ISO 639 name change: Songhai languages

CE Whitehead cewcathar at
Tue Jan 9 19:19:08 CET 2007

Hi, I sort of feel like an outsider to most of the discussion here today but 
will add my two cents worth anyway, for what it is worth.

Don said:

"describing languages by tags
however useful is also reducing a complex phenomenon to very simple
This is a pretty obvious given; do we need to put this warning out???  I 
think it goes without saying; describing languages with names
is in fact problematic; sometimes you need a description; but when I write a 
such as "Most of the French texts are archived at --- whereas most of the 
relevant English texts are archived at ---"

I do not then go on to say that words like French and English might not be 
sufficient to describe these texts (though they may not);
it goes without saying.

(Really you know linguists themselves with their Western background in 
Germanic linguistics and their love of Sanskrit,
and their belief that kinship terms are elemental when in fact I think they 
can come into a language through intermarriage and trade
have been doing what is probably a ridiculous job of historical linguistics 
for years, and so you live with the fact that
some ways of doing linguistics reduces things and oversimplifies them in 
ways that are not just too simple/generic, but are inaccurate--this
is off the topic, now, but of course things can be reduced to the wrong 
things, it goes without saying I think.)

"There are other ideas too, but it's probably best to leave it at that for
now. In the end maybe no degree of caveats and alerts will avoid some kinds
of misuse, but some might help."

O.k. maybe an alert that provides specific examples of use versus misuse.

Don also said:
"So aside from someone like me (in this case) taking the time to pass on 
suggestions, is there any way that the listings can give caveats? Such as -
"this language is also part of a macrolanguage x" (the individual language
pages on the 639-3 site do this; Ethnologue might do similarly). And "the
writing system of this language may be determined in each country it is
spoken." (or some such)."

Fine, this sounds fine.

Peter Constable said:
"A problem for a small company like Tavultesoft is that they have no way to 
up front when a category from ISO 639 will capture the right distinctions 
?when it won't. They just don't have the resources to gather all the 
info and process it. And so, a very easy solution for them -- albeit one 
makes some ?compromises -- is to simply adopt a comprehensive coding set 
639-3 and ?assume it's good enough for the given application. In such a 
maybe it is good ?enough, and maybe it isn't."

Tavultesoft may need to join this discussion and ask for new language 
distinctions then.
(It's maybe going to be possible someday for someone in company to sign up 
for a linguistics course as it relates
to modern information technology, parsing, translating, tagging, completely 
online anyway, but
I can see adding in the kind of information about a language's relation or 
lack of it to macrolanguages and scripts as Don mentioned above, somewhere
in the specifications)

Below from Don, with my comments

"Macrolanguage thus facilitates making the country level
distinctions for orthography and locales; language (per Ethnologue)
facilitates text or at least more complex texts. (That's a broadbrush
statement, but is generally true, from what I see.)"

????  I'm sorry I'm lost by how Macrolanguage is facilitating country level 
distinctions for orthography and locales;
orthography is not based on macrolanguage is it? ???  But I probably do not 
need to understand this sentence.

"So, to say a Keyman keyboard like the AFRO one is appropriate for the
Fulfulde of Western Niger (fuh) is not really accurate or helpful. Anything
that is good for the west is good for the east (fuq) and you'd be better off
referring to just Fula macrolanguage (a locale would be ff-NE). And as far
as keyboards for that language go, they would probably cover several country
locales, but that is getting offtopic again..."

Don this second sentence does seem to make sense (I can parse it; I could 
not parse the first one); I am still trying to make sense of the statement 
above but like I said, maybe I do not need to, so o.k. you don't need to 
respond to my ???? unless I've missed something elemental.

--C. E. Whitehead
cewcathar at

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