Language Subtag Registration Form: variant "signed"

John Cowan cowan at
Mon Feb 27 05:08:35 CET 2006

Peter Constable scripsit (in several messages):

> I have no particular reason to rush signed languages in IETF language
> tags. I very much wish you hadn't rushed a bunch of tags through five
> years ago.

They were needed then (according to Michael) and no less now.  Hindsight
is 20/20, after all, but the 3066bis model was not even a gleam in anyone's
eye in 2001.

> I know of no reason for the signed languages identified in Ethnologue
> 15 not to be included in ISO 639-3.

I agree.  Which is not to say that there's no reason to treat them specially
in 3066ter.

> We could deprecate existing grandfathered tags to be superseded by sanctioned
> generated tags if we felt it was the right thing to do. 

Yes we could, technically.  I think it would be improper, though.

> 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.

I'm not sure whether you're proposing at this point that we replace sgn-US
with sgn-ase, or merely that we don't introduce any more such tags.
I can live with the latter, but not the former.

> AFAIK, there is no such thing as "national sign languages". There are
> signed languages that are widely used in a given country, or signed
> languages that are most familiar to the dominant culture in a country,
> but I know of no case of signed languages recognized as a national
> language.

Well, no.  But then I don't believe in compositional semantics, either. :-)

> - we attribute a particular status to one language and attribute a
> unique association with national identity that may not be warranted or
> may not be permanent
> - we significantly raise the potential for confusion in cases where
> there are multiple signed languages spoken in a given country
> - we leave no room to use region IDs to distinguish regional
> sub-language varieties of signed languages that may be spoken in
> multiple countries

I concede all these points, but I don't think they trump existing

> It is decidedly abusing the intended range of semantics for the
> different kinds of sub-tags that can constitute a tag. This is just bad,
> bad, bad; and just because we made the mistake in some existing cases it
> doesn't make it a good idea to continue to make the mistake in further
> cases. I said this in October 2001, and I'm only more strongly convinced
> of it than I was then.

Again, this is hindsight.  Nobody knew in 2001 what the "intended range
of semantics" was for country subtags.

So that's the tune they play on                 John Cowan
their fascist banjos, is it?                    cowan at
        --Great-Souled Sam            

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