Language for taxonomic names

Doug Ewell doug at
Tue Sep 23 08:14:29 CEST 2008

Andy Mabbett <andy at pigsonthewing dot org dot uk> wrote:

> Some years ago,, I raised the prospect of a special language code for 
> the taxonomic names (also called "scientific names" of living things:
> ...
> I would again like to ask for discussion of the matter, and 
> suggestions for a solution.

I agree with Peter Constable that this doesn't meet the requirements for 
a true "language."  You can't express arbitrary content, or even 
particularly diverse content, in this system.  It is usable for short 
phrases within a limited scope.  At best, it's a profile of Latin.

> The options would seem to be (listed in my order of preference) to 
> treat taxonomic names as being in:
>     *    a unique language, say "tax"/ "tx"; or "bio"
>     *    a sub-set of Latin la-tx

These cannot be registered in the IANA Language Subtag Registry.  All 
2-letter and 3-letter language subtags must be derived from ISO 639 code 
elements.  It does not matter which combinations are currently assigned 
in ISO 639 and which are not; we cannot grab from this pile.

Addison is correct that "this list can register primary language 
subtags," but such subtags must be 5 to 8 letters long.

(BTW, 'tax' and 'bio' are both assigned in ISO 639-3.)

>     *    a "zxx" case, say "zxx-taxo"

This would be a "variant subtag," which again must be 5 to 8 characters 
long (unless it starts with a digit, in which case it can be 4 
characters long).

I don't know what to think about the idea of registering variant subtags 
with a Prefix of "no linguistic content."  Syntactically, of course, 
there is no problem.

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

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