Framing the Alpha-3 turf

Håvard Hjulstad HHj at
Thu Dec 21 13:41:55 CET 2006

All ISO 639 alpha-3 language identifiers belong to one code-space. Following the publication of ISO 639-3 and 639-5 some important changes are expected, due to both "internal" concerns in ISO/TC 37 and developments in ISO centrally.
The ISO 639 series will in some not very distant future be published as a "Standard as database". The exact format is still to be decided, but a couple of things are certain: (1) The "format" of ISO 639 (including the division into parts) will change. (2) The administrative routines around ISO 639 will change.
All this means that it may not be too fruitful to discuss the relationship between the parts of ISO 639 at this time. However, one concept that is being developed in this context is the notion of "defined subsets". The current ISO 639-2 may become the first defined subset. Other subsets may be registered in the future, both as International Standards and as "private subsets". The mechanisms for these registrations will need to be worked out.
More information about this will be circulated as soon as things get more sorted out.
Best regards
Håvard Hjulstad
Håvard Hjulstad
mailto:hhj at <mailto:hhj at> 


From: ietf-languages-bounces at [mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at] On Behalf Of Don Osborn
Sent: Thursday, December 21, 2006 1:20 PM
To: 'IETF Languages Discussion'
Subject: Framing the Alpha-3 turf

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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