Subtags and politics (was: Re: acade - LANGUAGE SUBTAG REGISTRATIONFORM)

Lang Gérard gerard.lang at
Fri Aug 29 16:06:17 CEST 2008

It is clear that particularly this message, and all others exchanged on this question illustrate a great need for the establishment of a permanent liaison of this WG with ISO 3166/MA that is accustomed to such cases since more than 30 years, as well as with ISO 639/RA-JAC.
Gérard LANG

-----Message d'origine-----
De : ietf-languages-bounces at [mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at] De la part de Doug Ewell
Envoyé : jeudi 28 août 2008 15:15
À : ietf-languages at
Objet : Subtags and politics (was: Re: acade - LANGUAGE SUBTAG REGISTRATIONFORM)

Apparently there is still some major misunderstanding and misinformation being spread about the RFC 4646 and the ietf-languages group, and the supposed political effects of what we do.

We -- actually, the Language Subtag Reviewer, with the non-binding advice of the rest of us -- register variant subtags to help users of RFC 4646 (BCP 47) language tags identify content in different language varieties.  These variant subtags are intended to improve the identification of different language varieties, so that they can be selected in a Web browser, so that the correct spelling dictionary or translation engine can be selected, etc.  Variant subtags are almost always optional; they can be omitted whenever no problematic ambiguity would result from their omission.

We are not a political organization, nor an official sanctioning body for language usage.  We do not register variants with the intent of granting some sort of legitimacy or blessing to any language variety, nor to take away legitimacy from any other variety, whether that second variety has its own subtag or not.  We register variants on the basis of linguistic differentiation alone.

We are aware that some individuals or groups may seek a specialized language tagging solution, such as a variant subtag, to make a political statement, and also that other individuals or groups may support or oppose that subtag, to make their own political statement.  It is never 100% possible to establish whether a proposal is made for non-linguistic reasons, and so we don't try to make that determination.  Rather, we evaluate each proposal solely on the basis of language tagging needs.

In the case of Belarusian, we know that some political and/or activist baggage is associated with the different orthographies, and specifically that supporters and opponents of the "academic" subtag (whatever we call
it) may be influenced by politics or activism.  Our goal is to ignore this, and focus only on whether the actual difference in orthography is sufficient so that variant subtags would make an improvement in Web searching, dictionary selection, and so on.

If the linguistic or orthographic differences were trivial, and consisted only of specialized vocabulary that made a political statement (many languages have such vocabulary), then no subtag would be justified.  Throughout the Belarusian debates, neither side has attempted to prove that the differences between orthographies are trivial.  It is clear that noticeable differences exist, and the case has been made for separate variant subtags to distinguish them.  One side continuing to disparage the other's orthography, or political motivations, does not change this.

Organizations and standards that are not bound to use BCP 47, but choose to do so anyway, such as the Wikimedia Foundation, are of course free to apply parts of BCP 47 as they see fit, in accordance with their views, which may also be political.  However, just to beat this point into the ground, we do not register subtags on the basis of political motivation.

Doug Ewell  *  Thornton, Colorado, USA  *  RFC 4645  *  UTN #14  ^

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