Proposed Successor to RFC 3066 (language tags)

Debbie Garside debbie at
Mon Nov 24 15:18:20 CET 2003

just to let you know... ISO are cleaning up their act... and they/we are
cleaning it up pretty fast...

Linguasphere ICT are developing ISO 639-6.  In a nutshell, 639-6 will bring
all the IS0 639 family together.  We will be proposing unique alpha4 codes
for each individual language/dialect.  Further proposals are scheduled for
May 2004 with regard to the dating of languages/dialects and a structuring
code.  Linguasphere ICT has also related each language to its hierachical
mother via the alpha4 coding system; in excess of 25,000 languages and
dialects have already been coded in this way.(you might note I am not a
linguist but am more computer orientated).

As far as I am aware, SIL are on track with 639-3, indeed a draft CD has
been circulated for comments by end Dec 2003.  I am sure Havard will respond
on this with schedules.

Linguasphere ICT will publish proposals on the web as soon as they are ready
( Please bear with us as the site is currently being

We would very much welcome your input on this important extension of the ISO
639 family.

Kind regards

Debbie Garside
Project Leader for BS8639

-----Original Message-----
From: ietf-languages-bounces at
[mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at]On Behalf Of John Cowan
Sent: 23 November 2003 22:37
To: Addison Phillips [wM]
Cc: ietf-languages at
Subject: Re: Proposed Successor to RFC 3066 (language tags)

Addison Phillips [wM] scripsit:

> RFC3066 should have a firmer policy, I believe, of not registering
> until ISO639 has positively made a determination. If 'zh' is Mandarin,
> 'xiang' should get its own ISO639. If 'zh' is generic Chinese (whatever
> is), then 'xiang' may still warrant an ISO639 tag, and failing that should
> be considered for a base language registration. Do you think that 'xiang'
> some other dialect forms a case that goes outside of this? What would be
> criteria for registering a subtag like that?

The trouble is that ISO 639-2 at least is about registering language tags
for documents, and languages that are either not written or (as in the
case of Xiang) are "written" by writing a closely related language instead,
wind up out in the cold, unless someone has sufficient audio(-visual)
material to justify an ISO 639-2 registration.  ISO 639-3 is supposed to
provide a more comprehensive registry, but I don't know how that's going,
if at all.

OTOH, there are sufficient collective codes (both explicitly marked as such
and not) in ISO 639-2 to blanket the entire Ethnologue and probably to
handle most archaic languages as well, though this last claim has not been
proved.  By allowing registered tags of this type, we can work around the
problem until ISO 639 cleans up its act.

John Cowan                              <jcowan at>  
                .e'osai ko sarji la lojban.
                Please support Lojban!
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