Question on ISO-639:1988

Addison Phillips [wM] aphillips at
Fri May 21 19:03:14 CEST 2004

MessageDear Anthony,

Not to intrude, but ISO639 may not provide the best mechanism for tagging content language, especially in XML. The two-letter language codes specified by ISO639 are good for certain things, but do not capture certain nuances of language that are important to software applications. Most software applications use RFC 3066 as the basis of language identification. See

Most internationalized systems can interpret these language tags to select messages. The ISO639 codes do not, by themselves, identify software resources closely enough for all applications. And you should note that XML in particular has standardized on the use of RFC 3066. There is the xml:lang attribute in XML and the xsi:language type in XML Schema, which both use RFC 3066 as their basis. Most XML-based technologies follow this lead. 

There are several articles of note on There is a document about XHTML authoring that explains some of the choices here fairly clearly at:

Best Regards,

Addison P. Phillips
Director, Globalization Architecture
webMethods | Delivering Global Business Visibility
Chair, W3C Internationalization (I18N) Working Group
Chair, W3C-I18N-WG, Web Services Task Force

Internationalization is an architecture.
It is not a feature. 

  -----Original Message-----
  From: ietf-languages-bounces at [mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at]On Behalf Of Håvard Hjulstad
  Sent: 2004年5月21日 7:09
  To: 'Anthony Hoang'; ietf-languages at
  Subject: RE: Question on ISO-639:1988

  Dear Anthony Hoang,

  First of all: ISO 639:1988 has been replaced by iso 639-1:2002. The code list is being continuously updated. Please see for the most current code list. Please also note that the alpha-2 list in ISO 639-1 and the alpha-3 list in ISO 639-2 are developed in parallel.

  ISO 639 (both parts) specify lower case language identifiers. This choice was made to avoid confusion with ISO 3166 (country code). From the point of view of ISO 639 an implementation of lower case only would be preferred.

  Best regards,
  Håvard Hjulstad
  Håvard Hjulstad    mailto:havard at
  all outgoing mail is scanned using Norton AntiVirus 

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Anthony Hoang [mailto:ahoang at] 
    Sent: 21. mai 2004 15:34
    To: havard at; ietf-languages at
    Subject: Question on ISO-639:1988

    Håvard Hjulstad (ISO 639 Project Leader), 

    I'm working with EAN.UCC, a standards community for the global Retail & Consumer Manufacturing industry.  In our XML messaging standards, we have specified ISO-639:1988 as the official code list for specifying language.  I see that your publication of the language codes specify 2 lowercase alpha characters.

    As a B2B trading community, should we be enforcing that only lower case characters be used?  Have you faced issues where a community implements both lowercase and uppercase characters?  In the case that both lowercase and uppercase are used, is there a preferred best practice between the two?

    Thanks in advance for your help, 

    Anthony Hoang 
    Functional Architect, WorldWide Item Management 

    WorldWide Retail Exchange 
    625 North Washington Street 
    Alexandria, VA 22314 
    [main: 703.234.5100] 
    [fax: 703.234.5200] 
    [direct: 703.234.5151] 
    [email: ahoang at] 
    [aol im: AnthonyWWRE] 



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