Proposal to reserve ISO 3166-1 code elements

Doug Ewell dewell at
Wed Apr 12 07:04:10 CEST 2006

This post deals with a proposal to classify 15 unassigned ISO 3166-1 
code elements as "reserved."  Please don't dismiss this subject as 
"off-topic" for ietf-languages until you have read the entire post.

In a message to ietf-languages on April 3, I listed 15 formerly used 
code elements from ISO 3166-1 that are classified not as "transitionally 
reserved" or otherwise "reserved," but as "unassigned."  These 15 code 
elements are summarized as follows:

DD   German Democratic Republic (withdrawn 1990)
YD   Yemen, People's Democratic Republic of (withdrawn 1990)
13 others:  BQ, CT, FQ, HV, JT, MI, NH, NQ, PC, PU, PZ, VD, WK 
(withdrawn 1977 through 1986)

Note that the code elements DD and YD, having been withdrawn after 
1988 -- "Date A" for purposes of the Language Subtag Registry -- are 
included in the Registry as deprecated region subtags.

Since then, I have had a chance to read an actual copy of ISO 3166-3, 
which shows that the alpha-4 code elements in that standard represent 
not only "formerly used names of countries" (Section 1) but also 
formerly used code elements.

Section 5.2 states that the ISO 3166-3 code list includes "... the 
formerly used country names together with their obsolescent alpha-2 code 
elements, obsolescent alpha-3 code elements, obsolescent numeric-3 code 
elements (where relevant), [and] the period (years) during which these 
were valid...."

This demonstrates that the 15 code elements in the list above, now 
present as the first part of ISO 3166-3 code elements, were officially 
assigned and valid in ISO 3166 and/or 3166-1 for a clearly defined 
period of time.  Based on current practice within ISO 3166/MA -- see TP, 
YU, and ZR in recent times -- these 15 code elements should be 
classified as "transitionally reserved" to prevent, or at least 
discourage, their reassignment to other country names.

This issue affects the ietf-languages list because of the presence of DD 
and YD.  If the MA were to assign either of these code elements to a new 
country name, the code element could not be used in the Language Subtag 
Registry because of its existing meaning.  According to Section 3.4, 
item 10 of RFC 3066bis, it would be necessary to use the UN M.49 numeric 
code element as a subtag, something we in LTRU tried hard to avoid 
doing.  Item 11 refers to the M.49 codes as "the value of last resort in 
cases where ISO 3166 reassigns a deprecated value in the registry," but 
clearly it is desirable to avoid this "last resort" situation.

A similar situation could potentially apply to other users of ISO 
3166-1, especially if they also depend on certain withdrawn code 
elements to preserve stability, as we do.

Debbie Garside and I have talked about this issue and agree that the MA 
should be asked to reserve these code elements, especially DD and YD, 
but we would like to get input (and hopefully support) from 
ietf-languages first.  Please send any comments you may have to the 
list, or to Debbie or me, in the next few days before we submit this to 
the MA.  If you reply to the list, please try to keep the scope focused 
on the impact on the Language Subtag Registry.

Doug Ewell
Fullerton, California, USA

Debbie Garside
Managing Director

ICT Marketing Limited
Corner House
Barn Street
Pembrokeshire SA61 1BW
Wales UK

Tel: 0044 (0)1437 766441

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