W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-gl@w3.org > October to December 2003

Examples of language changes in websites

From: Yvette P. Hoitink <y.p.hoitink@heritas.nl>
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 2003 23:18:11 +0100
To: "'Web Content Accessibility Guidelines'" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-Id: <E1ARfK5-0004V4-Q0@smtp2.home.nl>

Hello everyone,

Several weeks ago I took an action item to find real world examples of
language changes in websites, to help us with formulating guidelines about
identifying the language of a page. It has taken me a bit longer to write
this than I had expected, I apologize to the group that it has taken so

I have written my findings in the form of an article. An illustrated version
of the article can be found at:

I will include the entire text below.

Yvette Hoitink
CEO Heritas, Enschede, The Netherlands

--- Examples of language changes in websites ---

-- Introduction --

One of the proposed guidelines in version 2 of the Web Content
Accessibillity Guidelines is: "Language of content can be programmatically
determined". A suggested success criteria to meet this guideline is
"passages or fragments of text occurring within the content that are written
in a language other than the primary natural language of the content as a
whole, are identified, including specification of the language of the
passage or fragment. " 

This article focuses on some real world examples of the need for the
identification of language changes in websites. For this article, Dutch
websites are used because of the large influence of foreign languages on the
Dutch day to day language. 

-- English words in Dutch: a cultural phenomenon --

Dutch is the native tongue of approximately 20 million people worldwide.
It's the official language of the Netherlands and one of the official
languages of Belgium. Both countries are very internationally orientated. In
the Netherlands, English is taught in primary school from the age of 10. By
the time children finish secondary education, most speak three foreign
languages including English. 

Many TV programs in the Netherlands and Belgium are foreign, mostly from the
US. The programs are subtitled, not dubbed, which exposes the public to a
lot of foreign phrases. In every day speech a lot of English phrases or
words are used, particulary amongst teenagers.

Also, a lot of the academic literature used in the Netherlands and Belgium
is written in English. This means a lot of scientific domains use English
terminology. Even if Dutch words exist, many researchers use the English
words either because they are more common or to come across as
internationally orientated or well informed. 

- Example 1: Unox commercial -

Unox is a Dutch brand which sells traditional foods. One Unox commercial
shows a manager talking on his mobile phone while filling his tray in a
corporate cafeteria. Although he is Dutch, he uses almost all English words,
or Dutch versions of English words. The lady behind the counter looks at him
with a vacant, pityful look. The only real Dutch sentence he utters is when
he asks for a cup of pea soup (a traditional Dutch soup). The message is
clear: Unox will be Unox.

- Example 2: Bullshit bingo -

What to do during a boring lecture in management studies? Dutch students
have found a solution. Each person fills in a bingo form, for example a 5x5
grid. In every cell you write down a managerial term, typically an English
word or phrase. For example: "outsourcing", "management by walking around",
"commitment", "tackle", "just in time", "business process redesign" etc.
Each time a word is used during the (Dutch!) lecture, you mark the word on
your card. The first person to mark an entire row or column is the winner. 

-- Real world examples in websites --

- Selection criteria -

To illustrate the need for the identification of language changes in pages,
three typical examples of the use of foreign words in Dutch websites have
been selected. These pages have the following in common:

* Their main language is Dutch
* The target audience is Dutch
* A substantial number of foreign words is used
* They belong to a large organization so are expected to remain available
for a while 

- Example 1: Shell -

URL: http://www.shell.nl

The first example is the Dutch division of Shell. 

English words on the Shell homepage:

* Home
* Sitemap
* Directory
* Stationfinder
* Cadeaushoppen
* Global motorsport site
* Legal disclaimer
* Investor relations
* Diversity award
* Copyright 

On first glance, there do not seem to be a lot of English words. Most of the
navigation items are in Dutch. However, most of the page's additional links
(Home, sitemap, disclaimer, copyright) are in English. This is very common
in Dutch websites. The Dutch translations of these words either don't exist
or are used very rarely. 

Besides these common links, some phrases in the text are in English as well
("global motorsport site", "diversity award"). Another Dutch phenomenon can
be seen here, the hybrid word "cadeaushoppen" where a Dutch word is glued to
an English word, apparently to make it sound more dynamic. 

In the HTML of this page, the main language of the page is indicated as
Dutch. None of the English words or phrases are marked as such. 

I don't think this page will cause great problems for people using speech
synthesizers. The English words that are used are either very common, or are
not essential for the use of the page.

- Example 2: Dell support -

URL: http://support.euro.dell.com/nl/nl/home.asp, or http://www.dell.nl and
then "Ondersteuning"

The next example is the Customer support section of the Dutch division of
the computer company Dell. 

English words or phrases in the Dell website:

* Support
* Fix
* Upgrade
* Customer support
* Customer care
* Downloads
* Quick links
* Getting started
* Knowledge base
* Service call status 

Most of these are main navigation items. Understanding of the meaning of the
words is crucial to be able to use the links to navigate the website. If
these words are pronounced with a Dutch pronounciation, they become very
hard if not impossible to understand. 

Dell uses English words even when perfectly good Dutch alternatives exist.
To me personally, the use of English comes across as excessive and
unnecessary. Most of the English phrases can not be found in a Dutch

The HTML of the page does not identify what language is used whatsoever.

- Example 3: Logica/CMG -

URL: http://www.logicacmg.nl

Logica-CMG is a Dutch IT company. People playing bullshit bingo would have a
great time visiting this site for new inspiration.

English words on the LogicaCMG homepage:

* Solutions that matter
* Business services
* Energy & Utilities
* Fast moving consumer goods & retail
* Finance
* Media & entertainment
* Public sector
* Transport, travel & logistics
* International Financial Reporting Standards
* Human Resource Management
* Business Process Outsourcing
* Legal
* Mobile Traffic Services
* Miniseminar portals
* Pilot
* Mobile ticketing
* Business Solutions
* Investors 

This has to be as bad as it gets. This page is almost a complete mix of
Dutch and English. Of the 10 main navigation items, 7 are in English.
English phrases are mainly used as eyecatchers, for example the navigation
items, headings and the slogan. Since it's not so much words as entire
phrases that are in English, almost none of these can be found in the Dutch
dictionary. When pronounced with a Dutch pronounciation, a large part of the
page becomes hard to understand.

The language(s) of the page is not identified in the HTML.

-- Discussion --

We have seen three examples of the use of English words and phrases in Dutch
websites. The Shell example is what you will find on most Dutch websites:
most of the website is in Dutch but some English words are used. More and
more of these words get incorporated into the Dutch dictionaries. This means
that at least in theory, they will not have to be marked up as English to be
pronounced correctly by speech synthesizers, since they are then part of the
Dutch language. Even when pronounced with the Dutch pronounciation, these
small words such as "home", "sitemap", etc. are so common in websites that
most people will understand them anyway. 

The most difficult problems arise when entire English phrases are used in
websites. This is a growing trend in the Netherlands, particularly in
dynamic, internationally oriented areas such as information technology. Most
phrases used in the CMG example are English and will never be incorporated
into the Dutch language. Since these phrases tend to be used in important
places such as navigation and headings, understanding these phrases is
crucial to understanding the page. Because most of these phrases contain
several words, it becomes very hard to derive their meaning from the
context. A large section of the website will be mispronounced if these
phrases are not marked as English.

I hope these examples will be helpful for formulating international
guidelines for web accessibility. These examples are meant to show the
accessibility problems that can occur when a lot of foreign words and
phrases are used, as is the case in a growing number of websites in the
-- Author --

C Yvette Hoitink, December 2003

E-mail: y.p.hoitink@heritas.nl
CEO Heritas, Enschede, The Netherlands

Written for the WCAG workgroup of the W3C. 
Received on Wednesday, 3 December 2003 17:18:20 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 16 January 2018 15:33:46 UTC