From: Lyle Campbell <lyle.campbelllinguistics.utah.edu>
Subject: Call: Corrections to Ethnologue's Standardized Lang Codes
SSILA (Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas) is
sending the following announcement to its members, seeking corrections in the
Ethnologue standardized language codes for American Indian languages (indigenous
languages of the Americas). Any changes involving non-Native American languages
anyone would like to make should be undertaken either by individuals or by other
organizations representing different language families and regions of the world,
and sent directly to Ethnologue.
Message for SSILA Members:
Members of SSILA are invited, indeed urged, to submit corrections to the
standardized language codes of SIL's Ethnologue. This is important for reasons
we attempt to explain below.
The set of 3-letter language codes of Ethnologue 15 became an international
standard in 2005. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization,
http://www.iso.org) decided then to expand its 3-letter code standard (ISO
639-2) beyond the 516 codes it contains, so as to include all the known
languages in the world. SIL's Ethnologue codes were adapted for this purpose,
and adopted as the new expanded ISO 639-3 draft standard. This comprises
3-letter codes, and the name of the language in English and French. In the
process, SIL changed about 400 of its approximately 7300 3-letter language codes
to accommodate the merger with the new ISO standard.
SIL is the "administrative authority" for the coding of living languages --
supervising the addition of new language codes, merging codes, removing codes,
etc. LinguistList provides this service for the extinct and classical languages
that Ethnologue does not include. These two sets -- Ethnologue and LinguistList
-- together make up the ISO 639-3 draft standard.
The problems to be addressed (these are of several different kinds):
1. Cases where a single language is assumed by Ethnologue to be multiple
languages, and so has multiple codes.
2. Languages where multiple languages are assumed by Ethnologue to be a single
language, and so have a single code.
3. Cases where Ethnologue assigns a code to a language that does not appear to
4. Cases where known languages have no code at all.
5. Cases where the main Ethnologue name for a language is not the name by which
the language is most commonly known (either by speakers or by scholars and others).
Family classifications, as well as more recent and accurate information on
numbers of speakers and their locations, are not part of the ISO 639-3 standard.
However, they are recorded in the Ethnologue database. Where these are out of
step with consensus views of scholars, comment is invited.
There are forms that need to be completed for ISO in order to document and
provide a rationale for such changes. Recommended changes involving Native
American languages should be submitted on these forms (instructions on obtaining
forms below) to the SSILA Committee on Language Codes, the members of which are:
Willem Adelaar, Gary Holton, Marianne Mithun, Eduardo Rivail Ribeiro, and Lyle
Campbell (committee chair). Please send these by email to:
Lyle Campbell (lyle.campbelllinguistics.utah.edu) and
Marianne Mithun (mithunlinguistics.ucsb.edu)
Note that Campbell will be doing fieldwork between April 27 and August 1, and
will have no access to email during that period. The committee will provide the
initial vetting and processing of the requests and then submit them together.
The Committee's role is significant, since Ethnologue has only a small staff and
will not be able to process lots of requests rapidly.
Requests for changes to the standard (whether they involve a new language to be
identified, a split of an existing language, a merger of two existing languages,
or a change of the English or French names) will ultimately need to be submitted
to the ISO Registrar, Joan Spanne, from whom the forms that must be filled out
for this process can be obtained. The e-mail address of the registrar is
ISO639-3sil.org. Note that the registrar is not part of the Ethnologue office.
However, as stated, it is recommended that these forms be submitted to the
SSILA Committee on the Language Codes first.
Requests for changes, corrections and updates which are not part of the
ISO standard, will be communicated to Ethnologue_Editorsil.org, again,
through the SSILA Committee. The SSILA Committee on Language Codes will receive
requests of both sorts (both for the ISO Registrar and for Ethnologue editors),
vet and process them, and then pass them on
officially from SSILA.
The Ethnologue staff are willing to be helpful to others in this process but
they do not manage the process themselves, and their staff is very limited (at
Where codes and information can be found:
For general information, see:
The full list of all ISO 639-3 codes can be found at:
A more detailed listing of codes and the countries in which they are found is
available at http://www.ethnologue.com/web.asp for living languages, and at
http://linguistlist.org/ancient-extinct.html for ancient and extinct languages.
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
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