Phonetic orthographies

Doug Ewell dewell at
Mon Nov 13 08:00:17 CET 2006

Gerard Meijssen <gerardm at wiktionaryz dot org> wrote:

> My appreciation of the RFC 4646 is very much that it aims to preserve 
> backwards compatibility. However, many of the old codes are old. They 
> have been ditched with reason in the ISO-639-3 and the insistence to 
> preserve the outdated codes will imho prove to more of a hindrance 
> than of a benefit when you want to make the Internet more multi 
> lingual. It would have been better to allow for the use of the old 
> codes and advise as best practice to move to the later codes when and 
> where practical.

Without reiterating too much of what others have said, I'd simply like 
to point out the difference between macrolanguages, which exist in ISO 
639-3, and collective language codes, which don't.

A macrolanguages is an entity which is sometimes considered a language, 
and sometimes an umbrella term for a group of closely related languages, 
depending on the context.  ISO 639-3 includes these, and lists the 
individual languages that fall within the umbrella, but it does not 
attempt to abolish or deprecate the "single language" interpretation. 
Chinese is the classic example; there are millions (if not billions) of 
people who consider "Chinese" to be a single language, at least for some 

A collective language code can *only* be an umbrella term for a group of 
languages, some of which may not even be linguistically related, but 
only geographically or in some other sense.  "Australian languages" is 
an example.  There is not a person anywhere who would claim that 
"Australian languages" is a single language, unlike Chinese.  ISO 639-3 
does not include these because all the languages under the umbrella have 
their own code element, at least in theory.

Quite a few people seem to confuse macrolanguages with collective 
language codes, but it's important to keep these concepts separate to 
avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate assumptions.

Doug Ewell  *  Fullerton, California, USA  *  RFC 4645  *  UTN #14

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