Ietf-languages Digest, Vol 74, Issue 4

Anthony Aristar aristar at
Sun Feb 22 21:04:06 CET 2009

Doug Ewell wrote:

* It's well known that linguists and other experts disagree, sometimes 
* forcefully, as to the correct ways to classify languages.  But I think 
* it is a stretch to say that ISO 639-5 does not in fact encode "language 
* families and groups," even if the families and groups may be considered 
* kind of a mish-mash.

* ISO 639-5 defines the terms "language family" and "language group" and 
does not make any
* claim that these definitions, or its classification system, are the 
only ones possible.

Well, Doug, I think we've probably said more than enough on this
topic.  But with all due respect, there is no disagreement amongst
linguists as to what "language group"  means.  And one thing it simply 
cannot mean is "languages grouped by notional region".  This is either "areal
group" or "geolinguistic group".  "Language Group", to those who work 
with languages, can only mean "genetically related language grouping
at any level from Family to Subgroup."

To use this term in the way it is used in ISO 639, then, is simply misleading,
only suitable, in fact, for those who don't work much with languages.  

The quesstion I would ask is:  if you intend to do this, why not do it right...
or at least consistently?

Anthony Aristar, Director, Institute for Language & Information Technology
  Professor of Linguistics            Moderator, LINGUIST Linguistics Program
Dept. of English                       aristar at
Eastern Michigan University            2000 Huron River Dr, Suite 104
Ypsilanti, MI 48197


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