proposed ISO 639 change for "arn"

Michael Everson everson at
Tue Dec 11 01:19:47 CET 2012

On 10 Dec 2012, at 17:07, Peter Constable <petercon at> wrote:

> A proposal has been made to the ISO 639-RA/JAC to make changes for Mapudungun. This is currently coded as “arn”. The problem is that that ID was derived from an exonym that is considered offensive by some/all of the language community.

Context: "arn" is obviously based on "araucano", a Spanish exonym for the Mapudungun. I have pressed the user community to really account for their discomfort. Basically "araucano" is as offensive to them as "nigger" is to many people in North America. It is redolent of the Spanish genocide of native peoples centuries ago, and, well, there appears to be no way to get the user community to be OK with either "araucano" or "arn".  

> “arn” has been coded in 639-2 since its inception in 1998, and was used in MARC before that.

Having said that, despite this, we have been told that OCLC contains *only* 187 entries tagged with "arn". This tiny number of records could easily be updated. 

> What has brought this issue up at this time is, IIUC, that members of the language community want to start creating Wikipedia content and, since Wikipedia uses ISO 639 IDs in domain names, that would entail using “arn” in the domain name for all such content.

As things stand at present, the code used would be "". But the user community does not want to use this. They also do not want the internal HTML to use "arn" in tagging the language. 

> Two proposals have been floated. Both involve creating a new ID for Mapudungun (let’s call it “mxx”); they differ in their treatment of “arn”.
> -          Change the scope of “arn” to macrolanguage, encompassing Mapudungun (mxx) and Huilliche (huh)
> -          Change the scope of “arn” to language group (it would get added to ISO 639-5 as a result, and technically should be removed from ISO 639-3 as out of scope)

Actually I don't recall seeing a recommendation for the second. The first proposal is mine. 

> There’s no formal action being taken yet in the JAC; this has just come up.

The user community petitioned the JAC to do something about this 14 months ago, and no action was taken. If the petition had been tendered last week, that would be one thing. But it wasn't. It hasn't "just come up": unfortunately, it's been ignored. 

> But one voting member and one observer are suggesting swift action. (I’m definitely not in favour of any swift action in this case.)

The user community's request is 14 months old. There appears to be very little data SO FAR encoded using "arn". The community (700,000 speakers) is about to enter the digital age in a big way. A clear decision NOW really is indicated, in my view. 

On 10 Dec 2012, at 19:16, Milos Rancic <millosh at> wrote:

>> I would have expected this to be the case here, as well. Much as "GB" stands for the United Kingdom (not just the part of it that is called "Great Britain"), I would expect "arn" to continue to mean Mapudungun regardless of how well or badly chosen the symbol was initially.
> But "GB" is not a derivative of the name treated as offensive.


On 10 Dec 2012, at 19:50, Gordon P. Hemsley <gphemsley at> wrote:

> Why not just deprecate the code and issue a new one? Isn't there precedence for that?

There is, but some companies (like MS) may have implemented this code even though little use has been made of it. Re-assigning it to the macrolanguage is probably "safer". 

On 10 Dec 2012, at 22:36, Mark Davis ☕ <mark at> wrote:

> BCP47 enforces stability, so whether deprecated or 'withdrawn', it would stay in BCP47. And that is the primary vehicle for ISO 639.
> Deprecations generally just cause problems, from software just not accounting for it. So it is best avoided where possible. It would be better to just leave it as arn = Mapudungun

No, it is better to re-assign "arn" to the macrolanguage and give the user community something they will actually use. Look, folks, we don't have a high moral ground here. We can't say "suck it up, lads, get over it". Because "arn" is clearly "araucano" and whether we like it or not, "araucano" is equivalent to "nigger". 

On 10 Dec 2012, at 22:57, Doug Ewell <doug at> wrote:

>> There's no formal action being taken yet in the JAC; this has just come up. But one voting member and one observer are suggesting swift
>> action. (I'm definitely not in favour of any swift action in this case.)
> I agree; changes of short, cryptic code elements for political correctness, even if made, should not be viewed as urgent.

This isn't simple "political correctness". The user community refuses to use this code element because they consider it to be deeply offensive. 

Michael Everson *

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