SIL’s Ethnologue and ISO Cooperate to Create a New Standard for Language Codes

In 2005, SIL’s Ethnologue project working with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) developed a new set of three-letter codes to standardize the identification of the languages of the world.  The new standard has been labelled ISO-639-3.  This standard will enable the creation of three-letter codes for all the languages of the world.

An earlier standard, ISO-639-2 also uses three-letter codes, but it has codes for a much smaller set of languages, and some of the codes refer to macrolanguages rather than actual languages.

For example in ISO 639-2 the macrolanguage which is comprised of the four related languages spoken by the Tuareg peoples was given a name and code.  The new standard still contains the same designation for the macrolanguage: Tamashek (tmh).

However, with the advent of ISO-639-3, there are now standard names and codes for each of the four related languages spoken by the Tuareg peoples of Niger, Mali, and Algeria.  The names and codes are as follows:

Since each of these four languages exist across country boundaries, use multiple scripts, and are spoken by people with overlapping or similar names, this new standard is a tremendous development.  It provides standardized and precise terminology for anyone who wants to work in or speak precisely about the language or languages of the Tuareg people.

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