Registration request for new subtag

Mats Blakstad mats.gbproject at
Sat Nov 16 22:46:47 CET 2013

In general you raise an interesting debate. What makes something "just a
dialect" and when can we consider it as a different language? This
questions is not only about mutual intelligibility, but also about history
and identity.

For orthography, many languages have ISO 639 code without having their own
standard orthography, and it should be possible to register a variant code
without having a standard orthography for it. We translated our project
into Barlavente dialect as a gesture for people living in the Barlavente
Islands. The main point is that we need to be able to have a tag to
separate these two translations from each other (the alternative is that we
make our own). If it should be variant code or language code is hard to
answer - Do you have guidelines for this difference? It would make it
easier to find out. Personally I think that this difference is not always
that easy to make, there can be several borderline cases.

I wrote to my collaborator in Cabo Verde, Francisco Lopes, that is a
native Barlavente speaker and have studies the Sotavento dialect for more
than 18 years, and he wrote this:

"*In fact the Capeverdean language, just as any language in the world has
its dialects. There are 9 inhabited islands, and each Island has its own
dialect. A part from the Island dialects, there two macro-dialects which
are: the Sotavento Dialects for the Islands in southern region of the
country (Islands of Maio, Santiago, Fogo and Brava); and the Barlavento
dialect for the islands of the Northern region of the country (Islands of
Santo Antão, São Vicente, São Nicolau, Sal and Boa Vista). *

*So both the Sotavento and the Barlavento dialects have sub-dialects. They
are not two different languages at all. So I will advice a sub-code, just
as you mentioned in your e-mail. This is the trend linguist authorities in
the country is following - I was recently in Cape Verde, and October 19th,
I attended a seminary promoted by the President of the Cape Verde, and Phd
Manuel Veiga. And this very issue was discussed - in the process of trying
to make Capeverdean Language as one of the official languages of the
country, the idea is to use what they called The Barlavento branch (having
the islands of São Vicente as the reference dialect), and the Sotavento
branch  (having the islands of Santiago as the reference dialect).*

*So it will be a great mistake, as for now to consider the two dialects as
two different languages*"

So for me it seems clear that we only need a variant tag for this.

2013/11/16 Peter Constable <petercon at>

> Not being an expert in these varieties, I have no strong reason to believe
> that "dialect" wouldn't be correct. But there have been statements that do
> call this into question:
> - The registration request has the statement, "There is low mutual
> intelligibility between the dialects."
> - Mats indicated that content will have to be translated separately for
> two varieties.
> - Ethnologue indicates that there is a standard orthography for
> Kabuverdianu. That suggests that the distinctions in question are not
> orthographic alone, and that at least one or the other may not be the same
> language as that assumed in "standard" literature.
> Those statements, make me a bit inclined to take as the null hypothesis
> that these are separate languages and ask for explanation as to why that
> should not be the case. I'm reminded that just a few years ago the ISO 639
> JAC had to deal with splitting off Latgalian from Latvian. This was
> actually non-trivial. If this current case later becomes like the Latgalian
> case, with a request to split off another language from Kabuverdianu, then
> having that happen some years down the road after variant subtags are
> registered will make things far more complicated than figuring it out right
> from the outset. I realize that Mats may be looking to get a tag now, but
> doing it wrong might result in much greater costs later.
> Hence the questions I'm raising. I'm not completely satisfied simply
> because you're satisfied. I think it prudent to get more clarification on
> this situation before we rush in headlong.
> Peter
> -----Original Message-----
> From: ietf-languages-bounces at [mailto:
> ietf-languages-bounces at] On Behalf Of Michael Everson
> Sent: November 15, 2013 1:42 PM
> To: ietf-languages at
> Subject: Re: Registration request for new subtag
> On 14 Nov 2013, at 17:44, Peter Constable <petercon at> wrote:
> > If there is low mutual intelligibility between the varieties, that
> raises the question as to whether they should, instead, be considered
> distinct, individual languages - in which case separate ISO 639-3 IDs would
> be more appropriate than a variant subtag.
> I'm satisfied that "dialect" is appropriate. I also would not want Mats
> and his colleagues to have to wait for ISO 639-3 to process their request.
> Michael Everson *
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