ISO 639 and other language identifiers

John Cowan
Tue, 7 May 2002 23:43:41 -0400 (EDT)

Caoimhin O Donnaile scripsit:

> Say a library acquires a collection of texts or sound samples from
> south-east Asia.  It might not have the time or resources to determine
> precisely which language they belong to, in which case it would probably
> be better to label them as "Tai-Kadai" if this is known, rather than
> to leave the language completely unspecified.

I think it would be quite impossible to examine a sound sample (most
Tai languages aren't written) and correctly label it Tai without first
knowing what language it was.  But I am no expert.

> > I'm confused.  ISO "nds" is precisely SIL's SAX, which has many
> > names.  Why do you think it is 13 languages?
> Sorry, you are right - although the Ethnologue code is SXN, not SAX.

SXN, right.  

> although I wouldn't be too sure (maybe there is
> some way of checking?) whether this narrow definition is what was
> in mind when nds was registered in ISO 639-2 two years ago.

Well, that's just the problem.  There is no way of knowing what
the ISO registrations really mean.   The SIL mapping is Peter
Constable and Gary Simons's best guess about what the ISO codes
"really" mean, but nobody knows, because the internal information
that led to assignment of the codes isn't made public.

John Cowan <>
I amar prestar aen, han mathon ne nen,
han mathon ne chae, a han noston ne 'wilith.  --Galadriel, _LOTR:FOTR_