'Macrolanguage' versus 'collection'

Doug Ewell doug at ewellic.org
Tue Dec 11 21:27:28 CET 2012

Here are the ISO 639-3 descriptions of "macrolanguage" and "collection,"
quoted directly from their page "Scope of denotation for language
identifiers" located at http://www.sil.org/iso639-3/scope.asp . Clip and

- - -


Other parts of ISO 639 have included identifiers designated as
individual language identifiers that correspond in a one-to-many manner
with individual language identifiers in this part of ISO 639. For
instance, this part of ISO 639 contains over 30 identifiers designated
as individual language identifiers for distinct varieties of Arabic,
while ISO 639-1 and ISO 639-2 each contain only one identifier for
Arabic, "ar" and "ara" respectively, which are designated as individual
language identifiers in those parts of ISO 639. It is assumed here that
the single identifiers for Arabic in parts 1 and 2 of ISO 639 correspond
to the many identifiers collectively for distinct varieties of Arabic in
part 3 of ISO 639.

In this example, it may appear that the single identifiers in ISO 639-1
and ISO 639-2 should be designated as collective language identifiers.
That is not assumed here. In various parts of the world, there are
clusters of closely-related language varieties that, based on the
criteria discussed above, can be considered distinct individual
languages, yet in certain usage contexts a single language identity for
all is needed. Typical situations in which this need can occur include
the following:

* There is one variety that is more developed and that tends to be
  used for wider communication by speakers of various closely-related
  languages; as a result, there is a perceived common linguistic
  identity across these languages. For instance, there are several
  distinct spoken Arabic languages, but Standard Arabic is generally
  used in business and media across all of these communities, and is
  also an important aspect of a shared ethno-religious unity. As a
  result, a perceived common linguistic identity exists.

* There is a common written form used for multiple closely-related
  languages. For instance, multiple Chinese languages share a common
  written form.

* There is a transitional socio-linguistic situation in which sub-
  communities of a single language community are diverging, creating
  a need for some purposes to recognize distinct languages while, for
  other purposes, a single common identity is still valid. For instance,
  in some contexts it is necessary to make a distinction between
  Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages, yet there are other contexts
  in which these distinctions are not discernible in language resources
  that are in use.

Where such situations exist, an identifier for the single, common
language identity is considered in this part of ISO 639 to be a
macrolanguage identifier.

Macrolanguages are distinguished from language collections in that the
individual languages that correspond to a macrolanguage must be very
closely related, and there must be some domain in which only a single
language identity is recognized.

*Collections of languages*

A collective language code element is an identifier that represents a
group of individual languages that are not deemed to be one language in
any usage context. Whereas ISO 639-2 includes three-letter identifiers
for such collections of languages, this part of ISO 639 provides
identifiers for individual languages and macrolanguages only.

Doug Ewell | Thornton, Colorado, USA
http://www.ewellic.org | @DougEwell ­

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