In reviewing the information gathered so far, there are the following
issues concerning the definition of Low German as a language in ISO 639.
Since the request was only to define in ISO 639-2 that is what we are
1. Low German as dialect or as separate language
If we consider Low German against the proposed list of criteria to
establish a separate language code for a dialect, we could say:
definitely yes to 1, 5, and 7. For 2, the name is somewhat distinctive,
although the term is used for the dialects of Germany as well as the wider
grouping of West Germanic languages that includes Dutch and English. The
latter usage is in contrast with the High German dialects. We have no
information on standardization or educational status. It does seem to
have a tradition of literary usage, and there is a radio station in
Germany that broadcasts in Low German.
It seems to satisfy at least 4 of the criteria.
The criteria distributed yesterday:
These are suggestions for evaluating the merit of including a
separate language code for a dialect.
1) Does the required number of documents exist? (This is, of
2) Does the dialect have a distinctive name? A name such as
Parisian French isn't particularly distinctive, being based on
the combination of a place name with the name of the language.
3) Does the dialect have a degree of standardization, such as a
4) Is the dialect taught separately in schools?
5) Is there significant variation from the standard language?
6) Is the dialect sometimes considered a separate language?
7) Is there a tradition of literary usage or is the dialect used
in media such as radio, motion pictures, television?
The more "yes" answers that occur for a dialect, the more likely
it is that a separate code would be useful.
(I do realize that Sten made some thoughtful comments about these
yesterday that I am thinking about.)
2. What code to assign.
According to working principles in:
* An effort is made to derive a language code from a language's name for
itself, when possible. For historical reasons, some codes may be based on
the name of a language in English.
* New language codes shall be based on the vernacular form of name unless
- another language code is requested by the country or countries using
the language or the sponsor submitting the request;
- if the vernacular cannot be determined; or
- if a suitable code is not available
In this case, there is some evidence that Low Saxon and Low German are the
same language. If these are the same, our sources at the Library of
Congress primarily use Low German; we also don't feel certain that they
are the same. In any case, it is not clear what the vernacular name of Low
Saxon is (Neddersassisch or Nedersaksisch in Ethnologue?). The vernacular
for Low German seems to be Plattduutsch (umlauts over each "u") with
varying other spellings in other places (e.g. Mennonite German is
Plautdietsch; also saw Plattduetsche). It seems also to be spoken in other
places, such as the U.S., Latin America, Canada, Russia, etc.
The submitter of the request did not represent the country using the
language. He did suggest a code that had already been used, but said they
could change to whatever we chose.
The choices seem to be:
- pld (based on Plattduutsch or some other variant)
- sak (based on Saksysch? but we aren't sure that these are the same
and the request was for Low German)
- nds (based on Nedersksisch or other variant; same comment as above)
- gml (based on German, Low; proposed code by submitter)
I think we should use a vernacular form; I'm not sure that we have one for
"Low Saxon". To me it is still questionable whether Low German or Low
Saxon are the same (Ethnologie considers them separate). My proposal is to
conduct the vote to include the following entry (using the technique of
giving a variant following a semicolon):
pld Low German; German, Low
pld German, Low; Low German
Please comment. I would like to send out the vote by next week. I do hope
that all of you on the JAC who have not participated in this discussion