Early Modern English

Doug Ewell doug at ewellic.org
Sun Jan 22 18:31:33 CET 2012

Yury Tarasievich <yury dot tarasievich at gmail dot com> wrote:

> The section 2.2.5 of RFC5646 does not explicitly
> require variant subtag to be context free or to
> refer to one language only, which is also what
> common sense suggests, as subtags are intended
> to form a context hierarchy, and are not
> supposed to be regarded out of context.

There's a fine line here. RFC 5646, Section 3.5 (page 44) says:

  Requests to add a 'Prefix' field to a variant subtag that imply a
  different semantic meaning SHOULD be rejected.  For example, a
  request to add the prefix "de" to the subtag '1994' so that the tag
  "de-1994" represented some German dialect or orthographic form would
  be rejected.  The '1994' subtag represents a particular Slovenian
  orthography, and the additional registration would change or blur the
  semantic meaning assigned to the subtag.  A separate subtag SHOULD be
  proposed instead.

This is the basis for my objection to using the same variant subtag for 
English and Cornish, when the subtag is supposed to refer to variations 
that are specific to the language(s) in question. For English we have 
specific differences in grammar, vocabulary, pragmatics (thou vs. 
ye/you), spelling, and even punctuation. Were the differences between 
Tudor Cornish and Modern Cornish the same, or just the same in 
principle? Over the years, probably most languages have made spelling 
more uniform, and grammar simpler.

RFC 5646 does allow variants to refer to more than one language, and 
even to no specific language at all, meaning that the variety applies to 
all. This is useful for subtags like 'baku1926' and 'fonipa', where the 
use of a standardized alphabet or a special phonetic alphabet is 
essentially the same no matter which language is being written. RFC 5646 
also allows users to use a variant with a prefix that is not on the 
variant's list, as long as the resulting tag is still meaningful. I 
don't think this is the situation that applies to English and Cornish; 
the changes there are specific to the particular languages.

This is different from saying that *subtag values themselves* must 
indicate the language, and contain context. I agree with Yury here. If 
it is true that the Description field, and not the subtag value, 
indicates the meaning of the subtag, then we ought to be able to 

  Type: variant
  Subtag: earlymod
  Description: Early Modern English
  Prefix: en

and let the Description field make it self-evident that the variant is 
strictly limited to use with English. RFC 5646 does not require variant 
subtag values to be constructed so as to attempt to enforce this.

> E.g., to me, the hypothetical
> 'academy'/'academic' subtag would make perfect
> sense, and it could be further precised with
> year subtag, and would (or could) already have
> context (region) set. So, '-academic-1959'
> instead of '-1959acad', and now
> '-academic-2010', too (in the Belarusian case
> mentioned by you).

Years are tricky. Registering '1959' and '2010' as variants with prefix 
"be-academic" would mean (see 3.5 above) that those subtags could not be 
overloaded to refer to any other changes that took place in 1959 or 
2010. We are already in that situation with German.

> The 'tudor' refers to the period, and sort of
> makes sense, from the same point of view, but
> not from the 'the subtag must be context free'
> POV. Likewise, the 'earlymod', which too might
> be used for another language's Early Modern variant.

'tudor' is not the worst choice we have seen (I'm willing to settle for 
it), but it has been pointed out that many works in Early Modern 
English, including some of the best-known, were written outside the 
Tudor period.

Taking a variant whose Description field is "Early Modern English" and 
applying it to some other language does not strike me as an instance of 
"tagging content wisely". See Section 4.1.

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

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