RE: [OT] Re: the Ethnologue

From: Carl W. Brown (
Date: Sun Sep 17 2000 - 20:36:39 EDT

>John Cowan wrote:

>I see the problem: the same language (with the same code) may be
>known by one name in one country and another name in another. Because
>the Ethnologue names languages by country, conflicts like this can appear.
>The entry on "Chadian Spoken Arabic" (in Chad) lists "Shuwa Arabic" as a
>synonym; the name "Shuwa Arabic" is the primary name in Niger, Nigeria,
>and Cameroon.

> ....

>It seems clear from the detailed information that in all 14 cases,
>there is only one language, known by different names in different
>countries. Expecting the Ethnologue to solve this problem by fiat,
>or even to openly prefer one name over another when nationalist sympathies
>decree otherwise, is IMHO not reasonable.

>John Cowan
>One art/there is/no less/no more/All things/to do/with sparks/galore
> --Douglas Hofstadter

I can understand your point of view as a standards person.

You are right the Ethnologue is not appropriate as a standard. But that
does not make it useless. Your quote from Doug points this out. 45 years
ago he & I were into exact things such as number theory and physics.
Topology was as far as we would venture in soft sciences. Then in 5th grade
I left for Brazil. We just met up after 45 years. The idea that language
is both a standard and not a standard thrills both of us because it makes
this field far more complex and intriguing than physics.

Where I see using the SIL is as an extension of the ISO standard. If there
is no ISO code then use the SIL code. As far as research goes, you have to
do your own to be able to prepare the locale. This will eliminate 90% of
the flaky SIL languages. There either will be no demand or the research
will uncover which of several encodings to use. Yes this is not a standard
but it is a way to implement until a standard can be developed. It is
easier to deal with the SIL codes than the i-xxxxx codes. Besides I can not
take any standard that implements i-klingon as a human language too

On the other hand if you consider that language is part of cultural
expression and that different languages express ideas specific to the
culture then the SIL is incomplete. For example, Boont is an English slang
language developed around Booneville California. This is not listed but
then you have to remember that the list is explicitly funded for the purpose
of translating bibles and I doubt that there is any interest in languages
that are not primary languages. People who speak Boont also speak English.

Standards as extremely important and they should be solid. They must work
for you but in this business you can not be slaves to them. The
implementations should be based on standards but be flexible to accommodate
exceptions when needed. If I use the SIL codes I stand a good chance that
the codes may be the same codes that ISO may adopt and I can avoid a later
conversation. These codes fit into the 639-2 tables with no program
changes. For me it is a win-win situation. I just need to keep track of
them and check every time the ISO standard is updated to insure that new ISO
codes are not using the SIL codes. If so, then I will have to migrate the
SIL codes.

In practice few sites will implement languages that are not covered by the
639 list. So these exceptions should be very few and should be manageable.


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