You have been nominated to participate in a survey being
conducted under the auspices of ISO Technical Committee 37,
Sub-committee 2 (TC37/SC2), which maintains the ISO 639
standards for language coding, in relation to possible revision
of the ISO 639 standards.
The ISO 639 family of standards was developed in multiple
parts at different times and in response to different perceived
- ISO 639-1 derives from ISO work first done some decades ago
to code primarily the most major languages.
- ISO 639-2 was developed in the late 1990s to provide more
expanded language coverage, particularly for the needs of
libraries and documentation.
- ISO 639-3 was developed in the 2000s to provide
comprehensive coverage of languages for use in a broad range of
applications, such as the Internet or in general linguistic
- ISO 639-5 was developed in the 2000s to provide coding of
language groupings and collections.
- ISO 639-6 was developed to provide coding of language
- ISO 639-4 was developed to provide a general framework
covering all parts of ISO 639, along with guidelines on language
Parts 1, 2 and 3 are the most widely used parts of ISO 639,
sometimes separately, and sometimes in combination. While the
parts were created at different times with slightly different
objectives, the different parts impact one another. For that
reason, the language code tables for parts 1, 2, 3 and 5 are
necessarily maintained as a coherent and unified set of coded
concepts. To date, each has had a different Registration
Authority to administer that portion of the code set, though a
Joint Advisory Committee was established to provide oversight
and coordination among the different Registration Authorities.
The Registration Authorities for the various parts of ISO 639
- InfoTerm (Part 1)
- Library of Congress (Parts 2 and 5)
- SIL International (Part 3)
- GeoLang (Part 6)
The Joint Advisory Committee is comprised of representatives
from the Registration Authorities plus representatives appointed
by ISO TC 37 and ISO TC 46, per the specifications given in the
various parts of ISO 639.
In view of the close inter-relationship between the parts of
ISO 639 and the need for coordinated maintenance, TC37/SC2 has
recently begun to consider whether the ISO 639 standards should
be revised into a single, unified standard, possibly with a
single Registration Authority or other maintenance body (yet to
be determined). TC37/SC2 is aware that the ISO 639 standards are
among the most widely-used of ISO standards, and that a major
revision of this nature could have significant impact for a wide
range of users and applications.
With that consideration in mind, an ad-hoc working group has
been charged to solicit input from users and key stakeholders of
the ISO 639 standards regarding requirements, concerns or
suggestions in relation to such a possible revision. TC37/SC2 is
concerned that any changes to the status quo serve to solve
existing problems rather than to create new ones. Your input in
this process is greatly appreciated.
Melinda Lyons and Bill Rivers, on behalf of the Ad-hoc
Working Group for the Revision of ISO 639