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

Lars Marius Garshol scripsit:

> Ouch! Do you have a reference on the problems with codes that appear
> to represent single languages but don't?

Well, it also has to do with the purposes for which one defines
"language".  For example, QUE (Quechua) is listed as a single language
by ISO, and for bibliographic purposes it probably is.  But as far
as the criterion of mutual intelligibility goes, there are about
30 Quechuan languages, closely related but by no means mutually
intelligible.  SIL, therefore, maps the ISO code QUE onto some 30
of their codes, since SIL uses M.I. of the spoken language as its
standard.  ISO does not seem to have used a single standard at all.

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

Hopeless.  The definition, as indicated above, depends on the purpose.

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

This breaks down because "a language" is not a sharp notion, any more
than "a cloud" is?  Talking about the class of clouds currently in 
the sky is not very useful, because who is to say, much of the time,
where one cloud stops and another begins?  If you look at the local
dialect data, you can construct a chain of mutually intelligible
dialects from Paris all the way to Rome, but nobody would say that
French and Italian are just one language.  Yet given a similar dialect
continuum within Norway, and two distinct written standards, there is
still an ISO code for "Norwegian" (as well as codes for "Bokmal" and
"Nynorsk" as well).

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

Probably the best we can do.

>  (4) use somebody else's definition.

Whose?  There are too many candidates.

John Cowan <jcowan@reutershealth.com>     http://www.reutershealth.com
I amar prestar aen, han mathon ne nen,    http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
han mathon ne chae, a han noston ne 'wilith.  --Galadriel, _LOTR:FOTR_

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