[sw-l] Re: Country and Language Codes, and standardization with ISO

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Mon Sep 27 19:59:13 UTC 2004

SignWriting List
September 27, 2004

Stuart Thiessen wrote:
> I wonder if we would have the same problem with other countries where 
> ASL is used? So you are suggesting that if it is an established sign 
> language of Country 1 that is also used in Country 2, that we should 
> use the country code for Country 2 in the region slot?

Thank you, Stuart for this comment. I am not suggesting anything 
really. Just pointing out that we do need to talk a little about this, 
to make sure people understand it. Then, someday I hope to register 
more official Sign Languages with the ISO....

And yes...the ISO handles regional dialects this way:

en-US is American English
en-GB is British English
en-IE is the English spoken in Ireland etc...

If you go to this web page:

Code For The Representation of Names of Languages

and you scroll down to the S area...you will find the generic code for 
any signed language: SGN or sgn

But it does not state what the country is, or the region...but when you 
attach the country code and region code to the sgn, you get the 
naturally evolved signed language of that region...

>  As in your example: sgn-US-CA where CA is Canada.
>  Related to Canada, would they refer to it as sgn-CA-fr or would they 
> prefer to use an abbreviation to say it is Quebec Sign Language (LSQ)? 
> I am curious about that. Does the ISO have a way to identify regions 
> in a country as part of their process?

Of course the Deaf people of Canada would still use the term LSQ.... I 
do not plan to stop using the word English, just because it is EN in 
computer headings...so this has nothing to do with what they would say 
in their language...This is just for a generic heading...

The problem with using the term ASL, for example, in the header of an 
email message, is that ASL could stand for Austrian Sign Language and 
other languages that start with the letter A. And also, each one of 
these signed languages have different abbreviations depending on the 
languages they are speaking and it doubles up all the time...I know you 
know what I mean...So if a person wanted to differentiate between the 
signed language used in English-speaking Canada, and the signed 
language used in French-speaking Canada, then these codes would be 


and if they are listed in a whole list of languages it becomes even 


> So that would mean that sgn-US is really the code for ASL, but 
> sgn-US-CA would refer to the Canadian usage of ASL?  That certainly 
> would be helpful for marking variants of a sign language that are 
> different because it is the same language but used in another country.

Yes! Exactly! And we are all welcome to start using such a marking, 
just as long as we understand that it is not registered officially yet 
with the ISO...but we could start experimenting...I like the sgn-US-CA 
myself.....then the ISO might accept it faster, knowing that we have 
used it a little and find it useful...

> I wonder ... is there a way we can identify dialects?  That may be 
> helpful in dictionary usage to identify where that particular sign is 
> used.  Maybe we find it is used everywhere so we can just use the 
> regular ISO code for the sign language.  But maybe we find it is more 
> of a southwestern sign or a California sign or a Michigan sign or 
> whatever. Would it work to add another slot for marking dialect?  The 
> same could be true for other countries.  I don't know if that has to 
> be ISO-approved, but maybe we could work out something that is an 
> agreed SignWriting standard for our purposes.

Yes! The ISO system has done partial coding for dialects - based on the 
regions where the dialects are spoken...let me research this and get 
back to you - that is a great question ;-)

>  Unless you all know of an existing method of identifying sign 
> language dialects used in the research community????

No. But I know the SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) has developed 
their own coding system for research use...and maybe they have 
developed a method for researchers? I bet they have!

And meanwhile, I will write again with the ISO dialect information -

Val ;-)
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