Re: [OT] Re: the Ethnologue

Date: Wed Sep 20 2000 - 13:46:43 EDT

On 09/16/2000 06:15:51 PM "Michael \(michka\) Kaplan" wrote:

>From: "John Cowan" <>
>> On Sat, 16 Sep 2000, Doug Ewell wrote:
>> > SRC is the code for 'Bosnian', 'Croatian', and 'Serbo-Croatian', which
>> > means that there is a many-to-one mapping from ISO 639-1 'bs', 'hr',
>> > 'sr' to Ethnologue 'SRC'. This is likely to cause much more
>> > trouble than the Hopi example mentioned earlier.
>> By Ethnologue standards of mutual intelligibility, there is only one
>> language here.
>Well, thisis one that can actually get some of the speakers (or their
>governments) pretty upset, though. And both ISO639-x and rfc1766 have to
>care about such things....

As I've been saying, this amounts to differences of operational definitions
(which may not be explicitly and consciously defined). The Ethnologue is
attempting to consistently apply a definition based primarily on mutual
non-intelligibility. There is no question that there are communities that
speak the same "language" (by this definition), but that have distinct
identities for various ethnic, social, religious or political reasons, and
that the distinct identities get carried into their perception of language
categories. Exactly the opposite is also true: e.g. that because people
share a particular written form it is perceived that they all speak the
same language, for instance, "Chinese".

What is crucial here is that there are situations in IT where more than one
way of "tiling the plane" is needed, since different users and different
applications have different requirements. The only resolutions to this
problem are distinct namespaces based on distinct definitions for different
purposes, or chaos, or that some IT needs simply are ignored. The first of
these is the only solution.

>John, a solution must be acheived, nevertheless. If a large part or even
>of the Ethnologue is to be used as a part of any of these standards, then
>must be done.
>In a way, this is one of the only advantages to not giving locale tags any
>significance -- by assigning them numbers, you really are trying to stay
>of the business of people who have very different ideas about names and
>such. In a world where countries can go to war over lesser matters then
>this, I prefer the numbers to having yet another tightrope to walk. :-(

This is exactly one of the points Gary and I make in our paper regarding
benifits of dispensing with a requirement that tags be mnemonic.

- Peter

Peter Constable

Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
Tel: +1 972 708 7485
E-mail: <>

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