Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

There’s a lot of misinformation about how, when and where to declare a language – or multiple languages – within HTML and XHTML documents. Fortunately, the GEO group at the W3C provides us with details as to how to do this. Here are some guidelines to help:

  • Always declare the default text processing language of the page, using the html tag, unless there are more than one primary languages.
  • Use the lang and/or xml:lang attributes around text to indicate any changes in language.
  • Do not use Content-Language to declare the default text processing language, and do not use language attributes to declare the primary language metadata.
  • Do not declare the language of a document in the body tag.
  • For HTML use the lang attribute only, for XHTML 1.0 served as text/html use the lang and xml:lang attributes, and for XHTML served as XML use the xml:lang attribute only.
  • If the text in attribute values and element content is in different languages, consider using a russian doll approach.
  • For documents with multiple primary languages, decide whether you want to declare a single text processing language in the html tag, or leave it undefined.

This BUZZ entry is also available in German.

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