Internationally recognized codes for the representation of more than 500 languages or language families, with ISO 639

This ISO standard can be applied across many types of organization and situations. It’s invaluable for bibliographic purposes, in libraries or information management, including computerized systems, and for the representation of different language versions on Websites.

Using a code(either 2, 3 or 4 letters long), rather than the name of a language, has many benefits as 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.

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ISO 3166 — Country Codes
Avoid confusion when referring to countries and their subdivisions with this standard.

ISO 639 is composed of five different parts

  • Part 1: ISO 639-1:2002 provides a 2-letter code that has been designed to represent most of the major languages of the world.
  • Part 2: ISO 639-2:1998 provides a 3-letter code, which gives more possible combinations, so ISO 639-2:1998 can cover more languages.
  • Part 3: ISO 639-3:2007 provides a 3-letter code and aims to give as complete a listing of languages as possible, including living, extinct and ancient languages.
  • Part 4: ISO 639-4:2010 gives the general principles of language coding and lays down guidelines for the use of ISO 639.
  • Part 5: ISO 639-5:2008 provides a 3-letter code for language families and groups (living and extinct).

Registration Authorities

The language codes are open lists that can be extended and refined. The job of maintaining these standards has been given to bodies known as Registration Authorities.

Details of the Registration Authorities for ISO 639 can be found in the list of Registration Authorities and Maintenance Agencies.

Using ISO Codes

ISO allows free-of-charge use of its country, currency and language codes from ISO 3166, ISO 4217 and ISO 639, respectively.

Users of ISO country codes have the option to subscribe to a paid service that automatically provides updates and supplies the data in formats* that are ready-to-use for a wide range of applications. For more information, visit the ISO Store

*(.csv, .xml and .xls formats)

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  • ISO 639-1:2002
    Codes for the representation of names of languages
    Part 1: Alpha-2 code
  • ISO 639-2:1998
    Codes for the representation of names of languages
    Part 2: Alpha-3 code