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[M_L] Re: Languages with writing systems?

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  • Don Osborn
    Hi Debbie, and thanks for bringing this up. Although a detailed discussion would get beyond the purpose of Multilingual_Literacy, I think it is helpful for
    Message 1 of 10 , Oct 22, 2006
      Hi Debbie, and thanks for bringing this up. Although a detailed
      discussion would get beyond the purpose of Multilingual_Literacy, I
      think it is helpful for those working on literacy, multilingualism,
      and multilingual literacy who are not already aware of it, to know
      about the ISO-639 system of language indicators or codes - anyone
      using information technology in these areas may well encounter it in
      one way or another.

      At the most fundamental level, ISO, of coures, is the International
      Organization for Standardization (apparently not an acronym), an
      international body validating (not sure if that's the right term)
      various different standards. More information is available at:

      Basically the ISO-639 system consists of sequences of letters (or
      numbers) that serve to identify languages. The original impetus I
      believe was bibiographic, but the driving force now seems to be a
      combination of the needs for internationalization/localization of
      software and internet content on the one hand, and concern about the
      future of the world's languages and linguistic diversity on the other.
      Any system of encoding something as difficult to define as "language"
      ends up with multiple answers (my interpretation).

      There are 6 levels, of which the first two are official, and the next
      4 in varying stages of finalization or preparation:
      1 - Two-letter codes (mathematically cannot cover the world's languages)
      2 - Three-letter codes (mathematically can cover the world's
      languages, but does not - I think this was a matter of lack of a
      systematic approach)
      3 - Three-letter codes (mathematically can cover the world's languages
      and does, using Ethnologue's definitions of languages; there are some
      differences with ISO-639-2)
      4 - Explanation of / rules for how to use the codes
      5 - Three-letter codes for language groups and families
      6 - Four-letter codes for subdivisions/variation of languages (e.g.,

      A more complete description with the proper names and all is available
      at & via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_639


      --- In Multilingual_Literacy@yahoogroups.com, "Debbie Garside"
      <debbie@...> wrote:
      > Hi Don
      > When the research is complete, the data for ISO 639-6 will give you
      much of
      > this information. It is due to be published as IS January 2008
      > Best regards
      > Debbie
      > (Editor ISO 639-6)
      > _____
      > From: qalam@yahoogroups.com [mailto:qalam@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
      Of Don
      > Osborn
      > Sent: 22 October 2006 14:45
      > To: Multilingual_Literacy@yahoogroups.com
      > Cc: qalam@yahoogroups.com
      > Subject: RE: [M_L] Re: Languages with writing systems?
      > And another one that gets to the difficulty in answering the
      question (now
      > I'm running across things looking for something else). From "Writing
      > unwritten languages," Drafted by Clinton Robinson with Karl Gadelii,
      > December 2003 at
      > http://portal.
      > R> unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=28301&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&UR
      > L_SECTION=201.html
      > -or-
      > http://tinyurl. <http://tinyurl.com/ykozlc> com/ykozlc
      > (in the context of the total number of languages in the world...)
      > "How many of these are written? It is extremely difficult to
      estimate how
      > many written and unwritten languages there are in the world, and
      there is no
      > established source of information. The difficulty in counting comes
      in part
      > from a lack of information of what is happening on the ground. The world
      > currently has no systematic way to collect data on the number of
      > which are developing their languages, what stage they have reached,
      > existing writing systems are actually used, or whether attempts have
      > made to develop writing systems that are not in use. The Ethnologue
      > sporadically whether a language 'has an orthography' or 'has an official
      > orthography', but does not present information on writing systems
      for each
      > language."
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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