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Languages, ‘Languoids’, and ISO-codes for Language Diversity and Variation

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Title: Languages, ‘Languoids’, and ISO-codes for Language Diversity and Variation
Authors: Drude, Sebastian
Issue Date: 04 Mar 2017
Description: There is a strong need to uniquely and unequivocally refer to languages and similar entities – not only by linguists concerned with language diversity, but also by institutions such as language repositories, OLAC, LinguistList, WALS, Wikipedia, UNICODE, etc. ISO 639, possibly the most used ISO standard of all, has been answering this need in many domains. When ISO 639 3 was established based on SIL’s Ethnologue (Lewis et al. 2015), it was widely taken up, despite criticism (e.g. Epps et al. 2006) and inaccuracies and problems persisting until today (Hammarstöm 2015). In the future there will also be a growing need for identification of language varieties. A first proposal for ISO 639-6, covering linguistic varieties, has been discarded as clearly inadequate. There are several alternatives, in particular the Glottolog, which uses a new terminological conception around the term ‘languoid’. Based on the author’s background in language documentation, and on his participation in ISO/TC 37/SC 2/WG 1 (responsible for ISO 639), this contribution offers an insider’s view on the discussion about ISO 639 and related work dealing with linguistic diversity, focusing on the following points: • Even if arguably best combined with other catalogues such as Glottolog, ISO 639 is too important for diversity linguists not to care about and not to get more involved. • Many of the criticisms in Morey et al.’s paper and similar recent notes (e.g. by Haspelmath) are based on mis¬conceptions of the role of ISO and Ethnologue. • The term ‘languoid’ may well be a useful cover term for languages, language varieties and perhaps language families, but the theoretical conception offered by Cysow and Good (2013) to underpin this term (and the related notions ‘doculect’ and ‘glossonym’) is inadequate as a conception to formalize the notion of ‘language’. • An appropriate way of cataloguing and coding languoids crucially needs an answer to the question what names like ‘English’ or codes like ‘eng’ actually refer to. Here, a conception of languages and similar entities as sets, allowing for fuzzy and overlapping borders, is offered. • The topology of ‘languoids’ is empirically more complex than what can be covered by the traditional triad ‘family’ – ‘language’ – ‘dialect’ (more general: ‘variety’), implying we should expand and refine our model, not abandon these terms. • A more appropriate framework for identifying linguistic variation (accepted as the basis for a new working item in ISO TC 37) is outlined. References Cysouw, Michael & Jeff Good (2013). Languoid, Doculect, Glossonym: Formalizing the notion "language". Language Documentation and Conservation 7. 331-359. See also a Blog contribution: Cysouw, Michael (2014-01-04). Languoid, Doculect and Glossonym: Formalizing the Notion 'Language'. Diversity Linguistics Comments. Epps, Patience (2006). In opposition to adopting Ethnologue's language codes for ISO 639-3. SSILA Bulletin 246. Hammarström, Harald (2015). Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: A comprehensive review. : Language 91/3, 723-737 Haspelmath, Martin (2013-12-04). Can language identity be standardized? On Morey et al.'s critique of ISO 639 3. Diversity Linguistics Comments. Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: Morey, Stephen & Post, Mark W. & Friedman, Victor A. (2013). The language codes of ISO 639: a premature, ultimately unobtainable, and possibly damaging standardization. Handout of a talk given at the PARDISEC RRR Conference, December 2013. Version for publication is in preparation. Nordhoff, Sebastian & Hammarström, Harald & Forkel, Robert & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) (2013). Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Accessed 2016-08-31.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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