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

Michael Everson everson at
Sun Feb 26 18:02:19 CET 2006

At 13:54 -0800 2006-02-21, Peter Constable wrote:

>  > 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.

No. Signed English using ISL or BSL or ASL is essentially a special 
form of ISL or BSL or ASL. It isn't really English. Fluent speakers 
of ISL when confronted with Signed English using ISL or ASL can 
understand it. Fluent speakers of English who do not sign cannot. We 
call it Signed English because it stands in relation to written and 
spoken English. But it is not English.

>Blech! So you want to have "sgn-GH" for 'Ghanian SL' and something like
>"sgn-GH-admrb" for 'Adoromobe SL', even though the two are probably
>quite distinct, if even related at all. That will work beautifully
>(NOT!) with left-prefix matching algorithms.

Such algorithms are not the reason we have language-tags, I am sure.

>  > In general I favour whaat John has suggested. I
>>  would LIKE to work with Phil Blair and his
>>  contacts at Gallaudet on this. Can we take time
>>  to do that? It will take time.
>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.

Thanks, Peter. It's "hare-brained" though, isn't it?

>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 

They aren't just like any other normal language. They're different, 
and they interact with spoken languages in unique ways, and this 
needs working out with the Deaf community.
Michael Everson *

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