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

John Cowan jcowan at
Tue Dec 21 18:14:54 CET 2004

JFC (Jefsey) Morfin scripsit:

> I would certainly revisit some aspects - the most important one being the 
> ISO-639-2 priorty rather than ISO-639-3 only. 

Please be clear in your use of technical terms.  ISO 639 has two parts:
ISO 639-1, which specifies two-letter codes for about 150 languages, and
ISO 639-2, which specifies three-letter codes for those same languages
and about 300 other languages and groups of languages as well.  There will
be a third part, ISO 639-3, specifying three-letter codes for about 7000
languages, including all the individual languages specified in ISO 639-2
(but not the groups).

For RFC 3066 purposes (and its predecessors and successors), we use the
two-letter codes where they exist, and where they do not exist we use
the three-letter codes.  This is a matter of convenience, compactness,
and backward compatibility: we are not about to break every use of "fr" on
existing documents in favor of "fra", which has exactly the same meaning.

> Last, I am not 
> eager for any centralized repository, I think the W3C has documented the 
> semantic web enough (even if I would need far more time just to assemble 
> all its documents in one reference book) for us to conceive more modern, 
> comprehensive and reliable solutions.

There is no need to be distributed just for the sake of being distributed
(as distinct from read-only mirrors, which are always a good idea).
New subtags will continued to be passed through a centralized point:
the ietf-languages mailing list, the language-subtag reviewer, and IANA.

Dream projects long deferred            John Cowan <jcowan at>
usually bite the wax tadpole.  
        --James Lileks        

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