Splitting country codes (was: Re: LANGUAGE SUBTAG MODIFICATION - GB)

Doug Ewell dewell at adelphia.net
Sat Apr 1 08:56:01 CEST 2006

Erik van der Poel <erikv at google dot com> wrote:

> Do people view this operation as a kind of "splitting" of GB into GB,
> GG, IM and JE? Or do people generally think of this as the addition of
> GG, IM and JE? If many think of this as a split, and an organization
> or individual wanted to follow these splits over time, would they have
> to go to ISO (or subscribe to their newsletter)? It would be nice if
> people didn't have to go to ISO, since that is the very organization
> that we have said is too unstable for our purposes.

ISO 3166/MA does have a concept of "merging" code elements.  When a code 
element is withdrawn, it is added to ISO 3166-3, and if its territory 
(or nationhood or something) is absorbed by another country, the code 
element of the absorbing country is made part of the ISO 3166-3 code 
element.  A classic case was the withdrawal of DD; since this was 
effectively a merger of DD into DE, the ISO 3166-3 code element is DDDE. 
This implies a statement on the MA's part about the relationship between 
DD and DE.

An ISO 3166-3 code element is also created to reflect name changes (e.g. 
Timor-Leste) or "splits" where the original country's code element is 
withdrawn (e.g. the Soviet Union split into 15 countries, none of which 
inherited SU).

When a code element is added, and none is deleted, there is no 
comparable mechanism to express whether a "split" has occurred, although 
it seems reasonable to assume that such a situation implies a split 
(since virtually every inhabited area on Earth falls under an ISO 3166-1 
code element).  But the MA does not normally indicate that this is a 
split, or what country is losing part of its territory.  For example, in 
Newsletter V-9 (February 2004) when Åland Islands split from Finland and 
AX was assigned, there was no mention of Finland.

This is the situation that apparently exists with GG and IM and JE being 
"split" from GB.  We may know that this is a split, but the MA does not 
express this anywhere within ISO 3166.

Erik has a point that it would be good to have a place to find 
information about these splits.  The question is whether the Language 
Subtag Registry should serve that purpose.

In private communication, Debbie assured me that her goal is not to make 
the registry into an all-purpose compendium of country information, 
which was my greatest fear, but to assist users of language tags by 
showing a relationship between old and new tagging requirements.  For 
example, in the past, Guernsey usage would have been indicated with 
region subtag GB; starting now it is GG.  Adding a comment might allow 
users, or implementers of custom matching algorithms, to correlate these 
two subtags in some meaningful way.

I still think we need to be careful about adding any sort of information 
that gives the appearance of turning the registry into a general 
reference work, or is not strictly necessary to implement language 
tagging.  Debbie has raised a legitimate use case that is directly 
related to language tagging.  This has been a good debate so far, with 
sensible arguments on both sides, and I'm confident we'll make a good 
decision in the end.

Doug Ewell
Fullerton, California, USA

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