Macrolanguages (was: Re: BCP 47)

Phillips, Addison addison at
Fri Mar 8 18:06:13 CET 2013

>> 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.

Actually, I stand behind the first part of that sentence. Even if 'de' were a macrolanguage around Swabian, I would not recommend using it because in most cases it would reduce the usability of the tag in which it appeared.

> 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.

That's correct. My reply was wrong to imply that. BCP 47 is quite clear about how macrolanguages are (and are not) assigned and such assignments strictly follow ISO 639-3. 

However, I would say that it isn't a good idea to run out and petition the RA to make more macrolanguages. BCP47 has extensive discussion in Section 4.1 about when and how to use macrolanguages: unless your application can derive additional meaning or compatibility by using one with an extended language subtag, it says they are best avoided. 


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