What's the plan for ISO 639-3 and RFC 3066 ter?

John Cowan jcowan at reutershealth.com
Mon Aug 16 19:18:37 CEST 2004

Addison Phillips [wM] scripsit:

> The question is: does ISO 639-3 supersede ISO 639-2 as the source for
> three letter codes? Or not?


> If 639-3 is a strict superset, then the additional three letter codes
> could just be admitted as language subtags. In fact, I'm given to
> understand from Peter's prior explanations that this should be the
> goal for most of the 639-3 codes.

The situation as I understand it will be as follows:

1) The ISO 639 standard will draw on a single pool of three-letter codes.
No three-letter code will be used for more than one purpose.

2) ISO 639-3 will assign codes to individual languages and
macro-languages.  These codes will be identical to the existing 639-2
codes where they exist; where there is no existing 639-2 code, they will
be identical to Ethnologue 14th edition codes where possible.

3) ISO 639-5 will assign codes to language collections.  These codes
will be identical to the existing 639-2 codes where they exist.

4) ISO 639-3 and ISO 639-5 codes will be disjoint.

5) ISO 639-2 will specify a subset of (the union of ISO 639-3 and ISO 639-5
codes) that specify languages which meet the restrictions of ISO 639-2
(basically, that there are at least fifty documents in the language,
held by at most five organizations).

6) ISO 639-1 will continue to specify a subset of ISO 639-2, and will
assign two-letter codes to its members.  Except for a transitional period
after the promulgation of ISO 639-3 and ISO 639-5, it will effectively
become a closed collection.

(ISO 639-4 will explain all this, and will not define any codes.)

> The need for extlang subtags would then be muted (and might even be
> eliminated). Only language codes that had "macro languages" associated
> with them could be registered as extlangs. In fact, these subtags
> might be cherry picked on an as-needed basis (rather than having a
> full-fledged formal source).

ISO 639-3 will provide a mapping between macro-languages and the
individual languages that are parts of them.  I don't know (and it may
not have been decided) whether ISO 639-5 will provide a mapping between
collective codes and the languages covered by them.

> Canonicalizing and matching the tags in this situation would be much
> more complicated:
> zh-min-nan // ignore the min problem for a second
> zh-nan
> nan

This (and its twin zh-min-bei) are the most complex cases.  The vast
majority of all macro-languages do not contain other macro-languages
(as zh contains min).  Indeed, it is doubtful whether ISO 639-3
will provide nested macro-languages at all.

Let us consider more straightforward cases.  I am assuming throughout
that Peter's recommendations for changes to 639-2 are accepted.

A) Currently, the macro-language "Occitan" is encoded as oc.  There
will be four individual languages corresponding to this macro-language
in 639-3:  Auvergnat (auv), Gascon (gsc), Languedocien (lnc), and
Limousin (lms).

B) Currently, the collective "Land Dayak languages" is encoded as day.
(It's not marked as a collective in ISO 639-2, but Peter has proposed
that it be changed to a collective).  There are 16 languages in this

In each case, we have three possibilities:

1) Allow the individual language codes;

2) Allow the higher-order code extended by an individual language code;

3) Allow both 1 and 2 as synonyms.

Accepting 1 means that systems which consume resources labeled oc must
now also be prepared to consume resources labeled aug, gsc, lnc, and lms.
Accepting 2 allows normal fallback behavior to work:  oc-aug will be
recognized as oc automatically.  Accepting 3 means that some normalization
scheme must be provided.  All three possibilities have drawbacks.

For case B, ISO 639-5 must provide mapping tables (per above) in order
to make conversion between collective and individual language codes
practicable.  If this is not done, only possibility 2 will fly.

> John (and others on the list), are you happy with 3066
> bis? Indications of support or opposition (with reasons) would be
> useful at this juncture in finishing this work.

I support it in principle.  I haven't had a chance to check the current
draft, but I suspect that any nits I would find, others will find too.
Still, I'll try to squeeze in another pass.

Note:  Before leaving on vacation, Peter left us all a present:
an editor's draft of ISO 639-3, reachable from the last link on
The draft is 142 pages long, but all except the first 14 and last 6
pages of the document are just the code to language mapping tables,
in code order and in language order.

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O'Hare Doctor in heaven was. Sad was the man that word  www.reutershealth.com
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