Criteria for languages?

Doug Ewell doug at
Thu Dec 3 05:45:07 CET 2009

Peter Constable <petercon at microsoft dot com> wrote:

> IMO, macrolanguages are generally not desirable. Case in point: the 
> messiness they can create led us to debate for months/years over 
> Chinese, and in the end we barely arrived at a compromise that left 
> nobody thrilled (and it remains to be see to what extent interop is 
> less than all we might like to see).

I assume you're talking about the BCP 47 extlang mechanism, not the ISO 
639-3 macrolanguage mechanism, which is not our doing.

The years-long debate was over whether or not to create the extlang 
mechanism, and if so, with what rules.  We ended up creating it, with 
the rule that any extlang must be mirrored as a primary language subtag, 
which is preferred over the extlang.

I don't recall that much of the debate was over the desirability or 
undesirability of adding to the original list of seven primary languages 
(including 'sgn') that can have extlangs.  If we had wanted to prohibit 
that, we would have swiftly added a sentence saying so.

> With that in mind, I don?t as much concern about a lack of 
> consistently-applied principles; the principle I?d hope for is to 
> avoid them if possible, and consider on a case-by-case basis if there 
> is legacy that in some way prevents us from doing so.

Is this another instance of creating a mechanism and then saying "don't 
use this"?  We were never "prevented" from avoiding the extlang 
mechanism for Chinese and Arabic languages either.  We applied it 
because we thought it would provide the best tagging options.

Doug Ewell  |  Thornton, Colorado, USA  |
RFC 5645, 4645, UTN #14  |  ietf-languages @ ­

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