Framing the Alpha-3 turf

Don Osborn dzo at
Thu Dec 21 13:20:08 CET 2006

A quick question re the foreseen relationship among ISO-639-2, -3, and -5 in
defining Alpha-3 language codes:


To what extent is ISO-639-2 being "absorbed" into 639-3? I realize that the
latter has harmonized its alpha-3's wrt the former, a process out of which
came "macrolanguages" and the recent redefinitions in 639-2 that Doug
discovered. I ask because (a) in another context (linguistics) I heard the
opinion that ISO-639-1&2 are already no longer useful (one minor reason
being that some -2 codes are being written in -3), and (b) one is aware that
current recommendations in ICT use that where languages have ISO-639-1 & 2
codes, that the former (alpha-2) codes are to be used, which of course
implies that at least part 1 has a future.


Another question I have is in terms of "nesting" of language codes - if
everything is defined in part 3, then some of the codes are by definition of
a higher order than others (perhaps analogous to the bibliographic and
terminology division of part 2, except that they would have a hierarchical
relationship - if these reading is correct).


Complicating the picture, perhaps, is the use of the same alpha-3 space for
ISO-639-5.  Effectively there would be in principle three sets of lists of
alpha-3 codes and three RAs dealing with the alpha-3 space (communicating,
coordinating, etc. as necessary). This is not a criticism in any way, as
such shared responsibilities and overlapping jurisdictions, if you will, can
be functional and sometimes even preferable. Mainly, though I'm trying to
understand it better, and as I do, wonder if important actors in the allied
fields (ICT, localization, linguistics, various projects) are not also
somewhat hazy on what the plans are (or are laboring under misperceptions of
the situation).


I've waded through part of RFC-4646 but am not sure that it addresses this
kind of issue. Thanks in advance.


Don Osborn

PanAfrican Localisation project

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