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ISO 639 language codes in language documentation

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Title:ISO 639 language codes in language documentation
Authors:Wittenburg, Peter
Cox, Chris
Budin, Gerhard
Garside, Debbie
Contributors:Wittenburg, Peter (speaker)
Cox, Chris (speaker)
Budin, Gerhard (speaker)
Garside, Debbie (speaker)
Date Issued:14 Mar 2009
Description:In language documentation it is a necessity to uniquely identify the documented language/dialect in a unique way. In general researchers use a specific name which has been established due to scholarly discourse or interaction with the language community. However, names are often spelled differently, various names are handled by different groups for the same language and even sometimes it may occur that a single name is used to refer to different languages. So language names only clarify for a limited group which language is meant. Language codes in the contrary were created to uniquely identify the language in focus. Statistics on 27.000 metadata descriptions in the language resource archive of the Max Planck Institute has shown that researchers, however, are often reluctant to use language codes. While the language name element was used in almost 100% of the cases exhibiting all the possible pitfalls, the language code element was only used in 40%, although the tools offered the Ethnologue list for easy classification. Some major reasons are: • unawareness of the language codes systems • disagreement with the classification system despite the fact that standards may offer alternative names • unwillingness to use codes due to potential political impacts This presentation provides information on recent and future changes to the ISO 639 family of standards which deals exclusively with codes for language families, languages and dialects. Recently, pushed by the linguistic community it was recognized that the two- and three-letter codes (ISO 639-1/2) were not at all sufficient to identify the majority of the 6500 languages spoken today. Therefore, ISO adopted the Ethnologue code worked out by SIL as 639-3 since it is already widely used and has a broad coverage. However, 639-3 cannot be seen as final step along the road, since there are large communities that do not accept the chosen classification scheme and the process that is not based on regionally accepted expert communities. Therefore, work was started to specify ISO 639-4 to regulate operations within the ISO 639 family; ISO 639-5 to provide representations for the identification of language groupings and ISO 639-6, a hierarchical system to provide four letter codes for the identification of linguistic entities to a level of granularity not already included within the preceding standards. The talk will discuss the need for involving regional expert communities to comply with the basic ISO rules.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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