Understanding WCAG 2.0: 3.1.2 – Language of Parts

The next standard we’ll explore in our series on understanding WCAG 2.0 is 3.1.2 Language of Parts. This standard is required for WCAG level AA compliance, which is part of what Section 508 requires. Here’s the complete text:

3.1.2 Language of Parts: The human language of each passage or phrase in the content can be programmatically determined except for proper names, technical terms, words of indeterminate language, and words or phrases that have become part of the vernacular of the immediately surrounding text. (Level AA)

This standard is very similar to 3.1.1, which deals with the default language of the entire page. This standard simply provides a way to display multiple languages within the same page. So for example, here’s a paragraph of text in Arabic (from Wikipedia):

كولومبوس (إنديانا) هي مدينة تقع في الولايات المتحدة في Bartholomew County. يقدر عدد سكانها بـ 44,061 نسمة ومساحتها 72.23 كم2 و وترتفع عن سطح البحر 192 متر.

That paragraph is right aligned because Arabic is read from the right to the left. Here’s the source of that paragraph:

<p dir="rtl" lang="ar"><b>كولومبوس (إنديانا)</b> هي مدينة تقع في الولايات المتحدة في Bartholomew County. يقدر عدد سكانها بـ 44,061 نسمة ومساحتها 72.23 كم<sup>2</sup> و وترتفع عن سطح البحر 192 متر.</p>

There’s two attributes added to the p element, dir and lang. Only the lang attribute is required to comply with this standard, but because the language is read right to left, we also need to provide the dir attribute to clarify to both browsers and screen readers that they should read from right to left.

I’m afraid that I’m not sure why it’s necessary to specify the text direction if you’ve already specified a language – after all, Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew are always read RTL, so isn’t the dir attribute redundant? The W3C says no, you must use both. I wish I could find a more clear rationale.

If you’d like to read more on this statement, you may also be interested in these examples and techniques.

Interested in more? Check out the listing of all the posts in this series.