Re: the Ethnologue

Date: Thu Sep 14 2000 - 05:10:22 EDT

I dunno.

The problem here is that ISO639 has, for better or worse, been adopted by
a wide array of DIFFERING applications. It's a convenience standard that
we vaguely have to live with.

One problem here is that it is being used to define BOTH languages and
locales... and the POSIX locale model in particular has to struggle
against the limitations of using a language tag (in combination with a
3166 tag) to define writing systems, cultural conventions, and other
information that doesn't follow directly from a "language" on its own. And
the "language negotiation" "feature" of the Web is based on LANGUAGE tags
that look exactly like POSIX locale codes... hmmm....

I support the IDEA of registering all the language codes that linguists
need in a standard for use in language tagging---and that this
standard be ISO639/RFC1766 seems logical. But I'd also favor a
rethink of the POSIX locale model while we're at it, to rid ourselves of
this ambiguity.



Addison P. Phillips
Globalization Engineering Consultant
Inter-Locale, LLC

On Tue, 12 Sep 2000, John Hudson wrote:

> 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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