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Web developers will sometimes be confronted with demands for multi-language versions of the site. This chapter addresses links to the language variants and how languages are specified in the HTML markup.

Nationality, language and writing system

In order to understand the chapters Languages and Character encoding, it is practical to be able to distinguish the following terms.


Nationality has to do with nations and national borders. A nationality is Dutch, German or English, for instance. A visitor may have French nationality. (This says nothing about where the visitor is at this particular moment. Sites that vary theirus services according to their various geographical locations should keep this in mind.)


Language is not the same as nationality. Within the borders of a country, different languages are often spoken. The above-mentioned French visitor may speak excellent Dutch, for example, and, owing to personal circumstances, little French.

Writing system

Examples of writing systems are the Western script (the Western alphabet), Hebrew, Traditional and Simplified Chinese and Kanji (Japanese).

In spite of the fact that a writing system and a language have a great deal in common, they are two separate terms. A text can usually be written in a particular script, irrespective of language. A quoted Japanese text can be presented (untranslated) on an English-language page in Western alphabet, both in Kanji and phonetically - in Western characters - the language of the quotation does not change, although the wrtiting system does.

The representation of characters on web pages is discussed in the chapter Character encoding.

Choice of language for visitors

Containing a number of guidelines for providing links on the page to language versions of the website. Read more

Indicating language in the markup

The base language of a page

Web developers must specify the base language of a page in the markup.

Language variations within a page

Web developers and content managers should aim for adequately markings deviations from the base language in the content of pages.

Web Guidelines version 1.3, November 2007.