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International Standard ISO 639:2023

ISO 639:2023 Code for individual languages and language groups can be applied across many types of organizations and situations. It is needed for the basic settings of billions of user interfaces to ICT systems and devices, as well as for the indication of different language versions of websites. It is indispensable for information management in publishing, librarianship, and for large networks.

ISO 639:2023 is a methodology standard based on state-of-the-art Applied Linguistics and language technology applied to language coding. The standard gives comprehensive provisions for the identification of and assignment of language identifiers to individual languages or language groups, as well as for the creation of new language code elements or for the modification of existing ones.

ISO 639 specifies the ISO 639 language code and establishes the harmonized terminology and general principles of language coding. It provides rules for the selection, formation, presentation, and use of language identifiers and language reference names, as well as of language names in English and French. In addition, it introduces provisions for the adoption of standardized language code elements using language names other than English or French. Above all, it gives guidance on the use of language identifiers and describes their possible combination with identifiers of other codes.

In the ISO 639 language code, each individual language or language group is represented by a language code element each of which is comprised of:

  • Core components, namely one unique language reference name, and either one, or two, or three language identifiers
  • Additional components, namely language names in English and French as well as supplementary information

The standard’s scope focuses on individual languages (incl. constructed languages and macrolanguages) and language groups (incl. language families), which excludes reconstructed languages and formal languages, such as computer programming languages and markup languages.

Using a language identifier (of two or three letters), rather than the name of a language, has many benefits. Some cultures may have different names for the same language, while some languages may share the same, or similar, names even though they are unrelated.

Given the fact that there should not be any language identifier which refers to more than one language (though a language can be assigned more than one language identifier), all sets of language identifiers together form the ISO 639 language code.


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Last update: 2024-03-12

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