Re: Reopening RFC 1766 - Language Tags

Date: Mon Nov 27 1995 - 03:46:55 EST

3-Letter Language Code vs. Enumerated Languages

In the Library World its quite common to use the 3-letter language codes
known from the works of the Library of Congress [LC] in the U.S.A. It's
known to be useful for languages that are actually written. There are about
300 codes. For languages that are not written by their native speakers
there is no point having a code since the language is never dealt with by
computer outside a private sphere.

I can see a need for encoding for languages to for instance be able to know
how to sort names etc. I will continue to argue that tree letter codes have
their weakness because they are not intelligible outside the english spoken

LAP is a LC code for Sami a language spoken in scandinavia. The Sami
population don't refere to themselves as Laps. The word Lap is actually
regarded as an insult!

LAK is the LC code for Skolte Sami. Is there a connection between LAP and
LAK? Where did the K come from? Answer: A groupe of Sami spoken people was
brought to beleave that they had no choice but changing the last letter to
encode different variants of Sami languages! So they choose what offended
them least. Since LAS was to represent a bigger group of South Samis, the
Skolt's had to stick with LAK. If you want to continue making all kind of
patches to an already limited design, well take the LC encoding.

NUMBERS are the only WORLD WIDE NAMING system that can be recognized in any
language since there is little advandage or disadvantage connected with a

In the phone book you can see that different countries have their own
numbers, Norway is 47, U.S.A is 1, Azerbajdzjan have 994, countries new to
telephone connections have to get later numbers. But atleast there is no
problems saying the same number in French or English. (As those of us that
have been on ISO/IEC 10 646 meetings lately knows, this is no small
matter.) So lets enumerate languages that native speaking populations want
to register. If there are no *native* representatives of a language wanting
to register the language with ISO then it will remain unnumbered!

Some of you have explicitely asked me to come up with references to
document the merits of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Here they are:


Lewis, Norman
The Missionaries, God against the Indians.
Vintage 1988, ISBN 0-09-959960-0.

Document the activity of the protestant fundamentalist organisations SIL
and New Tribe Mission. Part of Bible is translated into the a tribes
language happens contiguent upond the extermination of the respective
tribe. Most incidents have happened in South America but also incidents in
the Phillipines and earlier in Vietnam. The activity is (also) motivated by
natural resources such as land, minerals or oil. A possible association
between SIL and the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S.A in Bolivia and
possibly in the entire South America is mentioned by Mr. Victor Halterman,
an official of the Bolivian Ministery of Culture and Education. He is also
doing Missionary work in Bolivia.

Hefley, James C.
Uncle Cam : the story of William Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe
Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics / James & Marti
Hefley ; photo editor, Cornell Capa. Waco, Tex. : Word Books, [1974].

Wycliffe Bible Translators / Summer Institute of Linguistics based in
Arkansas, U.S.A, is a cover operation to legetimize missionary activity as
linguistic research. William Cameron Townsend is also a former Bible
salesman in Guatemala.

Is God an American? : an anthropological perspective on the missionary work
of the Summer Institute of Linguistics / Edited by Soren Hvalkof and Peter
Aaby, Copenhagen : International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
; London : Survival International, 1981. ISSN: 0105-4503.

Stoll, David, 1952-
Fishers of men or founders of empire? : the Wycliffe Bible translators in
Latin America / Davis Stoll. London : Zed Press; Cambridge, Mass: Cultural
Survival ; Westport, Conn.,

Ecuador: Summer Institute of Linguistics to be expelled. in: IWGIA
newsletter. - 1981, nr. 28/29, p. 14-16.

There is reasons to doubt the official statement that Indigenous People
move to camps remote from their settlements out of «free» will. The
Indigenous People are told to wear clothes and are contained in areas to be
close to the «better life», given by the produce of industry and money.
This entail reliance on products, which of course is part of the game.
Alcohol is also abundant to make the «weak» people more compliant.This
situation also entail a lot of other problems explained in any way that
secure the intruders superiority... Dept Slavery and Prostitution results.
Collective punishment is used. Hindered from moving according to seasons
and other local climatic changes, nutrition drift away from the indigenous
traditions that have made people in the area fit for generations (or else
the tribe would have been extinct). This result in malnutrition because of
the misconception of the local habitat. What we know by scientific terms
like Iodine, Iron, Vitamin-A or Vitamin-D defiancy become widespread,
resulting in ailments such as flu, measles, tubercolosis, mentally
retarded children «lazy servants» (Iodine defiancy caused by salt lacking
iodine). Some people escape through suicide. The New Tribe Mission cover
treatment of the Indigenous People in the periodical «Brown Gould».

> I would like to question the soundness of using three letter identification
> on languages at this point.
>I believe it to be sounder than relying on a two letter scheme which has
>poor coverage.
> Would it not be much wiser to enumerate languages using a usigned int
> or long int, and make public primary and secondary key datase records
> to show the numbers meaning.
>The current syntax of RFC 1766 is oriented towards alphabetic language
>identifiers. Furthermore, use of a numeric identifier would reduce the
>mnemonic capacity of the identifiers (to the extent that this is possible).
> It is a well documented fact that the Summer Institute of Linguistics is a
> rather bad colonial/missionary system.
>Whether this is true or not (and I can't say because I have no relationship
>or direct knowledge of this organization) is quite besides the point. Their
>work as represented in the Ethnologue seems to be more comprehensive in its
>language coverage than any other work. To ignore because you don't follow
>their goals is quite ludicrous.
> It's well known to be a device for treating aborigial groups of
> people badly i.e. even to be a device for extinguishing groups of
> people in south America.
>Whether one agrees with the motivations of SIL, it seems to me that any
>organization that attempts to assist native peoples in writing or preserving
>their own language is clearly interested in maintaining and not extinguishing
>cultures. It is rash statements such as yours that seem to be in the latter
>Glenn Adams

 Universitetsbiblioteket i Oslo/Bibliografisk avd.
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