New item in ISO 639-2 - Zaza

Peter Constable petercon at
Fri Aug 25 02:45:20 CEST 2006

> From: ietf-languages-bounces at [mailto:ietf-languages-
> bounces at] On Behalf Of John Cowan

> > A big question in my mind is the stability of the macro
> > language inclusion relationship. If there is the remotest
> > chance that they will change, eg that someday de becomes
> > a macro language that includes de, sli, sxu, ltz, vmf,
> > etc. (
> > then the only choice we have is #1.
> I agree with the hypothetical -- but I think it will remain purely
> hypothetical, for this reason:
> Macrolanguages exist as a shim between the moderate lumper tendencies
> of 639-2 and the extreme splitter tendencies of 693-3.  Wherever 639-2
> has lumped language varieties that 639-3 considers distinct languages,
> a macrolanguage is created.  The chance that such a well-used code as "de"
> will be redefined away from meaning "Standard German" is effectively nil.
> And 639-3/RA isn't going to gratuitously create macrolanguages otherwise
> -- they are a wart on the standard.

I agree partially.

- The lumper / splitter tendencies are artifacts not only of 639-2 and 639-3 but of users out in the world (which is how 639-2 and 639-3 got to be the way they are).

- The chance that a well-used code such as "de" will be redefined is, indeed, effectively nil.

- The 639-3/RA certainly will not gratuitously create new macrolanguage entities. It is not out of the question that new macrolanguage entities might get created in ISO 639, however, if there is a clear user need for such an entity. That was precisely what led to the addition at this time of a macrolanguage entity for Zaza. I see no reason to expect that to be a frequent occurrence,* but I expect there will be other occasions on which it happens. We simply need a plan on how to deal with that so as to provide stability. I don't think that will be all that hard.

*Something I expect to be more likely would be for some existing individual-language entity xxx to be reanalyzed as a macrolanguage entity with mappings to new entities yyy, zzz, etc. in cases where something we thought was one language turns out to be several. I am certain this is something that will occur in the course of maintaining 639-3.

What *won't* happen in 639-2/639-3 going forward is the kind of thing Doug thought he was seeing: adding something in 639-2 which is already in 639-3 but with a different ID.

Peter Constable

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