Russian: an official language at the ISO

Did you know that the 3 working languages of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) include Russian? The others are English and French. I didn’t know that.

Those 3 languages are the ones available on the ISO website.

I haven’t found a clear statement on the ISO web site about its official languages, but here is what an earlier version said.

Language – the official languages of ISO are English, French and Russian. ISO International Standards and standards-type documents published by the Central Secretariat are usually in separate (monolingual) English (en) and French (fr) editions and, less frequently, in Russian (ru). Some standards, especially those containing terminology, are published as a bilingual (any two of the official languages), or trilingual (English/French/Russian) edition.  The ISO Central Secretariat also publishes certain official translations in non-official languages. To date, these include standards in Spanish (es) and Arabic (ar). (accessed from the Internet Archive on Wayback Machine, 25 May 2023)

ISO 639 Language codes

ISO 639 sets out codes to designate languages. It comes in 5 parts:

  • ISO 639-1. 2-letter codes for most major languages
  • ISO 639-2. 3-letter codes, covering more languages
  • ISO 639-3. 3-letter codes, aiming to list all living, extinct and ancient languages
  • ISO 639-4. general principles of language coding and guidelines for using ISO 639
  • ISO 639-5. 3-letter codes for language families and groups (living and extinct)

ISO codes do not cover languages designed exclusively for machine use, such as computer-programming languages.

The 5 parts of ISO 639 are all behind a paywall. ISO says, though, that ‘ISO allows free-of-charge use of its … language codes from …  ISO 639’. That is just as well.

It’s all in the name
Because “International Organization for Standardization” would have different acronyms in different languages (IOS in English, OIN in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), our founders decided to give it the short form ISO. ISO is derived from the Greek “isos”, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, we are always ISO. (accessed 25 May 2023)

For more on ISOs relating to language, translation, writing and editing, please see ISOs on translation – Language Miscellany

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