Language and accessibility on the internet.

Posted by Floris Claassens on February 17, 2022

A gathering of research, bad opinions and some extra curiosities

Screen readers are a great piece of software that help people with a visual impairment navigate the digital world. Though screen readers can interpret a lot of web content without any help, from time to time they do need some cues from developers on how to interpret the content. One of those cues is the language of the page. Many people will consume multilingual content at some point in their life. Screen readers need a way to find out which language to use for their pronunciation.

On the internet screen readers use the “lang” attribute (short for language) which can be set on the html element of the page. As the value of this attribute developers can use a (usually) two to four letter code to designate the main language of the page. The first two letters depict the language, and the last two letters depict the dialect. For example, fr-fr is the code for metropolitan French while fr-ca is the code for Canadian French. If you are familiar with SEO (search engine optimization) you might also have heard about the “hreflang” attribute, which uses the same language codes. Though they might seem very similar, they serve a very different purpose.

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