Script codes in RFC 3066

Peter_Constable at Peter_Constable at
Mon Apr 14 12:33:23 CEST 2003

John Cowan wrote on 04/09/2003 12:55:40 PM:

> since every extant ISO code is mapped to one or more SIL codes already,

With a few exceptions:

1) ISO's Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian vs. Ethnologue's Serbo-Croatian. This is
an interesting case: a rep from one software vendor has told me that they
are being asked to distinguish three languages by the one or more of the
gov'ts in question; on the other hand, librarians are complaining that even
native speakers can't tell them how to assign publications to these three
categories when cataloguing.

2) ISO's Twi/Akan/Fanti vs. Ethnologue's Akan (Ethn. cites Twi and Fanti as

3) ISO's Moldavian/Romanian vs. Ethnologue's Romanian.

4) ISO's Turkish (post 1928)/Ottoman Turkish (1500-1928) vs. Ethnologue's
Turkish (I gather that ISO is distinguishing only orthographies here).

There are also some cases in which ISO has entries for things that appear
to be region-based collections, where the main languages in that region
also have their own entries. These all occur in S. Asia, and represent
another interesting set of cases: it has been documented that there are
problems with censuses taken in India in the matter of language identity.
One aspect of this is that people will sometimes report their language in
terms of a regional identity, like "Bihari" == i.e. the speech of the Bihar
region. In fact, in the case of this particular example, there is no
distinct "Bihari" language, and the major languages of the region,
Bhojpuri, Maithili and Magahi, all have their own entries in ISO 639.

Another case that may be like this is the recently-added xal "Kalmyk". I
say "may" because I can't be certain since the denotation of ISO 639
entries is not explicit. The issue is that Ethnologue has an entry for
"Kalmyk-Oirat"; it claims that there is a single language known by distinct
names in different regions in which it is used. When considering the
request, I suggested to the ISO 639 Joint-Advisory Committee that
"Kalmyk-Oirat" be added to ISO 639, but some members of the JAC were not
convinced this was only one language, and so it was decided to simply add
"Kalmyk", leaving for now the issue of "-Oirat" ambiguous. If "Oirat" were
added to ISO 639 as a separate item, this would be another case of one
thing in Ethnologue corresponding to multiple things in ISO 639.

In cases like Serbo-Croatian and Moldavian/Romanian, the Ethnologue editor
will certainly entertain a change if there is linguistic or sociolinguistic
evidence indicating a divergence resulting in distinct language identities.
The experience of librarians in the case of Serbo-Croatians, however. seems
to suggest that that would as yet be premature.

> Getting all the persnickety details right is no easy matter.

And no inventory of "languages" will ever be perfect.

- Peter

Peter Constable

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

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