Title: Implementing the ISO 639-2 code for Sign Languages
Source: Michael Everson
Date: 2001-09-21

Linguists have long recognized that Sign Languages are true languages, and the world's Sign Languages, used by Deaf and hearing people, have been provided with an identifying code in ISO 639-2, the International Standard which specifies 3-letter codes to identify the names of languages.

The code is a single 3-letter code, sgn. As necessary, other codes may be appended to that code (according to clause 4.4 of ISO 639-2) to specify different Sign Languages. Such extensions cannot be added to ISO 639-2 itself, as it does not register extended codes. However, extended codes may be registered with IETF according to RFC 3066 when warranted. The list of registered extended codes is available from IANA and an index to it is available.

Most of the Sign Languages in the tables below can be identified by the country in which they are used, by appending the 2-letter country code from ISO 3166-1. A number of them additionally require one of the regional extensions specified in ISO 3166-2 (where more than one Sign Language occurs in a country). A few of the extensions are language codes taken from ISO 639 or ISO 639-2; these are used where geographical delimitation is not feasible.

NOTE: The use of country and region codes is not intended to be comprehensive. American Sign Language (sgn-US) is used in Canada; Plains Sign Talk (sgn-US-SD) is not limited to the state of South Dakota. The codes are intended to be identifying, not encyclopaedic.

By convention, the language code is written in small letters, and the country code and regional extension are written in capital letters.

In each table, the first column (Name & Link) presents the name of the Sign Language and sometimes gives an HTML link to an external source for information about it. The second column (Acronym) gives a conventional acronym reported as an alternate name by the Deaf Action Committee for Sign Writing (DAC) or by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). The third column (SIL code) and fourth column (SIL country page) link to pages from the 13th edition of the SIL Ethnologue. In the fifth column (Code) is the registered or provisional RFC 1766 extended identifier. In the sixth column (Comment) a note is added to explain an extension when it consists of more than just the country code.

The list here is derived mostly from the Ethnologue's pages on Deaf Sign Languages and other Sign Languages. The SIL itself recognizes that for many of these languages, further investigation is required in order to ascertain their status. When Evertype, as a registrar for Sign Language extensions, has positive information regarding the uniqueness of a Sign Language, the code is registered with IETF and noted here in Table A. The remaining codes (in Table B) must be considered provisional until they are verified by experts. Appropriate verification entails the following:

  1. A linguistic description (such as a formal grammar or dictionary)
  2. Evidence of at least 5 additional documents in which the language is illustrated (printed or video)

A number of transcription systems exist to write Sign Languages for research purposes. Among these are Stokoe, HamNoSys, Bergmann, SignFont, Newkirk, Eshkol-Wahmann, Liddell Movement-Hold, SignPS, Labanotation, Benesh Movement Notation, numerous glossing systems, and life-like illustrations placed in special sequences. These transcription systems were not designed to be daily writing systems for Sign Languages; their sole purpose is to record linguistic analysis of signs for research studies.

The Sutton SignWriting system was designed to be a daily writing system for signers. At present, Deaf children, Deaf adults, and hearing signers in over 18 countries are writing their native signed languages with SignWriting symbols. It is being tested in schools and appears to raise literacy levels of born-deaf children, by providing a written base for their native (signed) language and the written (spoken) language of the majority in the countries in which they live. SignWriting is the only writing system used to publish written Sign Language literature, and offers a large number of publications of books, textbooks, and dictionaries, as well as the development of SignWriting software.

Documentation can be in any of these writing systems, and multimedia recordings such as video are also acceptable. The point is not to prefer any particular representation of a given Sign Language, but to determine if it is a unique Sign Language that cannot be identified with any other Sign Language. While there exists a French Canadian Sign Language (sgn-CA-QC) and a Nova Scotian Sign Language (sgn-CA-NS), there is no unique "Canadian Sign Language" (*sgn-CA) since this language is identical to American Sign Language (sgn-US). If Chadian Sign Language (sgn-TD) turned out also to be identical to American Sign Language (SIL says it shows ASL influence), it would be incorrect to provide a unique code for it.

Table A: Registered Codes

These codes have been registered according to RFC 3066.

Name & linkAcronymSIL
SIL country pageCodeComment
American Sign LanguageASLASEUSA, Canada sgn-US 
Belgian-Flemish Sign Language BVSBelgium sgn-BE-nlBelgium & Dutch (language)
Belgian-French Sign Language BVSBelgium sgn-BE-frBelgium & French (language)
Brazilian Sign LanguageLIBRASBZSBrazil sgn-BR 
British Sign LanguageBSLBHOUnited Kingdom sgn-GB 
Colombian Sign LanguageLSCCSNColombia sgn-CO 
Danish Sign LanguageDTSDSLDenmark sgn-DK 
Dutch Sign LanguageNGTDSENetherlands sgn-NL 
French Sign LanguageLSFFSLFrance sgn-FR 
German Sign LanguageDGSGSGGermany sgn-DE 
Greek Sign Language GSSGreece sgn-GR 
Irish Sign LanguageISLISGIreland sgn-IE 
Italian Sign LanguageLISISEItaly sgn-IT 
Japanese Sign Language JSLJapan sgn-JP 
Mexican Sign LanguageLSMMFSMexico sgn-MX 
Nicaraguan Sign LanguageISNNCSNicaragua sgn-NI 
Norwegian Sign LanguageNTSNSLNorway sgn-NO 
Portuguese Sign LanguageLGPPSRPortugal sgn-PT 
South African Sign Language SFSSouth Africa sgn-ZA 
Spanish Sign LanguageLSESSPSpain sgn-ES 
Swedish Sign LanguageSTSSWLSweden sgn-SE 
Swiss-German Sign LanguageDSGSSGGSwitzerland sgn-CH-deSwitzerland & German (language)

Table B: Provisional Codes

Name & linkAcronymSIL
SIL country pageCode
Adamorobe Sign Language ADSGhana sgn-GH-EPEastern region
Algerian Sign Language ASPAlgeria sgn-DZ 
Argentine Sign LanguageLSAAEDArgentina sgn-AR 
Armenian Sign Language AENArmenia sgn-AM 
Australian Aboriginal Sign Language ASWAustralia sgn-AU-NTNorthern Territory
Australian Sign LanguageAuslanASFAustralia sgn-AU 
Austrian Sign LanguageÖGSASQAustria sgn-AT 
Bali Sign Language BQFIndonesia, Java & Bali sgn-ID-BABali
Bolivian Sign Language BVLBolivia sgn-BO 
Bulgarian Sign Language BQNBulgaria sgn-BG 
Catalonian Sign Language CSCSpain sgn-ES-CTCataluña
Chadian Sign Language CDSChad sgn-TD 
Chilean Sign Language CSGChile sgn-CL 
Chinese Sign Language CSLChina sgn-CN 
Costa Rican Sign Language CSRCosta Rica sgn-CR 
Croatian Sign Language  Croatia sgn-HRNot in SIL
Czech Sign Language CSECzech Republic sgn-CZ 
Ecuadorian Sign Language ECSEcuador sgn-EC 
El Salvadoran Sign Language ESNEl Salvador sgn-SV 
Eskimo Sign Language ESLCanada sgn-CA-NUNunavut
Ethiopian Sign Language ETHEthiopia sgn-ET 
Finnish Sign Language FSEFinland sgn-FI 
French Canadian Sign LanguageLSQFCSCanada sgn-CA-QCQuébec
Ghanaian Sign Language GSEGhana sgn-GH 
Guatemalan Sign Language GSMGuatemala sgn-GT 
Hawai'i Pidgin Sign Language HPSUSA sgn-US-HIHawai'i
Hong Kong Sign LanguageHKSL Hong Kong sgn-HKnot in SIL
Icelandic Sign Language ICLIceland sgn-IS 
Indonesian Sign Language INLIndonesia, Java & Bali sgn-ID 
Indopakistani Sign LanguageIPSLINSIndia, Pakistan sgn-IN 
Israeli Sign Language ISLIsrael sgn-IL 
Jamaican Country Sign Language JCSJamaica sgn-JM 
Jordanian Sign LanguageLIUJOSJordan sgn-JO 
Kenyan Sign Language XKIKenya sgn-KE 
Korean Sign Language KVKKorea, South sgn-KR 
Kuala Lumpur Sign Language KGIMalaysia, Peninsular sgn-MY-BSelangor
Latvian Sign Language LSLLatvia sgn-LV 
Libyan Sign Language LBSLibya sgn-LY 
Lithuanian Sign Language LLSLithuania sgn-LT 
Lyons Sign Language LSGFrance sgn-FR-69Rhône
Malaysian Sign Language XMLMalaysia, Peninsular sgn-MY 
Maltese Sign LanguageLSMAMDLMalta sgn-MT 
Martha's Vineyard Sign Language MREUSA sgn-US-MAMassachussetts
Mayan Sign Language MSDMexico sgn-MX-YUCYucatán
Monastic Sign Language MZGHoly See sgn-VA 
Mongolian Sign Language QMMMongolia sgn-MN 
Moroccan Sign Language XMSMorocco sgn-MA 
Namibian Sign Language NBSNamibia sgn-NA 
Nepalese Sign Language NSPNepal sgn-NP 
New Zealand Sign Language NZSNew Zealand sgn-NZ 
Nigerian Sign Language NSINigeria sgn-NG 
Nova Scotian Sign Language NSRCanada sgn-CA-NSNova Scotia
Old Kentish Sign Language OKLUnited Kingdom sgn-GB-KENKent
Penang Sign Language PSGMalaysia, Peninsular sgn-MY-PPulau Pinang
Persian Sign Language PSCIran sgn-IR 
Peruvian Sign Language PRLPeru sgn-PE 
Philippine Sign Language PSPPhilippines sgn-PH 
Plains Sign TalkPSTPSDUSA sgn-US-SDSouth Dakota
Polish Sign Language PSOPoland sgn-PL 
Providencia Sign Language PROColombia sgn-CO-SAPProvidencia Island
Puerto Rican Sign LanguagePRSLPSLPuerto Rico sgn-PR 
Rennellese Sign Language RSISolomon Islands sgn-SB 
Romanian Sign Language RMSRomania sgn-RO 
Russian Sign Language RSLRussia, Europe sgn-RU 
Saudi Arabian Sign Language SDLSaudi Arabia sgn-SA 
Scandinavian Pidgin Sign Language SPFSweden sgn-SE-crpSweden & Creole (language)
Singapore Sign Language SLSSingapore sgn-SG 
Slovakian Sign Language SVKSlovakia sgn-SK 
Sri Lankan Sign Language SQSSri Lanka sgn-LK 
Swiss-French Sign Language SSRSwitzerland sgn-CH-GEGenève
Swiss-Italian Sign Language SLFSwitzerland sgn-CH-TITicino
Taiwanese Sign LanguageTSLTSSTaiwan sgn-TW 
Tanzanian Sign Language TZATanzania sgn-TZ 
Thai Sign Language TSQThailand sgn-TH 
Tunisian Sign Language TSETunisia sgn-TN 
Turkish Sign Language TSMTurkey sgn-TR 
Ugandan Sign Language UGNUganda sgn-UG 
Ukrainian Sign Language UKLUkraine sgn-UA 
Urubú-Kaapor Sign Language UKSBrazil sgn-BR-MAMaranhão
Uruguayan Sign Language UGYUruguay sgn-UY 
Venezuelan Sign Language VSLVenezuela sgn-VE 
Yiddish Sign Language YDSIsrael sgn-IL-yiIsrael & Yiddish (language)
Yugoslavian Sign Language YSLYugoslavia, Slovenia sgn-YU 
Zambian Sign Language ZSLZambia sgn-ZM 
Zimbabwe Sign Language ZIBZimbabwesgn-ZW 

Table C: Signed Spoken Languages

SIL's Ethnologue reports a number of signed versions of spoken languages. The list below may not be complete, but it can be seen that by suffixing an ISO 639-2 Bibliographic language code to the Sign Language code and then following that with a country code, adequate precision can be obtained.

Name & LinkAcronymSIL
SIL Country639-2 + ext.
Signed Afrikaans  South Africa sgn-afr-ZA 
Signed Chinese  Taiwan sgn-chi-TW 
Signed Danish  Denmark sgn-dan-DK 
Signed Dutch  Belgium sgn-dut-BE 
Signed Dutch  Netherlands sgn-dut-NL 
Signed English  United Kingdom sgn-eng-GB 
Signed English  Ireland sgn-eng-IE 
Signed English  USA sgn-eng-US 
Signed Finnish  Finland sgn-fin-FI 
Signed French  Belgium sgn-fre-BE 
Signed French  Canada sgn-fre-CA 
Signed French  France sgn-fre-FR 
Signed Japanese  Japan sgn-jpn-JP 
Signed Norwegian  Norway sgn-nor-NO 
Signed Portuguese  Portugal sgn-por-PT 
Signed Swedish  Sweden sgn-swe-SE 

Michael Everson, Evertype, Dublin, 2001-09-21