SIL International Home

Submitting ISO 639-3 Change Requests

The identification of the individual languages of the world is a process involving expansion, contraction, and refinement as our knowledge of human languages constantly improves, and languages themselves change over time. Given the comprehensive nature of ISO 639-3, changes to the code are inevitable and even desirable, in that they improve the accuracy and utility of the code set. This expanding knowledge resides not in one place but across the world's communities of languages and among those who study them, and it is in the interest of all that they contribute their knowledge to the process of improving the ISO 639-3 code set. It is through the Change Proposal Process that the ISO 639-3 Registration Authority manages the means by which the public may formally propose changes to the code set and may participate in their review. The goal of the Change Proposal Process is to ensure that all changes that are ultimately adopted are based on sound scholarship and accurate knowledge of the language(s) affected, and that all changes conform to the Guidelines for managing the change process.

Types of changes

The types of changes that are possible are to:

  1. modify the reference information for an existing code element (reference name and additional names, language type. language scope or relationship to a macrolanguage grouping).
  2. retire a code element from use, including merging its scope of denotation into that of another code.
  3. split an existing code element into two or more separate language code elements.
  4. create a new code element for a previously unidentified language.

Submitting a formal proposal

A formal proposal for a change to a language code element must be made by completing the Request for Change to ISO 639-3 Language Code form. This is a Microsoft Word form, with designated spaces to be completed. The same form is also available as an RTF document (please include "Request for RTF forms" in the subject line). The Change Request form asks the submitter to identify the type of change proposed, state the specific change(s), give the rationale for the proposed change, describe sources of personal knowledge, and cite published sources that support the rationale. The extent of detail and the quality of the information expected by the ISO 639-3 Registration Authority in a completed Change Request form are intentionally high, as the change process must be conservative, preferring no change over inadequately considered change. The same form is to be used for all formal change proposals, so that those who review and comment on the proposals may expect a sufficient, standard body of information to be provided for every proposal.

The creation of a new code element, either through the splitting and retirement of an existing code element or the creation of a new code element for a previously unidentified language, requires the completion of a second form, the Request for New Language Code Element in ISO 639-3 form. (This form is also available as an RTF document.) This form must be completed separately for each proposed new language. The New Code Request form asks the submitter to supply the following information describing the language associated with the proposed new code element:

Additional sources of information supporting the information given on the specific language are also requested.

The completed forms are intended to be a part of the public record of change, and will be posted on this website during the review period, and maintained in an archive after the end of the review cycle in which the proposal is being considered.

Overview of the proposal review process

A request to change the code set goes through a five step process:

  1. A user of ISO 639-3 proposes a change and submits the necessary form(s) to the ISO 639-3 Registration Authority (ISO 639-3/RA).
  2. The ISO 639-3 registrar receives the Change Request form (and New Code Request forms, as needed) and verifies that the request is compatible with the criteria set forth in the standard and ensures that the submitter has supplied all necessary information. This may involve rounds of interaction with the submitter.
  3. When the Change Request is complete in its documentation (including all associated New Code Requests), the Change Request is promoted to "Proposed Change" status and the ISO 639-3 registrar posts the completed forms on the official web site of the ISO 639-3/RA and notifies the requester. Also at this time, an announcement is sent to the general LINGUIST discussion list on Linguist List (, and other appropriate discussion lists, inviting individuals to review and comment on the proposal. Any discussion list owner or individual may request from the ISO 639-3 registrar to receive an announcement regarding proposals involving languages in a specific region of the world or specific language family.
  4. Each posted Change Request has a link to submit comments (at this time via email, possibly through a webform in the future). Responses are sent to the ISO 639-3 registrar for compilation. These comments will also be posted on the website for other interested parties to view. The concensus of reviews may result in promotion of the Change Request to "Candidate Status" (with or without amendment), or withdrawal of the Change Request, if the conclusion is that the request is not in keeping with the stated criteria of the ISO 639-3 standard.
  5. Three months prior to the end of the annual cycle of review and updating, a new notice is posted on the official web site of the ISO 639-3/RA, and an announcement listing the Candidate Status Change Requests is posted to the LINGUIST discussion list and any other lists as requested by their owners. All Change Requests are then open to further review and comment by any interested party for a period of three months. A Change Request received after the start of the Candidate phase reviews must wait until the next annual cycle for consideration. The purpose of this phase is to ensure that a minimum of three months is allotted for the review of every proposal.
  6. At the end of the formal review period, a given Change Request may be:
    1. adopted as a whole,
    2. adopted in part (specific changes implicit in the whole Change Request may be adopted separately),
    3. amended and resubmitted for the next review cycle, or
    4. withdrawn from consideration.

All change requests that reach Proposed Status remain permanently archived as part of the public record at the official web site of the ISO 639-3 Registration Authority.

At the end of each formal review cycle, and at any other time as requested, the ISO 639-3/RA sends a report to the Joint Advisory Committee for ISO 639 (ISO 639/RA-JAC) summarizing the actions taken on current and recent proposals (Proposed Change Requests, Candidate Change Requests, and recently Adopted or Withdrawn change requests).

Requesting notification of pending and adopted changes

Anyone may request to be notified of events relating to pending Change Requests. Notification will be sent when:

Individuals requesting notification may ask to be notified of all changes, changes pertaining to one or more geographic regions, or changes pertaining to one or more specific language families or subfamilies. Both regional interest groups and language family interest groups are hierarchical, such that an individual requesting notification of Change Requests within a specific group will also receive notification of Change Requests relating to any of that group's subgroups. For example, a request of notification regarding Africa will include all notifications for all the sub-regions within Africa. Please note that the language families list includes all top level families, but includes only comparatively large subfamilies within a given stock.

Please send an email with the subject: "Request notification" to the Questions/Comments address noted below. Include:

In the future, we plan to set up a web form to request notifications. If you change your email address, please be sure to send your new address so that your notices are not disrupted.