About 10 years ago when the development of ISO 639-2 began, the Library of
Congress looked at its files and agreed to change these codes for
consistency with the then proposed ISO codes. We looked at all those that
varied from the ones being proposed. Note that the principle at the time
was that if an alpha-2 code existed in ISO 639, the alpha-3 code should
contain those 2 letters. There were a number of alpha-3 codes that did not
satisfy this criteria. Only those that were not widely used (i.e. number
of bibliographic records was small) were agreed to be changed because the
impact would be less. For those that had a large number of records that we
knew would result in a larger impact to change, we suggested using our
existing codes. This is the origin of the 23 alternative codes.
It is very rare that codes have been changed in the code list that has
been used in libraries for 30 years. Changing these currently has been an
exception in the history of the list, but we agreed to do it to advance
the international standard.
On Wed, 29 Mar 2000, John Clews wrote:
> In message <[log in to unmask]>
> Rebecca wrote via
> [log in to unmask]:
> > We are particularly concerned with stability in the ISO language codes,
> > since these have been in use for many years in bibliographic applications.
> However, it is proposed to change around of dozen of those "stable"
> MARC language codes in order to conform to ISO 639-2.
> Just out of interest, why were those codes changed from the MARC
> codes when ISO 639-2 was being developed? I have not been able to
> find any documentation on this point, despite asking. Do any other
> members of the the ISO 639 Joint Advisory Committee know?
> I look forward to hearing from you
> Best regards
> John Clews
> John Clews, SESAME Computer Projects, 8 Avenue Rd, Harrogate, HG2 7PG
> tel: +44 1423 888 432; fax: + 44 1423 889061;
> Email: [log in to unmask]
> Committee Chair of ISO/TC46/SC2: Conversion of Written Languages;
> Committee Member of ISO/IEC/JTC1/SC22/WG20: Internationalization;
> Committee Member of CEN/TC304: Information and Communications
> Technologies: European Localization Requirements
> Committee Member of TS/1: Terminology (UK national member body of
> ISO/TC37: Terminology)
> Committee Member of the Foundation for Endangered Languages;
> Committee Member of ISO/IEC/JTC1/SC2: Coded Character Sets