American Indian/Alaska Native languages
Mon, 13 May 2002 20:12:47 -0500

On 05/10/2002 01:12:23 PM Michael Everson wrote:

>>individual forms, I'm happy to do so.  Regrding the references, they
>>are primarily from the Ehtnologue and the Smithsonian Handbook of
>>North American Indians, language volume.
>I'm not happy with those particular references. There are many books
>in the world which list languages by name or family or whatnot. I
>have a lot of them myself.
>For IETF I interpret the rule to mean that books in a language,
>especially (but not limited to) grammars or dictionaries, identifies
>the entity being registered. That's how we've operated for other

I don't see how you can say that. In June 2000 while we were discussing 
drafts for what is now RFC 3066, there was some discussion on what was 
acceptable as a reference. The default assumption being made -- in this 
case by the author of the RFC himself -- was that the references were 
works *about* a given language, and it was Martin Durst who pointed out 
that works *in* the given language were also acceptable:

At 00/06/07 07:44 +0200, Harald Tveit Alvestrand wrote:
>At 11:45 07.06.2000 +0900, Martin J. Duerst wrote:
>>There is an entry in the registration form about
>>documentation, but RFC 1766 at no point says that
>>there is such a requirement.
>Good catch - have to make sure it's stated as a requirement.
>>  And I don't think it
>>makes sense to have such a requirement in all cases;
>>languages (and sublanguages) exist by themselves,
>>not by having a book written about them.
>The reason for the requirement is that unless you have a reference >you 
can point to, it's hard to tell if two people are talking about the >same 
language or not.

Just a moment. You don't need a book about the language for
that at all. One example may be that you have quite a few
books published *in* the language, but none about. In that
case, you could just say that you mean the language as e.g.
used in these books. In other cases, you may just have some
audio recordings. If these are available on the web, and
are well known,... that may be perfectly enough.

The conclusion that the author of the RFC reached was that references *in* 
or *about* (but not *in*) the language in question may be used. Note the 
final text of the RFC itself:

   Note: The purpose of the "published description" is intended as an
   aid to people trying to verify whether a language is registered, or
   what language a particular tag refers to.  In most cases, reference
   to an authoritative grammar or dictionary of the language will be
   useful; in cases where no such work exists, other well known works
   describing that language or in that language may be appropriate.  The
   language tag reviewer decides what constitutes a "good enough"
   reference material.

While it gives you the privilege of deciding what is "good enough", it 
doesn't seem appropriate for you to categorically eliminate an entire 
class of potential references that the RFC explicitly mentions as 
candidates: "well-known works describing that language".

Also, it certainly seems like there counterexamples in the existing 
registrations. E.g.



(last updated 2001-12-19)

Name of requester          : Kai-hsu Tai
E-mail address of requester:
Tag to be registered       : i-tao

English name of language   : Tao (also known as: Yami)

Native name of language (transcribed into ASCII): Tao

Reference to published description of the language (book or article):

Asai, Erin (1936) A study of the Yami language: an Indonesian language 
spoken on Botel Tobago Island.  Leiden: J. Ginsberg.

(created 1999-05-25)

I admit, I'm not familiar with the work cited, but it seems unlikely that 
it is written in Yami. Or, e.g.


(last updated 2001-12-19)

Name of requester          : Clay Compton
E-mail address of requester:
Tag to be registered       : zh-xiang

English name of language   : Xiang or Hunanese

Native name of language (transcribed into ASCII): Xiang or Hunan

Reference to published description of the language (book or article):

Yang Shih-feng.  1974.  Hunan fang yan diao cha bao gao: Report on a 
survey of the dialects of Hunan.  2 vols.  Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan 
lishi yuyan yanjiusuo, Min guo 63.

Is this not written *in* Mandarin?


>For IETF I interpret the rule to mean that books in a language,
>especially (but not limited to) grammars 

if we were to sample grammars from across multiple languages, the majority 
of languages would be represented by grammars written in some other 
language rather than in the language itself. E.g. there are grammars of 
several Mayan languages written in Latin, Spanish or English, and very 
few, if even any, written in any Mayan languages (let alone in the Mayan 
language being described).

Your remarks give an appearance that you are taking a stance that is 
biased against endangered languages: if you need a grammar written in the 
language being described, then there have to have been members of that 
language community who were able to attain a significant level of 
education in that language, and a development of technical linguistic 
terminology in that language, implying a level of language development 
enjoyed by a very small proportion of the world's languages. I really 
would not have expected that of you, but if that really is your position, 
then you should count on receiving complaints from various bodies 
concerned for the plight of the language communities involved. On the 
other hand, if that is *not* your position, then it seems to me you need 
to revise your statement regarding your requirements for reference 

- Peter

Peter Constable

Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
Tel: +1 972 708 7485
E-mail: <>