New Last Call: 'Tags for Identifying Languages' to BCP

Doug Ewell dewell at
Tue Dec 14 18:05:48 CET 2004

Sam Hartman <hartmans dash ietf at mit dot edu> wrote:

> Programming lore has the rule of zero, one or infinity; it goes by
> many other names but the concept is in part that by the time you need
> more than one of something, you'll probably need a lot of that thing.
> Language descriptions seem to fit this rule fairly well.  By the time
> we need to support multilingual language descriptions, we'll need more
> than just English and French.

I think RFC 3066bis is more like a standard than a programming model,
and I say this as a programmer who has taken the (proposed) subtag
registry and made a data structure out of it.  The very useful
zero-one-infinity rule may not apply here.  If it did, we might not be
listing a tortured multi-part name like "Church Slavic; Old Slavonic;
Church Slavonic; Old Bulgarian; Old Church Slavonic" in the first place.

> Since they are already using non-definitive language descriptions,
> implementers can feel free to take the French descriptions from the
> ISO standard for the many cases where the IANA registry and ISO
> standard overlap.

Sorry, I need to say this:

The potential decoupling of RFC 3066bis subtags from their ISO 639
and/or 3166 counterparts, together with the use of withdrawn ISO 639 and
3166 codes and UN M.49 codes that have no French description, make this
a less-than-perfect response.  Sam did say "for the many cases where
[they] overlap," but there are many cases where they do not, and they
aren't always obvious.

* The RFC 3066bis subtag for "Serbia and Montenegro" is YU, but you
can't use that to look up the French description in ISO 3166.  You must
look it up under CS, which is counterintuitive to a RFC 3066bis user, or
else look it up under the English name.

* RFC 3066bis also allows the region subtag NT, meaning "Neutral Zone,"
which is a withdrawn ISO 3166 code.  You can't find the French
translation used in ISO 3166 unless you buy (or otherwise acquire) ISO

* Region subtag 830, "Channel Islands," is based on a UN M.49 code.
Since that is an English-only standard, one must look elsewhere to find
the French translation (it's not what you might expect, either).

I'm not saying that adding French descriptions will solve all, or even
most, localization problems.  It doesn't solve the problem at all for
German, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, etc., and it doesn't even necessarily
solve the problem for English and French -- many might choose to say
"North Korea" rather than "Korea, Democratic People's Republic of."  But
for those who do want to use the ISO 3166 name, it is not always simply
a matter of taking the French descriptions from the ISO standard.

-Doug Ewell
 Fullerton, California

More information about the Ietf-languages mailing list