Phonetic orthographies

Doug Ewell dewell at
Tue Nov 28 08:28:58 CET 2006

Gerard Meijssen <gerardm at wiktionaryz dot org> wrote:

> I agree with the sentiment for Wikipedia. It is however problematic 
> that the arguments for the creation of new editions of Wikipedia are 
> not always based on linguistic but often on political arguments. The 
> latest of these is a request for a Montenegrin language. The Wikipedia 
> article on Montenegrin is dismissive and explains that it is part of a 
> language continuum where some want to make these changes stronger by 
> including extra characters while the language used to be part of what 
> is considered Serbian or even Serbo-Croatian.

CE Whitehead <cewcathar at hotmail dot com> wrote:

> Italian and Spanish and Portuguese are three different languages with 
> different spelling, though with my Spanish and Latin I quickly picked 
> up a passive knowledge of the other two.  Political boundaries 
> determine the language borders in Europe.

Both of these passages reflect the basic fact that language 
identification is sometimes political in nature.  This may not be 
palatable or feel "right," but it is true nonetheless.  We can deny it, 
and devise coding systems that deny it, but we cannot change the basic 

Gerard mentioned the Montenegrin language issue, although having seen 
the Wikipedia article I disagree strongly with his characterization of 
it as "dismissive" and would invite others to read it and make up their 
own minds.  Clearly there are at least some in Montenegro who would like 
the language to be known as "Montenegrin" more for reasons of national 
identity than linguistic accuracy.  This is similar to the situation 
with Serbo-Croatian magically splitting into two languages, Serbian and 
Croatian, at the exact same time that the Yugoslav nation was dissolved. 
This is not to say that the language spoken in Zagreb and Belgrade and 
Podgorica is identical, but that the differences might be considered on 
the order of dialects rather than separate languages, and indeed were 
when there was only one country.

Some months ago there was a discussion about the Romanian and Moldavian 
(Moldovan) languages.  These are generally considered to be the same 
language, with minor dialect-level differences amplified by Russian 
influence and historic use of the Cyrillic script in Moldova.  There is 
some controversy today whether to use the two names "Romanian" and 
"Moldovan" on equal footing or to call the language "Romanian" 
regardless of where spoken.  Without the political factor, there would 
have been no controversy, but this has not been the case historically 
and both names continue to exist.

In the first case, ISO 639 has not yet assigned a separate code element 
for "Montenegrin," while in the second case, the separate code elements 
for "Moldavian" ("mo" and "mol") continue to exist and have not been 
withdrawn.  Both represent a politically influenced reality.  It is not 
our place to try to second-guess such decisions.

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

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