Names of languages

Type of document:
ISO 639, "Codes for the representation of names of languages," is a six part series providing machine readable codes for representing the names of languages.
  1. Alpha-2 code (2002) - for most of the major world languages
  2. Alpha-3 code (1998) - covers more languages than Alpha-2
  3. Alpha-3 code (2007) - for comprehensive coverage of languages, including extinct and ancient ones
  4. (2010) - provides general principles and usage guidelines
  5. Alpha 3 code (2008) - for language families and groups
  6. Alpha-4 code (2009) - for comprehensive coverage of language variants and families

Part 6 is the most developed of the parts. It provides the identification and documentation of language varieties using 4 letter codes and unique linguistic identifiers. It establishes a hierarchical framework of the relationships between language varieties and language families, language groups and individual languages. Part 6 also includes a roadmap for developing a metadata registry of language-related data categories, with an accompanying list of data categories describing the properties of languages, such as the writing system, geography, population, and history.

Workflow stage:
1.3, 1.8, 1.10
Business value:
Applicable to a broad range of applications requiring language identification, particularly computer systems: terminology, lexicography, information management, documentation archival and retrieval, information services, information technology, search engines, and multilinguistic cultural and economic exchange.
Web site:
Note: Language codes can also be searched on the ISO Online Browsing Platform

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