Request for advice: IANA subtag registry, zh / cmn / yue

John Cowan cowan at
Fri Jul 15 22:29:46 CEST 2011

Phillips, Addison scripsit:

> The tag "zh-Latn-jyutping" makes sense because it implies what your
> correspondent wants the tag to convey---the subtag 'zh' implies
> "standard Chinese" while 'jyutping' implies a Cantonese pronunciation.

I disagree with that interpretation.  First of all, 'zh' isn't Standard
Chinese, it's Chinese-the-macrolanguage, including all the Sinitic
languages (except perhaps Dungan).  Second, a subtag for orthography
certainly does not connote pronunciation to me.

> The explicit use of the 'cmn' subtag is useful in distinguishing
> Mandarin Chinese from "standard Chinese".

Rather, it is useful in distinguishing the Mandarin Chinese language
from the macrolanguage encompassing all, or most, Sinitic languages.
Standard Chinese is a particular variety (perhaps several varieties) of
Mandarin for which we currently have no variant subtag(s).

> In any case, the main point here is that the two tags in question
> are not illegal. It is possible to try to register additional Prefix
> fields in the registry to cover these cases. But anyone can go ahead
> and use them in the tags suggested to convey the meaning suggested.

Quite so.  Extlang prefixes are MUSTs; variant prefixes are merely
SHOULDs, which means "that there may exist valid reasons in particular
circumstances to ignore a particular item, but the full implications
must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different
course." (RFC 2119)

John Cowan      cowan at
Statistics don't help a great deal in making important decisions.
Most people have more than the average number of feet, but I'm not about
to start a company selling shoes in threes. --Ross Gardler

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