[sw-l] Sign Language Codes

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Mon Sep 27 16:19:52 UTC 2004

SignWriting List
September 27, 2004

Dear SW List -
I have had questions about our standardization of language codes for
signed languages, which we established with the ISO in the year 2000,
so I thought I would explain it a little. The ISO is the International
Organization for Standardization. They are a global organization that
standardizes all sorts of codes, like Country Codes, and Language
Codes. For example:

Country Codes

CA- Canada
BR - Brazil
DE - Germany
NO - Norway

and so forth...

Language Codes
There are two kinds of Language codes established by the ISO:

1. Two-Letter Language Codes
like...EN for English....etc....

2. Three-Letter Language Codes (became necessary because there are so
many languages in the world).

Take a look at the ISO-639-2 standardization tables on this web page:

This table lists the official three-letter language codes now
established. Scroll down to find Sign Language. It is after Pali in the
list...You will see the three-letter code


for Sign Language in general. It was approved in February 2000 (see

That three-letter code became official because of us, the DAC and
Michael Everson in Ireland, fighting for it. I feel proud that we could
establish signed languages in general, as real languages, in the eyes
of the ISO committee that creates these standardizations. Believe it or
not, back in 2000, other members of the ISO did not believe that signed
languages were real languages, and felt they did not deserve a language
code, and we fought like tooth and nail to get it approved and we did!
But the sgn language code is generic...it is representing all signed
languages in general, and is not specific to any one signed language.

Then, later, we established official codes for specific signed
languages, including those countries with more than one signed
language...like Canada, Switzerland and Belgium...

More coming on this topic later today -

Val ;-)

Valerie Sutton
Sutton at SignWriting.org

1. SignWritingSite
Read & Write Sign Languages

2. SignBankSite
Sign Language Dictionaries
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