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

Peter Constable petercon at microsoft.com
Fri Aug 20 07:24:55 CEST 2004

> From: ietf-languages-bounces at alvestrand.no [mailto:ietf-languages-
> bounces at alvestrand.no] On Behalf Of Addison Phillips [wM]

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

I certainly see that as a possibility to explore.

> If 639-3 is a strict superset,

ISO 639-3 will be a superset of the non-collective language codes in
639-2. ISO 639-5 will be a superset of the collective language codes in

> then the additional three letter codes
> could just be admitted as language subtags.

??? (This isn't clear to me.)

> The need for extlang subtags would then be
> muted (and might even be eliminated). Only language codes that had
> languages" associated with them could be registered as extlangs.

Indeed, when I suggested extlang I had in mind that only individual lang
IDs within the scope of a macrolanguage would be used in ext lang. It
was the registered tags zh-gan etc. that made me think of that, and I
saw two motivating factors: 

1) it allowed zh-gan etc. to conform to the syntax

2) I suspected a tendency for people to want to use a macrolanguage ID
(as in a case like zh) and then have some way to qualify it to specify a
particular variety. This is consistent with the notion of macrolanguage
itself: there are related individual languages that are often viewed in
the folk taxonomy as a single unit -- just as people often refer to
"Chinese", which in fact encompasses a number of distinct languages.

> In fact,
> these subtags might be cherry picked on an as-needed basis (rather
> having a full-fledged formal source).

Certainly an option.

Peter Constable

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