ISO 639 - New item approved - N'Ko

Doug Ewell dewell at
Thu Jun 8 08:32:10 CEST 2006

Richard Ishida <ishida at w3 dot org> wrote:

> Would it make sense to have two Description entries, reflecting both 
> the spellings used in the other standards (but perhaps with the smart 
> apostrophe first)?
> eg.
> Type: language
> Subtag: nqo
> Description: N&#x2019;Ko
> Description: N'Ko
> Suppress-Script: Nkoo
> Added: 2006-xx-xx
> There are precedents for multiple descriptions already, eg.
> Type: language
> Subtag: cu
> Description: Church Slavic
> Description: Old Slavonic
> Description: Church Slavonic
> Description: Old Bulgarian
> Description: Old Church Slavonic
> Added: 2005-10-16

The concept of multiple Description fields was intended to reflect 
situations where two or more genuinely different names are used to 
identify the same language.  This does not mean providing translations 
of a language name into multiple languages (German, Deutsch, allemand, 
tedesco, etc.), but providing alternative names -- generally in their 
English form -- that are likely to translate to alternative names in 
other languages as well.

For example, providing "Spanish" and "Castilian" as alternatives, as ISO 
639-2 does, seemed appropriate since speakers of that language may refer 
to their own language as either "español" or "castellano" (usually 
depending on where they live).  The Church Slavic example you gave also 
seems reasonable, since all five names differ from the others in some 
substantive way.

Choosing between a plain ASCII apostrophe and a more typographically 
accurate, curly apostrophe does not seem to me to constitute 
"alternative names" in the same sense.

When building the initial registry -- and there was plenty of 
opportunity for input on this -- the LTRU Working Group decided to use 
the exact spellings, including apostrophes and other non-letters, 
employed in the various ISO and UN standards from which subtags were 
derived.  We even went so far as to use the "acute accent" character, 
U+00B4, in the name "Gwich´in" because that is what ISO 639 used.  The 
"smart" apostrophe was used for the script N'Ko because it appeared in 
ISO 15924.  Personally I think it is unfortunate that this uncoordinated 
variety of apostrophes appears in the registry, but after all, the 
spelling in the Description field is not normative and can be changed.

The decision is up to the list and the Reviewer, but personally I would 
argue against adding multiple Descriptions that differ only in a minor 
typographical detail like this.

Doug Ewell
Fullerton, California, USA

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