Re: [OT] Re: the Ethnologue

From: Doug Ewell (
Date: Sun Sep 17 2000 - 12:48:05 EDT

John Cowan <> wrote:

> Doug wants the Ethnologue to give each of its languages (uniquely
> tagged) a single unique worldwide authoritative name. That's not
> reasonable in all cases, though it is in 99.5%.

What names are I supposed to associate with codes like SHU, MKJ, and
SRC in my (possibly hypothetical) application that deals with language
tags? Such associations are normally expected to be one-to-one.

If Ethnologue codes are going to be regarded as a standard outside the
confines of SIL, each code needs to be associated with a single,
normative name. Unicode understands this concept, which is why you
have things like U+002E FULL STOP and an explanatory note that this
character is optionally called "period." Here in the U.S. we would
never call '.' a full stop, always a period (or dot or decimal point),
but in the U.K. the opposite is true, and one normative name had to be
chosen over the other(s).

Spaniards generally refer to their national language as "castellano,"
not "espaŮol," but at some point in the ISO 639 process, a decision had
to be made that one name would be preferred over the other. SIL
evidently felt that way too, as "Castilian" is just one of the many
alternate names given for the primary name "Spanish." But for the code
GSW, the Ethnologue staff created separate entries for "Allemanisch,"
"Alsatian," and "SchwyzerdŁtsch," which *may* appease nationalistic
preferences but definitely *does* result in inconsistency and

An inconsistent standard can be worse than no standard at all.

-Doug Ewell
 Fullerton, California

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