ISO 639 name change: Songhai languages

Don Osborn dzo at
Sat Jan 6 17:10:42 CET 2007

Thanks John, Quick replies in text...

> -----Original Message-----
> From: John Cowan [mailto:cowan at]
> Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2007 1:51 AM
> To: Don Osborn
> Cc: 'Kent Karlsson'; 'CE Whitehead'; ietf-languages at; iso639-
> 2 at; HHj at; ISOJAC at; iso639 at
> Subject: Re: ISO 639 name change: Songhai languages
> Don Osborn scripsit:
> > So in such a case
> > are they languages in one direction and dialects in the other? And
> the
> > ensemble a macrolanguage from one angle and a language group from
> another?
> Ethnologue, which is the basis of 639-3, is an extreme splitter: if
> they say that two varieties are dialects of a single language, it's
> unlikely that anyone will divide them more finely, with a few sporadic
> exceptions like French.

Understood. Mainly I'm concerned about how difficult it may be to rejoin
where appropriate (1) by the way the system is set up and (2) how people new
to it perceive the authority of the system as they encounter it.

Having a more or less systematic methodology for classification is a
blessing; respecting its limitations is all the more so. So another concern
(beyond what I voiced in my previous message) is that the former is more
widely embraced among at least some technical people and localizers, than
the latter is understood. The pre-eminence of 639-3 means that the system is
in effect angled to a "splitter" perspective (though with various
adjustments), and users tend to understand that system as authoritative
across a range of uses without always appreciating the adjustments in the
system, the larger picture, or the linguistic realities that are being

This may get beyond the range of topics appropriate for the lists I'm
posting to, so I won't pursue the issue here. Nevertheless, it seems to me
worth considering. For any who are interested, I raise it in another way at

> So macrolanguage is the appropriate level between individual language
> and language group in cases where a two-sided view is required.
> > (Hence ISO-639-2 "son" might indeed be appropriate for a locale for
> > certain purposes - I can't say for sure that it is, but IMO it
> > certainly shouldn't be ruled out.)
> No one is trying to do so.

Just checking, thanks.

BTW, <annoying question>will codes used for what are called "language
groups" reside eventially in 639-5?</annoying question> 


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