In this paper, a sparse coding based framework is proposed for sign language recognition (SLR), especially for the signer-independent case. To deal with the inter-signer variation, a dictionary capturing the common features among different signers is learnt by considering the semantic constraint. Thus for a given sign from an unknown signer, the sparse representation, which maintains more information of this specific sign class while neglecting the identity information as much as possible, can be generated. In our implementation, each sign is partitioned into a fixed number of fragments and the features fusing hand shape and moving trajectory are extracted from the fragments. The dictionary learnt from the training fragments can be taken as the basic subunits of signs and each fragment of sign video can be coded by these basis vectors. Finally, the recognition result is achieved through SVM with the concatenated sparse coding features of the fragments. The experiments and comparisons show that our method is more effective for the signer-independent recognition problem than other baseline methods. At the same time, it also performs well for the signer-dependent case.