Principles of Operation (was: LANGUAGE SUBTAG REQUEST FORM, Erzgebirgisch)

Ciarán Ó Duibhín ciaran at
Tue Jan 29 18:38:58 CET 2008

Doug wrote:

> Karen has already pointed out that 'de' refers to Standard German.  See
> and .
> ...
> I no longer have a strong opinion on whether "de" or "sxu" in the best
> prefix for Erzgebirgisch -- Ethnologue is inconclusive, and others
> experts appear to differ -- but we must choose one and only one.

The impossibility of the task we are attempting comes over clearly in Doug's
concise description of it.  I think we need to look at the interpretation of
"de".  First of all, if "de" really means Standard German, which is the
officially defined language, it includes no dialects and cannot have variant

But we seem to be trying to interpret "de" as meaning some group of dialects
which includes Standard German.  It is defined by exclusion, as anything
relevant which is not covered by another listed language subtag, such as
gsw, nds, nl, lb and (soon) sxu.  (The unsatisfactory mix of linguistic and
political criteria is already evident in that short list.)  It doesn't have
a usable name (it is not Middle German, it is not High German), and
linguistic experts diagree about what should be excluded from it
(Erzgebirgisch in or out).

I see two alternatives to working with this nebulous concept of "de".  They
are at opposite ends of a spectrum, but both are very clear (whether or not
they are "allowed").

One is to make "de" really stand for Standard German, and to have no variant
subtags.  Then any German dialect goes to one of (gsw, nds, nl, lb, sxu,
etc) as long as the experts are agreed.  When they are not, as seems to be
the case with Erzgebirgisch, the answer is gem, which is of course defined
by exclusion.  Other standard languages like nl and lb can likewise be
singletons, while their dialects go to gem.

The other way is to make "de" stand for the German macrolanguage, the whole
lot.  Erzgebirgisch is then a variant of "de".  This is how languages other
than German are treated, viz the language subtag is expected to cover the
dialects, labelled by variant subtags.  It seems to me the most
satisfactory.  There remains the question of the lack of a (formalized)
relationship between the "de" macrolanguage and language subtags like gsw,
sxu etc. which have been assigned to particular forms of it.

Ciarán Ó Duibhín

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