Re: Questions re ISO-639-1,2,3

From: Doug Ewell (
Date: Tue Aug 23 2005 - 00:50:48 CDT

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    Philippe Verdy <verdy underscore p at wanadoo dot fr> wrote:

    >> You cannot be serious:
    >> * ISO 3166-2 code elements are not necessarily alpha-3. Among many
    >> other countries, France and the U.S. do not use alpha-3 code
    >> elements.
    > I cannot resist to reply your (quite irrespective) remark!
    > Sorry, this was an evident minor (1-char) typo here. Of course I meant
    > ISO 3166-1 alpha-3. I know that ISO 3166-2 refers to subdivisions of
    > countries (as I also said in the rest of the message, where I wanted
    > to criticize the way it is currently built).

    ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 and alpha-3 code elements are almost identical in
    their stability (or lack thereof). I can find no instances in the
    31-year history of ISO 3166 where an alpha-3 code element was changed
    while the corresponding alpha-2 code was left unchanged. (If you can
    find one, please accept my apologies.)

    I can, however, find at least one instance where the reverse was true:
    in 2002 the alpha-3 code element for Romania was changed from ROM to
    ROU, while the alpha-2 code element RO was unchanged. In private
    correspondence, the then-Secretariat said that a similar change to the
    alpha-2 code element "would probably have been out of the question," in
    part "because the two-letter code is being used much more extensively
    than the three letter code." In other words, the stability standards
    for alpha-2 are higher than for alpha-3.

    (Sorry I haven't read the remainder of your post yet. I will get to

    >er than for alpha-3.

    (Sorry I haven't read the remainder of your post yet. I will get to

    > And alpha-3 codes have their use also in France and US (where did you
    > read that they don't use them?) in many applications (less than alpha-
    > 2 codes, but the "do not use" expression is wrong).

    The context was ISO 3166-2, or so I thought. Code elements within ISO
    3166-2 for France and the U.S. are two characters long. Obviously if
    your comment about ISO 3166-2 was a typo, then this response does not

    > What I wanted to show is that, for countries and territories in ISO
    > 3166-1, alpha-3 codes and numeric codes are more reliable than alpha-2
    > commonly used to build locale identifiers.

    See above regarding alpha-2 versus alpha-3.

    The numeric code elements (henceforth "codes"), which are really UN
    codes rather than ISO codes, are usually considered more stable, but it
    depends on what kind of stability you are looking for. ISO alpha codes
    change when the name of a country changes (or whenever the country feels
    like changing it; see Romania). UN numeric codes change when the
    territory covered by the code changes. Normally the latter event is
    less frequent than the former, but the reverse can also happen; in 1993,
    the numeric code for Ethiopia changed from 230 to 231 (because of the
    loss of territory to Eritrea) while the alpha codes remained ET and ETH.

    Doug Ewell
    Fullerton, California

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