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Markup of scientific (biological) names, linking to multilingual pages, etc.

From: Marjolein Katsma <hgnje001@sneakemail.com>
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2003 22:51:55 +0100
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To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

Working on a site where languages play an important role, I'm running into a few minor problems. My aim is to mark up languages correctly - but also to do this in a way that's most useful and least confusing to screen readers and speech browsers; an I realize there can be conflicts between the two.

Most of the site will be bilingual (with mostly separate English and Dutch pages), but other languages pop up a lot in the text, too, since it's a travel journal. So I may have a link to a web site with a title partly in Russian and partly in English, the name of a market in  (transliterated) Russian, common bird names in several languages, etc. Most of these pose no particular problem for markup. In most cases I'm not marking up place names and person names unless I'm sure it's a direct transliteration of the actual name in the local/native language. But what language is an English transliteration of a Russian transliteration (or version!) of an Uzbek name? Pronounce as you wish but it's not any of those three languages, in fact. My basic rule here is: when in doubt, don't.

For one class of names I do have a real problem though: how does one mark up scientific names for plants, birds, animals, etc? It's certainly a kind of language (though not _really_ Latin - so although there is an ISO language code for Latin (la) I cannot use that, I think).

For now, I've chosen to mark up as in this example: <span class="sci">Citellus fulvus</span> (that's a Yellow Souslik, in case you're interested), with my stylesheet taking care of properly italicizing such names (as required by the rules for scientific names). Comments or better ideas, anyone?

Another problem can be hreflang for the target language of a page I'm linking to: what to use if *that* is a multilingual page? (I've seen one page with the same (short) text in Catalan, Spanish and English, for instance; several Russian pages I've seen have text in both Russian and English; and so on.) If there's a clear "majority" language, I might choose that - but what if you don't understand that language but would understand the summary in (say) French?  You might miss it if the main language is a language you don't understand and I noted only that language. When each language is equivalent on a page, I have no idea which to choose - or it must be to leave out hreflang completely (I don't like that - but what alternative is there?).

Things like alt text and table summaries on a multilingual page can be fun, too. When there are only two languages on a page, you could just use both - but what if there are many more?

And I'm not sure what screen reader software or speech browsers would (could) do with such information. Can they (now) use it to switch pronunciation rules for an embedded foreign language phrase or word? Switch to a different version on the basis of hreflang? What would they do with a marked up language that's not supported (say, Turkmen or Tadjik)?

Marjolein Katsma
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Received on Wednesday, 29 January 2003 16:52:16 UTC

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