Question on ISO-639:1988

Addison Phillips [wM] aphillips at
Fri May 21 21:54:54 CEST 2004


Read the quoted sentence carefully. I did not use an absolute on purpose.

ISO 639 is good at identifying languages, but there are many cases in which it is not sufficient enough to identify content narrowly. This is why we have RFC 3066 and why RFC 3066 is used prevalently in XML formats to indicate content language and to select content.

The canonical example is 'zh', which identifies Chinese. Chinese comes in two written varieties, Simplified and Traditional, which are (even if you consider them to be mutually intelligible), not suitable for mixing and which should not be swapped one-for-the-other. The tags 'zh-Hant' and 'zh-Hans' identify this directly and the tags 'zh-TW' and 'zh-CN' have been used historically to to imply the separation.

There are other variations that require regional or other separation, such as the various German or Spanish variations, etc., in which RFC 3066 makes a better choice.


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: Mark E. Shoulson [mailto:mark at]
  Sent: 2004年5月21日 11:47
  To: aphillips at
  Cc: havard at; 'Anthony Hoang'; ietf-languages at
  Subject: Re: Question on ISO-639:1988

  Addison Phillips [wM] wrote:

    Dear Anthony,

    Not to intrude, but ISO639 may not provide the best mechanism for tagging content language, especially in XML.
  If ISO639 isn't a good way to tag content language, then why is it there at all?  What else does it tag?

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