Re: the Ethnologue

From: John Hudson (
Date: Tue Sep 12 2000 - 22:21:03 EDT

Rick McGowan wrote:

>One of the major PROBLEMS with ISO 639, and other such lists developed by
ISO over the years, is that they are not brought into being, or maintained,
with the intent of being comprehensive. They are either intended to, or do
serve, some short-term narrow interests.

>Governments, libraries, and businesses throughout the world have needed a
comprehensive language and locale identification system for many years.
ISO has not provided it. One place to start is with a comprehensive list
of "languages" -- however you define that; and please define it at least
with fair consistency. The Ethnologue is a place to start.

>Can anyone point me to an existing list of languages that is more
comprehensive and better researched than the Ethnologue? If there is no
such list, then we don't need to consider any alternatives, right?

I agree with everything Rick has said except his conclusions. As I
suggested to Peter Constable after his presentation at the Unicode
conference, the first task should _not_ be to populate any standards with
Enthologue codes or, of that matter, any other set of codes. The first
tasks should be to a) identify the different kinds of information that need
to be represented by tags (spoken languages, written languages, literary
languages (not the same thing as a written languages), particular
orthographies, language-specific script variants, ?, ?) and then b)
identify appropriate existing standards (if any actually exist) or develop
new standards to contain these tags. At the same time, the scope of these
standards should be clearly identified and rules introduced to govern the
addition of future tags (the kind of rules that don't result in a standard
containing codes for both individual languages and language groups).
Without such an approach, any new standard work will be plagued with
exactly the kind of inconsistencies that make both ISO 639 and the
Ethnologue of dubious merit for IT purposes.

This strikes me as a much more useful direction than trying to shove new
tags into already inconsistent standards that were originally designed for
other purposes. It is also a lot more useful than, for instance, trying to
forcefully align OpenType LangSys tags with ISO 639 codes, as has been
suggested simply because the latter is a STANDARD, when it is far from
clear that the two indicate the same kind of information.

John Hudson

Tiro Typeworks A man was meant to be doubtful about
Vancouver, BC himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. G.K. Chesterton

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