Macrolanguages (was: Re: BCP 47)

Doug Ewell doug at
Fri Mar 8 17:48:40 CET 2013

Phillips, Addison <addison at lab126 dot com> wrote:

>> Why doesn't Swabian have German as a macrolanguage?
> The short answer is: because ISO 639-3 says so (or, rather, fails to
> say so).

This is the answer that Benson needed.

> But these generally do not convey additional utility for the uses to
> which language tags are mostly applied and the additional complexity
> of macrolanguages is something that generally this group tries to
> avoid.

This is NOT the answer that Benson needed.

This group isn't empowered to avoid the additional complexity of
macrolanguages. BCP 47 has a mechanism in place to deal with them. The
mechanism was an uneasy compromise and it does add complexity to the
tagging model, but when 639-3/RA decides to assign a macrolanguage,
that's pretty much that; the mechanism kicks in.

To say that the group tries to avoid the complexity of macrolanguages
implies that we can somehow override the RA's decision. I don't think we
want to perpetuate that belief among users.

Doug Ewell | Thornton, CO, USA | @DougEwell ­

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