ELL: Re: new work on ISO 639

Peter Constable Peter_Constable at SIL.ORG
Sat Aug 24 19:04:34 UTC 2002

On 08/24/2002 08:48:56 PM "Julia Sallabank" wrote:

>I would be grateful if someome could explain what this means!

Sorry, I assumed most would be famliar with both ISO 639 and with

ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) maintains a family of
standards for identifiers for languages; these standards are designated
ISO 639. ISO 639-1 (part 1) provides a set of 2-letter identifiers, such
as en (English), fr (French), de (German), etc. ISO 639-2 (part 2)
provides a set of 3-letter identifiers, such as eng (English), fra
(French), deu (German), etc. These are used in a number of information
technologies, such as HTML.

ISO 639-1 was developed for terminology applications. It includes
identifiers for a relatively small number of languages, as it has strict
criteria for inclusion -- only languages that have specialised
terminologies. ISO 639-2 was based mainly on identifiers used by
librarians. It includes more identifiers than part 1, but still relatively
few, as it also has strict criteria for inclusion (but not as strict as
part 1) -- only languages that have significant literatures (formally, the
requirement is that an agency has to have 50 documents in the language, or
5 agencies must have 50 documents between them).

Needless to say, the vast majority of endangered languages (perhaps all?)
are not represented in ISO 639-1 or ISO 639-2.

Further info on ISO 639 is available at

A new part of ISO 639 is going to be developed that will incorporate all
the individual languages catalogued in the Ethnologue, plus other historic
and constructed languages that are not included in the Ethnologue as they
have not been within its scope. Further info on the Ethnologue is
available at http://www.ethnologue.com.

Hope that helps.

- Peter

Peter Constable

Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
Tel: +1 972 708 7485
E-mail: <peter_constable at sil.org>

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