The limit of language codes

Doug Ewell dewell at
Tue Feb 20 16:23:48 CET 2007

Marion Gunn <mgunn at egt dot ie> wrote:

> Trying to silence discussion never solved a problem, Doug.

I'm not trying to silence anything, but we've already had the 
discussion, more than once.  Returning to it again and again does not 
change anything.  This is a matter for ISO 3166, not ietf-languages.

> These are the facts:
> 1. Great Britain (GB) excludes Ireland;
> 2. United Kingdom (UK) includes part of Ireland.

In the two statements above, you may be using popular parlance but are 
most assuredly not using ISO 3166 code elements, which are being 
discussed here.

> 3. Inability/refusal to accept that difference also tends to mark 
> people unable/unwilling to accept the difference between Iran and 
> Iraq.:-(

I hope this is not another of those thinly veiled blanket attacks 
against Americans.  The more personally that was intended, the more 
offensive it is.  I didn't vote for our current President (to whom the 
statement might apply) and that's more than enough.

> Can anyone say who are the members of ISO 3166/RA, and what position 
> each of those individuals took on the misleading nature of ga-gb when 
> their most recent debate on this matter took place, Doug?

I would suggest writing to the MA or to BSI.  Isn't that how disputes 
with international standards are usually resolved?

Debbie Garside <debbie at ictmarketing dot co dot uk> wrote:

> Nobody that I know in the UK ever refers to GB but I think we have to 
> accept the difficulties and precedents involved here and move on.

Correct.  It is exactly like the recently observation that people often 
use "jp" for Japanese or "JA" for Japan.  It may be unfortunate that 
these particular letters were chosen, but we are not in the business of 
changing international standards.  Indeed, we were sharply criticized 
two years ago for "cherry-picking" simply for trying to draw a line to 
decide which meaning of "CS" to use.


> When construction work on ISO 3166 first began, no thought was given 
> to the matching of territories to languages for tagging purposes, but 
> the development of the web has since given us the more suitable ISO 
> code uk (as used in UK e-mail addresses) it makes more sense to fix 
> that old (gb) error by matching the correct, newer (uk) code to such 
> languages codes as it happens to fit.

The Domain Name System chose to deviate from ISO 3166 and use .uk 
instead of .gb (although there are also a handful of .gb addresses).  We 
have not chosen to deviate.  If you would like to contact the ISO people 
(Lee Gillam gave you the address) maybe they will see your side and 
change their code element -- though I wonder what Ukraine will say.  I 
don't personally care what the two letters are, but I do care about 
second-guessing the ISO standards.


> Maybe the thing to do is to annotate the registry with "GB = United 
> Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". (Which incidentally is 
> exactly what it says in my British passport which is also encoded GB!


Description: United Kingdom

still leaves some people confused as to whether "United Kingdom" 
includes Northern Ireland or not, then it might be better to add a 
Description field (or change the existing one) rather than adding a 

Doug Ewell  *  Fullerton, California, USA  *  RFC 4645  *  UTN #14

More information about the Ietf-languages mailing list