Language attributes- what are they?

Tex Texin tex at
Fri Dec 31 09:50:21 CET 2004


I can take your mail two ways. 
a) sorted lists should be dynamically changed to the user's preference.

b) Documents written in a language are presumably targeted at readers of that
language, and therefore should be sorted for the intended audience (as opposed
to the actual preference of that individual). And this is true even if the list
contents are in another language.

If the latter, then we agree.
If the former, perhaps we need to be more specific about what the language tag

If the tag is on static content, which contains a list of data, I would not
expect it to be dynamically rearranged to my expectations. I expect the entire
document to conform to the content's language tag.

On the other hand, if a search for example, returns me a list of such
documents, I expect the list to be sorted to my declared preference, even if
the titles are Swedish. The first seems to me to be an expression of language.
The latter seems to be a locale issue.

Of course, it gets ugly if I go to a Swedish web site, and the Swedish drop
downs (statically defined) are sorted by Swedish rules, and the catalog
inventory is displayed dynamically, still using Swedish product names but maybe
conforming to my American sorting preference and maybe the Swedish ordering.
Where oh where is my "<A-ring>ngstrom measurement kit" going to appear on the
It would be even more confusing if the date and pricing changed according to
the user, while the descriptions remained in the original language. It would be
very hard to interpret the info.

A friend of mine had a very scary experience on e-bay. He intended to bid
$14.50 for a disk, and due to a finger slip typed "14,50". i.e. hit the comma
for the period.

He was immediately informed that he won the bid for only $14,500. Stained his
pants and spent the rest of the day trying to back out the transaction and
insure his credit card wouldn't accept the charge. ;-) Just demonstrating the
importance of user expectations. He felt the value should have been rejected
since it didn't conform to a traditional format and it was unreasonable to
presume the final zero was missing.

I do strongly agree that a good test is user expectation. If a document is
tagged and users requesting that tag feel the material is written for users
elsewhere or those with a different way of speaking, then the tag has failed.
(Or the process of assigning it.)


John Cowan wrote:
> Tex Texin scripsit:
> > I am surprised that sort order would not be considered part of language. I
> > thought the ordering of the characters to be an important and distinguishing
> > aspect of languages (At least some languages. Those with large character sets
> > perhaps not.)
> The point, as I understand it, is that when you sort something like a list
> of names, you need to sort them according to the reader's expectation, not
> according to the rules used in the language to which the names belong.
> Thus an anglophone looking at a Swedish phone directory wants to see
> a-ring, a-umlaut, o-umlaut interfiled with a, a, o respectively, whereas a suedophone wants
> to see them after z in the given order.
> --
> "They tried to pierce your heart                John Cowan
> with a Morgul-knife that remains in the
> wound.  If they had succeeded, you would
> become a wraith under the domination of the Dark Lord."         --Gandalf

Tex Texin   cell: +1 781 789 1898   mailto:Tex at
Xen Master                
Making e-Business Work Around the World

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