-ht would fit the
3066bis/3066ter patterns.  In the 3066ter regime, the code will simply
be hat, since Haitian Creole French is not part of a macrolanguage.

With sign languages, we weren't so lucky.  We have to live with that.
Now we can either treat sgn-US and the 20 other registered tags as sui
generis, or we can extend the pattern to the other national-scope sign
languages, and treat the "minority" sign languages differently, either
as sgn-xxx or as just xxx.  I proposed the former.

John Cowan                              cowan at  
Humpty Dump Dublin squeaks through his norse
                Humpty Dump Dublin hath a horrible vorse
But for all his kinks English / And his irismanx brogues
                Humpty Dump Dublin's grandada of all rogues.  --Cousin James

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