Sign languages

Peter Constable petercon at
Mon Feb 27 00:06:12 CET 2006

> From: ietf-languages-bounces at [mailto:ietf-languages-
> bounces at] On Behalf Of John Cowan

> 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.  

I questioned the merits of this scheme back in 2001.

> 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.

We could deprecate existing grandfathered tags to be superseded by sanctioned generated tags if we felt it was the right thing to do. On the one hand, I'd hazard a guess that there isn't a lot of existing content using these tags (there are no standard encodings for written forms of these languages, and while I know there are graphic- or video-based documents I suspect these tags aren't used as metadata declaration for too many of those documents). On the other hand, there are quite a number of them. I'm not going to push too hard for this, but I wouldn't completely disregard the possibility.

> 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.

It's not only A Good Thing since the tags wouldn't fit the pattern; it's a good thing IMO because the patterns (especially cpf-ht) don't provide much benefit, and create problematic issues.

> 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.

I would recommend that we not continue using region IDs for what is *language* identity. I'm willing to live with "sgn-..." since 20+ registered tags is a non-insignificant precedent, but there's absolutely no good reason for abusing region IDs when we have an alternative.

Peter Constable

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