Question on ISO-639:1988

Debbie Garside debbie at
Wed Jun 2 12:33:30 CEST 2004

In response to your statements Peter

>I've yet to see from the people involved with this project a realistic
>evaluation of IT needs.

But we are working on it Peter... watch this space...

>The LREC paper asserts (in the abstract):

>"The international community, including the International Organization
>for Standardization (ISO), is currently seeking more granular systems of
>language identifiers than the widely used tags of ISO 639 parts 1 and 2.
>There is growing need for the more precise identification and annotation
>of language-based resources."

>A *system* capable of supporting fine granularity is needed, and RFC
>3066 already provides that. This is not referring to just the system,
>though, but also a coding: the point of the Linguasphere proposal is
>both a *system* and a *coding* for broad and highly-granular coverage of
>language varieties.

>There is no question that there is wide need for *broader* coverage than
>is provided in ISO 639-1/-2. That can be viewed as more granular
>coverage than is provided by the collective categories in ISO 639-2, but
>without involving finer levels of granularity than are already provided
>in ISO 639-1/-2. There is *occasional* need for finer levels of
>granularity, and the request for sl-nedis is an instance of this. What I
>have not at all seen, however, is that there is a widespread need for
>coding coverage that is both broad and highly granular.

Just because you cannot see the need Peter does not mean it is not there and
that we should not continue to build a system that allows for ALL
eventualities... look to the future.  The paper (system) was very well
received by the IT community in Lisbon...

>The paper states,

>"It is important therefore to step back from the ongoing formulation of
>the standard
>and its necessarily intricate and formalised procedures, in order to
>reflect on what is to be provided, by what means, and most importantly,
>for what purposes."

>but then without *any* evaluation of purposes proceeds to propose
>particular design principles that emphasize the particular philosophic
>bent of the Linguasphere. The discussion of present and future needs
>identifies a need on which I think there is reasonable consensus:

As ISO 639-3 is wholly based on the Ethnologue...  We all have to start
somewhere... and we who are involved in the creation of LS 639/BS 8639/ISO
639-6(proposal for)are quite open to valid and in depth discussion hence the
reason for the Linguasphere Forum being created...

>"The observation and understanding of linguistic phenomena requires the
>transparent, accurate and unambiguous identification of every spoken,
>written and sign language..."

>But it then proceeds to extend the scope into what is the particular
>bent of the Linguasphere:

>"...including each component variety, community and recorded corpus,
>from the most globalised to the most localised."

A hierachical system, relating all recorded languages both written and
spoken within the "Linguasphere" based on 50 years of research... but please
feel free to suggest amendments.

>Effectively, it all but dispenses with any emic / etic distinction,
>suggesting that not only do IT systems need to support any and all
>distinction in linguistic varieties that is documented, but these should
>all be coded. They assert that "the number of entities to be
>identified... is already in excess of 25,000" before having even
>attempted to establish what are the requirements for coding. The need
>simply has not been demonstrated.

>Frankly, I know of nobody in industry who has been looking for 25,000
>linguistic varieties or identities to support, let alone 70,000 or
>450,000. I have indicated to Debbie more than once that an alpha-4
>scheme creates compatibility issues with existing implementations that
>industry is heavily invested in, yet they appear to be committed to that

Well then we have conflicting information... You heard the speech from the
eminent Professor (who shall remain unnamed) in Oslo... or was it as far
back as Vienna... when he agreed that the only true way forward was in
Linguasphere style...  far from trying to set standards to fit with old
systems we should be building systems that will encompass all and look to
the future...  and if I had stopped what I was doing everytime somebody told
me I was wrong I would not be Managing Director of one (very small) company
and CEO of two (very small) others...

>They are suggesting a new set of IDs covering a lot of
>distinctions for which no clear need has been shown, and using a coding
>scheme that would require entirely new protocols and implementations.
>Will it surprise anyone if reaction from industry lacks enthusiasm?

Would it surprise you to hear that the reaction from industry is not lacking
in enthusiam at all but rather one of pondering the situation... easy time
now or do a little work  on development for future needs...

>I'm also very concerned at the representations given of various projects
>in this paper and elsewhere: Debbie has repeatedly referred to the
>Linguasphere / BSI proposal as "the new standard", speaking in an ISO
>context, even though there is no approved ISO work item related to it.

It will be a new standard... BS 8639 the British equivalent to ISO 639-6 and
the proposed NWIP (ISO 639-6) will be available in 2 weeks... watch this

>This paper suggests that it has the same status as work being done on
>other projects that are referred to as "proposed" when in fact those
>other projects are approved ISO TC 37/SC 2 work items. The BSI proposal
>may we become an approved work item and eventually a published ISO
>standard, but until it is an approved work item, I think it is
>inappropriate to speak as though the road to ISO publication is just a
>matter of time and process.

Everything is a matter of time and process Peter but the path is not always


Debbie Garside
Managing Director ICT Marketing Limited
Chief Executive Officer ICT Enterprise Limited
Chief Executive Officer Linguasphere ICT
Project Leader BS8639
Dependants 3 children, 2 dogs, a cat and a goldfish


>Peter Constable
>Globalization Infrastructure and Font Technologies
>Microsoft Windows Division
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