FYI: ISO 639-5 reconfirmation ballot

Peter Constable petercon at
Mon Jul 18 22:09:40 CEST 2016

John, look at it this way: If 639-5 were withdrawn, items in the LSTR would not be impacted, but we'd kind of compelled to start a new round of revision to BCP 47 to eliminate normative reference to a no-longer-existing standard. I think it's simpler and preferable to just have 639-5 reconfirmed.


-----Original Message-----
From: John Cowan [mailto:cowan at] On Behalf Of John Cowan
Sent: Saturday, July 16, 2016 8:34 AM
To: Mark Davis ☕️ <mark at>
Cc: Peter Constable <petercon at>; ietf-languages <ietf-languages at>
Subject: Re: FYI: ISO 639-5 reconfirmation ballot

Mark Davis ☕️ scripsit:

> I disagree. If it is withdrawn, and replaced by something else, it 
> still orphans the codes in the language registry.

And what consequences does that have?  Like the deprecated tags, they just sit there, and people can use them if they want to.

> And if it is replaced by something that doesn't use the same namespace 
> (a statement like "why use alpha-3 codes which look identical to 
> language codes?" is worrisome) it will cause no end of confusion in 
> implementations.

Only if we incorporate the "something else" into BCP 47, which would require a new RFC and IMO does not make sense to do anyway.

> > And it is nowhere near complete enough to be useful.
> It should be fleshed out, in that case. Clearly linguists may also 
> need a more elaborate structure, with more information that would be 
> of little interest to lay people. And for that it could be useful to 
> have an *additional* part.

"Language" is a concept with a pretty strong basis in fact, though there are edge cases and politicized questions.  "Language family" is a purely theoretical construct and subject to constant change.  Right now, for example, there is an ongoing debate about Sino-Tibetan: is it really made up of a Sinitic branch and a Tibeto-Burman branch, or is Sinitic nested within some branch of Tibeto-Burman?  (People who take this view generally refer to the family as Trans-Himalayan.)  If the latter is established, then the codes "sit" and "tbq" will be of dubious utility.

In short, a language-tagging standard that is all about stability shouldn't incorporate language families at all.  The ones we have now, we should keep in the name of that same stability.  Otherwise, forget it.

John Cowan        cowan at
I am expressing my opinion.  When my honorable and gallant friend is called, he will express his opinion.  This is the process which we
call Debate.                   --Winston Churchill

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