The rules for XHTML 1.1 et. al. are defined in at the end.  The text reads:

This specification also adds the lang attribute to the I18N attribute collection as defined in [XHTMLMOD]. The lang attribute is defined in [HTML4]. When this attribute and the xml:lang attribute are specified on the same element, the xml:lang attribute takes precedence. When both lang and xml:lang are specified on the same element, they SHOULD have the same value.
I think this is consistent with the treatment in HTML5.  This same language is in the draft RDFa+XHTML 1.1 document.

Toby Inkster wrote:
On Fri, 2010-02-26 at 08:43 +0100, Ivan Herman wrote:
I tried to look at the (X)HTML5 document, I did find a reference to
xml:lang in 7.03[3], but I did not find any reference to the question
of relative precedence. I must admit I am not very familiar with the
HTML5 document structure, so I may have missed it. 

The relevant section of the latest HTML5 working draft (25/08/09) is

In DOM terms, there are three attributes of relevance in HTML5 (and here
I'm excluding the Content-Language HTTP header and <meta http-equiv>
equivalent of it, which as I understand it, are still being debated).
Written in Clark notation, they're:

1. {}lang
2. {}lang
3. {}xml:lang

Note that #1 and #3 are each the result of parsing an attribute called
'xml:lang'. Parsing under XML rules yields #1, and under HTML rules
yields #3.

In terms of declaring the language of an element, #1 has precedence
(just like it does in XHTML 1) over #2. #3 is ignored.

However, for HTML documents (i.e. those sent as text/html), no
attributes will ever be parsed as #1. (I believe #1 attributes can still
be created via client-side scripts.) While the precedence rules are the
same in HTML and XHTML, because HTML parsing has the effect of never
generating #1 attributes and generating #3 instead, effectively
'xml:lang' is always ignored.

This is somewhat annoying, given that it can result in different
behaviour in HTML and XML processing modes.

That said, for HTML documents, it is a conformance error to set an
'xml:lang' attribute without also providing a 'lang' attribute which is
a case-sensitive match. So at least this problem should be picked up by


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