Friday, February 08, 2008

When a language is not a language

Kurdish is not a language, Chinese is not a language. They are both macro languages. Macro languages are a way that allow for one ISO-639 language identifier to refer to multiple other ISO-639 language identifiers. Chinese is in many ways easy to understand; these are many languages that are all using the same script, the same writing system; a script that is not sound based. Given that the Library of Congress was the maintainer of the ISO-639-2, it is perfectly understandable that many languages were considered the same, were considered to be Chinese.

Kurdish is distinctly different. Kurdish is also very much a political story. The Kurdish language and the Kurdish people and culture are seen as problematic in all the countries where the Kurds live. Linguistically, Kurdish is considered to be three languages. Central, Northern and Southern Kurdish. These languages are written in the Arabic and Latin script.

In the localisation of MediaWiki at Betawiki, there is Kurdish in Latin and Arab script. The question is, is it Kurmanji or Sorani because I have been told that transliteration is how you get the Arabic version.. I have been told that it is Sorani.

These questions have implications. Take for instance Persian or Farsi, There are successful WMF projects that start with fa. The language is also a macro language; it is divided in Western- and Eastern Farsi. I am quite positive that the is in Western Farsi. But the url should be

There are people that I know and respect that tell me that the difference between Farsi and Dari is only 2 to 3 % and that consequently this difference is an abomination. Other equally respectable people tell me that the difference between Farsi and Tajik is only 2 to 3%. Nobody has so far insisted on bundling the two together.

The request for the is in the discussion stage. It does fulfill the requirement for localisation. There is a sufficient group of people interested in making this project a success. It is just that I do not feel comfortable with the designation fa for this project that prevents me from changing it to the "eligible" status.

What I want is to have the "" renamed.


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