request for subtag for Elfdalian

Peter Constable petercon at
Mon Feb 29 17:48:12 CET 2016

I've been completely absorbed for some time in an entirely different space. I don't recall all of the facts of this situation, but can make a few comments.

@Michael: The appeal process for ISO 639 is no different than for UTC or WG2: When a proposal isn't accepted, someone prepares a revised proposal that responds to concerns or counter-arguments that have been raised by other parties.

@John: Your comparison to English as a "roof" for Welsh is an apples-to-oranges comparison because the two are from distinct language families.

I had a social visit with old SIL colleagues a few weeks back, and while at their center Dallas had a chance to chat with some of the people working on 639-3. They are looking at situations like Elfdalian and trying to assess how the criteria given in 639-3 can be refined. It's clear that every effort at language coding has faced challenges in applying some criteria for categorizing language varieties. This is true for 639-3, though the 639-3 RA are the only ones I've seen really trying to grapple with finding the right model that makes sense from both sociolinguistic and IT perspectives. What the Elfdalian case has encountered is questions as to whether there is a set of criteria that apply in exactly the same way in all sociolinguistic contexts, or if there should be some adjustment in the criteria for different sociolinguistic contexts.

The key factor in regard to sociolinguistic context is the degree to which language standardization has occurred within the same language family and region.

Consider, for example, Zapotec language varieties. If someone were to do some on-the-ground research on intelligibility levels and comes back saying that the variety spoken in San Such-and-such village should be considered a distinct language, the only questions will be whether the research needs additional corroboration. And nobody ever questions that English or French are languages. Those are the easy ends of the spectrum.

But now suppose we were evaluating, on the one hand, whether a particular Romani community in Great Britain spoke a distinct Romani language, and whether the colloquial English variety spoken in Inverness should be considered a distinct language. Here, the contexts are different because of the degree of existing language standardization is so different. And the implications of the two changes are also different. If "Invernessese" is a distinct language, then that's a precedent to say there are lots of other distinct language that, until now, have been considered English dialects.

This isn't to say that the most recent decision regarding Elfdalian is the right one. Only that there appear to be issues bigger than just Elfdalian that they are grappling with. 

In the context of the Germannic languages of Sweden, there will be follow-on implications as Elfdalian is not the only "dialect of Swedish" that is a potential candidate for being carved off as separate languages. In the draft code table that accompanies the DIS for 639-3, Delacarlian, Jamtska and Scanian had been listed as distinct, coded languages. It was part of the compromise necessary in the development of international standards that those be removed to accommodate national body comments. If Elfdalian had also been in that list at that time, I'm certain it would have been treated the same as those three.

Again, I'm not on top of all of the facts in this case. But it seems to me that some are concluding that the RA decision is obviously wrong, whereas it's not to me that the situation is obvious. 

Elfdalian may be developing in the direction of language standardization, at least on a local level even if not nationally recognized as such; and perhaps is developing more so or faster than other varieties. Should language coding standards enter in to assert status, or allow time to pass for status to be demonstrated? If this were a discussion in UTC or WG2 about some proposed script that has an evolving status, the default stance within those bodies would be to wait to see how the situation develops.

Hope that's of some use, even if not aligned with the thrust of this thread.

-----Original Message-----
From: Ietf-languages [mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at] On Behalf Of Michael Everson
Sent: Monday, February 29, 2016 4:28 AM
To: ietflang IETF Languages Discussion <ietf-languages at>
Subject: Re: request for subtag for Elfdalian

On 29 Feb 2016, at 02:13, Mats Blakstad <mats.gbproject at> wrote:
> So who will write that appeal?

You will, with some help from me, and hopefully from John and Mark and Doug and Peter. And anyone else on this list who wants to help. 

I have already written some argument, but as I say, we need to test this situation. Our standard should supplement the ISO standard, but where the RA has made an obvious mistake, they need to be told that their choice is going to cause problems if we go ahead and assign a code which they will certainly approve later anyway. 

> And could someone please explain more about "the ramifications it could have on data”?

Data tagged with our subtag now will have that tag deprecated later. This is not a good idea. 

Michael Everson *

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