Criteria for ISO 639-2
This document was revised on 22 Sept. 2006 as approved by the ISO 639
Joint Advisory Committee on 10 June 2006. This replaces the published text
ISO 639-2, sections 4.1.1, 4.1.3, and A.2.1.
ISO 639-2 defines a proper subset
of the totality of alpha-3 language identifiers
parts of ISO 639. The primary applications for which ISO 639-2 is intended
libraries, archives and other documentation applications. Thus, the
general criterion for
inclusion of a language in ISO 639-2 is that there is a significant
body of literature in
the language or describing the language. In order to establish this,
objective and subjective metrics will be applied.
- Number of documents.
The request for a new language identifier shall include evidence that
holds 50 different documents in the language or that five agencies
hold a total of
50 different documents among them in the language. Documents include
forms of material and are not limited to text. This is a necessary
requirement, but not sufficient in and of itself. In addition the
following requirements will be considered.
- Size and variety of literature.
The size and variety of the literature in the language,
be it written or oral, will be
considered and should be documented in the proposal.
The documentation may be in the form of reference to library holdings
bibliographies or more general statements quantifying the literature
- National or regional support
The proposal should preferably be explicitly supported by
a national or regional
language authority or standardizing body. If such support for some
unobtainable, a recommendation from another authority or language
organization will be taken into account.
- Formal or official status
If the language in question has some sort of “official” status,
this status will greatly support the proposal.
The assignment of formal status to languages is in no way consistently
throughout the world, and the lack of such status is not a negative
other requirements are met.
- Formal education
If the language is used as a means of instruction in formal
education on any
level, documentation of this use will support the proposal. Teaching
language is also relevant, in particular if the teaching is extensive.
- Collective codes.
If the criteria above are not met the language may be assigned a new
or existing collective language code. The words languages or
other as part of a language name indicates that a language code
is a collective one.
A single language code is normally provided for a language even though
the language is written in more than one script. ISO 15924 Codes
for the representation of names of scripts provides coding for
A dialect of a language is usually represented by the same language
code as that used for the language. If there are multiple names
for the same language each will be included with a single code. If
assigned to a collective language code, the dialect is assigned to
language code. The difference between dialects and languages will
decided on a case-by-case basis.
A language using more than one orthography is not given multiple language
Individual languages that do not meet the criteria enumerated above
may be candidates for inclusion in ISO
639-3 (Codes for the representation of names of languages - Part
3: Alpha-3 code for comprehensive coverage of languages). As of
September 2006, ISO 639-3
is in final draft stage and is expected to be published as
an International Standard soon.
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