Re: (iso639.185) Plane 14 redux (was: Same language, two locales)

Date: Tue Sep 12 2000 - 13:30:18 EDT

On 09/12/2000 10:00:34 AM "Christopher J. Fynn" wrote:

>I think a clear distinction may need to be made between those languages
>are commonly written and those which are (largely) only spoken. Outside
>realm of specialised applications for linguists, most applications
>only deal with written languages and scripts and it is only confusing (and
>storing up problems) to add codes for spoken languages and dialects to
>list of tags.

I disagree. There is a need for tags not only for languages that have
established literature. Legitimate need extends even to languages that are
unwritten. Linguists and anthropologists have such needs, but so do
development agencies and government. I know, for instance, that the need
extends to UNESCO and at least several agencies in the US government; I'm
sure the same is true for many other agencies in many other governments.
Note, too, that such agencies are looking specifically in standardised
tags. Governments generally will apply across-the-board requirements that
systems be based on standards.

>It is quite easy to envision that a set of standard codes may also be
>for spoken languages and dialects in for things like voice recognition
>applications and specialised linguistic tagging. My own feeling is that
>should be a separate set of codes for *spoken* languages and major
>Obviously may languages would fall in both lists.

Dialects are another issue, but as for languages, there shouldn't be an
arbitrary distinction between spoken-only and spoken-and-written. That
serves no purpose.

>Looking over the Ethnolouge codes for "Bodhic" languages it seems quite
>that most of the codes listed are for distinctive spoken languages and
>dialects - literate speakers of most of these languages have one
>written/literary language "Tibetan" which they share in common - though if
>they tried to speak to each other they might have a great deal of
>understanding each other.

Tibetan is a specific language (Ethnologue code TIC). There are a number of
Bodhic languages (Ethnologue 13th edn lists 134), and there may be a
considerable amount of Tibetan bilingualism among these communities, but
that does *not* mean that there is only a need for a tag for Tibetan. The
individual Bodhic languages are important, and have needs for their own
tags. Gurung and Tsangla and many others have literature, or are starting
to develop literature, and people do want to store and process information
about all of these languages, even those that don't yet (or may never) have
their own literature.

>Putting it simply we need one code "bo" for the written language but many
>distinct codes for the spoken languages and dialects which are often
>different from the common spoken language.

That is wrong. There is not just one written language. The assumptions here
reflect an incorrect understanding of the sociolinguistic situation.

>In short I favour inclusion of codes for written languages in the
>list which are currently missing in ISO 639 (and the requirement for a
>number of publications does not seem too onerous) - but do not favour the
>adoption of all the languages in the Ethnolouge list wholesale
>at this time as many of these appear to be only spoken languages or
>I do think it would be useful to consider a separate set of codes for

First, by the definitions assumed in the Ethnologue, they are all
considered to be distinct languages; they would be candidates for separate
literacy and literature development (if currently spoken-only), and if
literature were to be developed, then they would need to be distinguished
for IT-processing purposes such as spell-checking.

Secondly, as already pointed out, the spoken-only vs. spoken-and-written
distinction is arbitrary, and doesn't correspond to what users are needing
in the way of language tags.

Thirdly, there are a large number of users looking for a complete set of
tags. This includes people in the specialised fields of linguistics and
anthropology, but it also includes governments, development organisations,
and many businesses in the IT industry.

- Peter

Peter Constable

Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
Tel: +1 972 708 7485
E-mail: <>

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