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Subject: Re: [geolang-comment] ISSUE 3: The "language" published subject

* Lars Marius Garshol
| So, should we create such a published subject?

* John Cowan
| Yes.

So far we are three for (JC, SCP, LMG) and none against, so it's
looking like there is consensus on this.
* Lars Marius Garshol
| If we do, how do we define "language"? 
* John Cowan
| The one thing we must not do is define it as "the class of things
| mentioned in ISO 639", however superficially attractive that is.
| Lots of the things in ISO 639 are not even languages, but groups of
| languages,

Very good point. That effectively kills the nave extensional
approach, which makes things a bit harder.

| and even some of the things that *appear* to be single languages
| aren't.  The SIL people have done an extensive study on the
| deficiencies of the ISO codes.

Ouch! Do you have a reference on the problems with codes that appear
to represent single languages but don't?
| Defining "language" is like defining "alive"; a roomful of
| biologists once spent hours on the latter pursuit, until Sir Peter
| Medaware silenced them by saying "We all know the difference between
| a live horse and a dead one, so I suggest we cease to beat the
| latter."

True. I think any approach that requires us to come up with a
definitive and uncontroversial definition of the concept of "language"
is unlikely to work.

I think we have the following alternatives:

 (1) attempt to create a workable definition of "language",

 (2) define "language" extensionally by enumerating all members of the

 (3) make a simple definition that is uncontroversial because of its
     vagueness, like "the notion of 'language'; the class of all
     'languages'", and

 (4) use somebody else's definition.

I see problems with all of these, but I can't think of any other

Can you think of any more alternatives?

Which alternative do you prefer?

Lars Marius Garshol, Ontopian         <URL: http://www.ontopia.net >
ISO SC34/WG3, OASIS GeoLang TC        <URL: http://www.garshol.priv.no >

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