John Cowan cowan at
Thu Jun 17 01:36:46 CEST 2010

Leif Halvard Silli scripsit:

> This is exactly why I said that I and Milos perhaps understood 
> 'macrolanguage' differently from Peter and John - I know that at least 
> Peter took part in coining the term. 

AFAIK Peter devised the term himself, so any use of it is secondary
to his usage, which has become ISO 639-3 usage.
You can see the evolution from his early papers on reconciling ISO 639-2
with the old Ethnologue codes; the earlier papers try to fit all the
639-2 into the straitjacket of individual languages or collections, but
later on macrolanguages are introduced, and the fit becomes much better.

> That said: The general problem perhaps more is that many tend to think 
> that 'macrolanguage' is a term firmly rooted in linguistic theory. For 
> example, the Serbo-Croatian article on Serbo-Croatian language says 
> that "modern linguists" look at Serbo-Croatian as a "living 
> macrolanguage". [1] And as basis for this claim, the article points to 
> SIL. [2] 

That's the problem with single-sourcing.

> What would be useful was an article that listed all macrolanguages and 
> explained why each of them was considered as such by ISO 639-3.

Peter's detailed discussion of ISO 639-2 issues is at (PDF on site).  That document
is obsolete, but still contains lots of useful information.

John Cowan  cowan at
The competent programmer is fully aware of the strictly limited size of his own
skull; therefore he approaches the programming task in full humility, and among
other things he avoids clever tricks like the plague.  --Edsger Dijkstra

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