proposed ISO 639 change for "arn"

Gordon P. Hemsley gphemsley at
Tue Dec 11 21:36:34 CET 2012

On Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 2:58 PM, Doug Ewell <doug at> wrote:
> "Gordon P. Hemsley" <gphemsley at gmail dot com> wrote:
>> I was under the impression that "macrolanguage" was for languages that
>> were genetically related and "collection" was for languages that are
>> commonly grouped together for reasons other than genetic relationship
>> (e.g. location of use). That understanding does not coincide with the
>> way you just explained it.
> A macrolanguage is defined as ISO 639-3 defines it. To be a
> macrolanguage, the entity must be perceived, for whatever reason, as a
> single language in some scenarios and as multiple languages in other
> scenarios. It is not a special type of collection.

According to RFC 5646, Section 3.1.11:

   o  'macrolanguage' - Indicates a macrolanguage as defined by ISO
      639-3 (see Section 3.1.10).  A macrolanguage is a cluster of
      closely related languages that are sometimes considered to be a
      single language.

   o  'collection' - Indicates a subtag that represents a collection of
      languages, typically related by some type of historical,
      geographical, or linguistic association.  Unlike a macrolanguage,
      a collection can contain languages that are only loosely related
      and a collection cannot be used interchangeably with languages
      that belong to it.

RFC 5646, Section 3.1.10:

   ISO 639-3 defines the term "macrolanguage" to mean "clusters of
   closely-related language varieties that [...] can be considered
   distinct individual languages, yet in certain usage contexts a single
   language identity for all is needed".  These correspond to codes
   registered in ISO 639-2 as individual languages that were found to
   correspond to more than one language in ISO 639-3.

Given those definitions, it doesn't seem like my understanding is too
far off the mark. The term "linguistic association" is a bit vague,
and I wouldn't immediately understand that to mean language families
like the examples you gave ("Romance languages" and "Austro-Asiatic

Nonetheless, your explanations fit within those definitions, as well.

Bringing this back on topic, it doesn't seem like either of these
designations would be appropriate here. I still think the simplest
thing to do would be to simply deprecate "arn" and issue a new code
for the language, despite the ramifications it will have on deployed
software; doing anything else would have more complicated (and,
potentially, more serious) ramifications, I think.

And if such a situation arises again in the hypothetical future, it
can be addressed again then.

Gordon P. Hemsley
me at

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