Re: [OT] Re: the Ethnologue

From: Doug Ewell (
Date: Sun Sep 17 2000 - 23:46:33 EDT

John Cowan <> wrote:

> I am in favor of registering the tags in the Ethnologue (except for
> those which are *semantically* the same as existing 639-2 languages)
> in the RFC 1766 registry in the form i-sil-xxx.

and later:

> There are already collisions, so simply using one or the other
> gets you into trouble. For example, ARC is the SIL code for Archi,
> a Northern Caucasian language spoken in the Russian Federation.
> But you cannot use it in an ISO 639 field, because ARC in 639
> represents Aramaic, which is differentiated by SIL into 16 languages.
> But under my proposal, Archi is i-sil-arc, and Aramaic is arc. If
> you want to specify Assyrian Neo-Aramaic specifically, you can use
> i-sil-aii.

Since I have spent this whole, *very* OT discussion as the contrarian
("devil's advocate" is too polite), I will take this opportunity to say
that now that I understand John's proposal more clearly, I like it and
think it makes a good deal of sense in an RFC 1766 bis environment.

If "i-" tags are just an RFC 1766 thing, then this can work exactly as
John suggested. OTOH, if they are specified by ISO 639 in any way,
then we would have to use "x-" tags instead, since we are not at
liberty to extend ISO 639 unilaterally.

The mechanism for using these codes would need to be explicitly
specified in RFC 1766 bis, and the rules would have to be the same as
for other "i-" and "x-" codes, namely that ISO 639-1 codes must be used
whenever possible, followed in turn by ISO 639-2 codes, "i-sil-xxx"
Ethnologue codes (whoops, John, that's a real code (for Keo)), other
"i-" codes, and finally "x-" codes. I think that's what John is
proposing, anyway.

My other concerns about the Ethnologue remain: I still believe there
needs to be one normative name for each language (politically incorrect
though it may be); and some common sense needs to prevail regarding the
scope of the language tag (like exactly how specific we need to be
about the exact dialect of Chinese in a text message). But John's
proposal might be a solution for those people who really need a
standard language tag for Mukumina.

[Note to Harald: "RFC 1766 bis" was Carl W. Brown's term for your
draft successor to RFC 1766. He cited an earlier draft, in which the
proposed guidelines for the second subtag were defined explicitly.]

-Doug Ewell
 Fullerton, California

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