USMARC Code List for Languages

Guidelines for applying the language code for sign languages

In November 1995 the Library of Congress announced new language codes to be incorporated into the 1996 edition of the USMARC Code List for Languages. Among the new codes is a newly established one for Sign languages: sgn. The code is a general one used to indicate "sign language" in a generic sense. Use of this code in bibliographic records indicates materials containing a sign language or the representation of a sign language. The particular sign system present is stated in a 546 field (Language Note).

If the sole medium of communication is a sign language, e.g., a book containing pictures of the handshape of each letter of a particular sign system, or a videorecording that is signed, use the code for Sign languages in the fixed field.

When the medium of communication includes a sign language or its representation as well as one or more other languages, judge whether the sign language or its representation is substantial. If so, assign language codes in an 041 field for all the languages, including the one for Sign languages. The important thing is to indicate whether sign language is present or not, rather than to worry about predominance or other discriminations more easily determined for other languages. If predominance is apparent, code for the predominant language in the fixed field and as the first code in 041 $a. If such discriminations are not readily apparent, assign codes in English alphabetical order, using the first code in the fixed field.

Use the 546 Language Note to state the particular sign system, e.g., American Sign language, British Sign language. Formulate the note to reflect the situation, i.e., use terminology to distinguish between cases in which the content of the whole work is signed, whether as the sole medium of communication or in conjunction with one or more others, and those in which sign language is present but the whole work is not signed (or it is not clear whether it is). For example, if the sole medium of communication in a videorecording is a sign language, then it would be appropriate to express that in the note as "Signed in [name of sign system]." If a videorecording includes open signing (i.e., a sign language interpreter appears in a separate frame), record the note as "Open signed in [name of sign system]." For those situations that are less straight forward, for example a book in which both a language and a sign language occur, possibly a dictionary or a manual, use in the 546 field the more general statement "Includes sign language; the sign system represented is [name of sign system]." If it cannot be determined what sign system has been used, record an appropriate note indicating that the item is signed but not specifying the sign system (i.e., "Includes sign language."; "Open signed.").

Questions about these guidelines for applying the sign language code should be addressed to:

Cataloging Policy and Support Office
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20540-4305
(202) 707-4380

February 1997

Go to:

Library of Congress
Library of Congress Help Desk (10/24/97)