Generic variants (was: Re: BCP47 Appeals process)
doug at ewellic.org
Thu Sep 18 15:27:52 CEST 2008
Randy Presuhn <randy underscore presuhn at mindspring dot com> wrote:
> Though there is no formal prohibition against doing "generic"
> variants, there has been a marked reluctance to define them. I think
> part of the reluctance comes from the ambiguity doing so would give
> the the variant records, particularly if the description fields are
> not constructed with extreme care to define exactly what the variant
> subtag might mean in each of the contexts in which it might appear.
For the existing generic variants, I don't think we could possibly be
any clearer than "International Phonetic Alphabet" and "Uralic Phonetic
There is a lot of misunderstanding concerning the concept of generic
variants. Generics are the logical extension of multiple prefixes. The
idea of multiple prefixes is that each variant subtag is supposed to
have essentially the *same meaning* regardless of which prefix it is
applied to. For example, 'baku1926' has the same meaning whether it is
applied to "az" or "tt"; it refers to a particular alphabet and set of
orthographic conventions which apply in a similar way to both
Azerbaijani and Tatar.
IPA takes this concept to the logical extreme: by its design, it can be
applied to almost any spoken language. The concept of "IPA" or the
principles of its use do not substantially change depending on which
language is being written in IPA. By that measure, it makes sense to
define 'fonipa' generically.
A subtag like 'northern' would not be the same, because its meaning
would be completely different depending on the language to which it is
applied. "Northern Italian" and "Northern German," to pick a random
example, would not have any common concept of Northern-ness. The
similarity of the names would be a coincidence and would not reflect any
parallelism in the language variations themselves.
So 'northern', if defined, should not be defined as a generic variant.
The problem, though, is that it *looks* generic; it looks as though it
could be applied to any language that has a "Northern" variety, even if
these varieties have nothing in common linguistically. That is not
appropriate, and so we discourage registering generic-looking variants
that don't have the generic nature. This is the problem many people
have with 'academy'. It looks generic even though it is not.
But that does not mean we should be reluctant to register generic
variants in the future if the variation being represented really does
have the generic nature, like IPA. Right at the moment, I can't think
of any other types of variation that have this nature, besides other
phonetic alphabets, but that does not mean none exist. Much, perhaps
all, of the existing reluctance stems from misunderstanding.
Doug Ewell * Thornton, Colorado, USA * RFC 4645 * UTN #14
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