I know that SLIPA is a first go around at making an IPA table for signed languages, but how comprehensive is it? The creator freely admits that his main exposure to sign languages is ASL, which worries me: as an analogy, creating an IPA based on West European languages would omit phonemes such as the pharyngeal fricatives and neglect click consonants, ejectives, and phonemic tone. Especially given signed languages' tendencies to be language isolates, I can't imagine that an IPA based on mainly on ONE sign language could possibly capture everything phonemic in signed languages.

Hence, my question: how comprehensive is SLIPA? Are there individual signed phonemes or even phonemic classes that it misses?


"I know that SLIPA is a first go around..." Is that so? I'm no sign language expert but I'd never heard of SLIPA until this question. I see no mention of it in Brentari (2011, 2019), for example. The only mentions I could find of SLIPA were Boyes Braem (2012), who compares a few written representations of signs (but SLIPA is not one of them), and Hopkins (2008), and they're only in passing.

Zsiga (2020: 47–50) mentions two proposed systems of transcribing signed languages (Eccarius & Brentari 2008 and Johnson & Liddell 2010) in addition to the seminal work of Stokoe (1960), but says they remain "cumbersome". The greater degree of freedom in signed languages, which leaves few minimal pairs, and the fact features can be realized simultaneously rather than sequentially make it particularly difficult to determine what needs transcribing and what can be left out. While signs correspond to morphemes, linguists aren't even sure if there are equivalents to syllables or segments. If there's no consensus on what to transcribe, then I doubt one can come up with a yardstick on what constitutes "comprehensive" to judge a system like SLIPA against in the first place.

  • Are there any signed phonemes or phoneme classes that SLIPA definitively misses? Apr 19 at 20:59
  • As I said, there's no consensus on whether there are equivalents to phonemes, so I don't think one can say one way or the other. That said, if it turned out that there are indeed equivalents to phonemes, the chances are SLIPA is not comprehensive because there are always outliers and no system can cover everything, if spoken language is anything to go by.
    – Nardog
    Apr 19 at 23:54

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