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Re: abbr and acronym

From: Nicholas Shanks <contact@nickshanks.com>
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2007 17:49:29 +0100
Message-Id: <CEC0F810-ED51-4CB6-9513-48679FBC9B4F@nickshanks.com>
Cc: David Dorward <david@dorward.me.uk>, "Patrick H. Lauke" <redux@splintered.co.uk>
To: www-html@w3.org
On 26 Mar 2007, at 15:57, David Dorward wrote:

>> I'll throw another question in: are acronyms language-specific? i.e.
>> is the idea of "needs to be pronounceable" dependent on the language?
>
> If it is, then we do have a lang attribute.

As Jukka pointed out to me off-list, MRSA is an initialism in en-GB  
but an acronym (pronounced 'mersa') in en-US.
Personally I pronounce ‘MySQL’ as ‘my s. q. l.’ though I often  
hear even other British speakers using ‘my sequel’. (I won't  
mention how daft the latter sounds.) This is a personal preference  
and not a language or locality-based one.

Now even if the site marked up their page with one or other of those  
language tags, and they also marked up the abbreviation with <abbr>  
(two quite big IFs I admit), then it's quite likely a listener from  
the other group won't understand the term anyway. Doubtless there are  
other such examples—If you started hearing someone referring to  
‘pugup’ would you know what they were on about?

I think that:
1) Blind people (and others who rely on speech synthesis) will like  
to customise their experience as much as sighted people do, and  
abbreviations are one common area. Every speech synthesis engine has  
a ‘phrase pronunciation table’ where you can add your own entries  
(such as “JPEG” → “jay peg”).
2) As long as we mark up the abbreviation with it's full expansion  
(via the title attribute) then it doesn't really matter whether  
<abbr> or <acronym> is used because the speech engine will use (a)  
the user's preference or (b) it's dictionary definition. A good  
dictionary will come with acronyms and abbreviations included.
3) The problem comes with new terms that are not in the dictionary,  
and the user has not encountered before or chosen to define. This is  
especially prevalent in the computer science, aeronautical and  
medical fields, though every discipline has copious volumes of  
jargon. I thing the best solution here also lies with user agents.  
For example a UA could turn new medical acronyms like <abbr  
title="Foreign Object Or Body Apparently Removed">FOOBAR</abbr> into  
“foreign object or body apparently removed (foo bar)” the first  
time, and just using the abbreviation subsequently. That way  
confusion with e.g. military uses of the same acronym can be avoided,  
and doesn't get too long-winded if used a lot.

In summary, I wouldn't miss <acronym> even though I use it myself.
I already use the class values ‘initalism’ and ‘truncation’ on  
abbr elements, with corresponding aural CSS. It would not be  
difficult to replace <acronym> with a predefined <abbr> class of the  
same name.


Or we could always resurrect <ABBREV>.

- Nicholas.

pugup = PGP with some vowels added in to make it pronounceable.

Received on Monday, 26 March 2007 16:49:40 GMT

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