Flags and Language icons (was: Re: Official ISO 3166 country codes online)

From: Karl Pentzlin (karl-pentzlin@acssoft.de)
Date: Wed Dec 01 1999 - 15:15:53 EST

-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: Doug Ewell <dewell@compuserve.com>
An: Unicode List <unicode@unicode.org>
Gesendet: Mittwoch, 1. Dezember 1999 16:00
Betreff: RE: Official ISO 3166 country codes online

> ...
> The best symbol I have seen is the one displayed in the Microsoft Windows
> toolbar when you install multilingual support and want to switch between
> keyboards. Just a square with the two-letter abbreviations "En", "Fr",
> "It", and so forth. Even if Latin is not your native script, you can
> learn and identify *two letters*. Simple, inoffensive, and best of all,
> fits easily in a 16x16 icon.

On the long way, such a solution is desirable undoubtedly. Maybe someone
creates a more fancy symbol instead of the dull square, which then
uneqivocally denotes "language", and gets it standardized (and maybe
included into Unicode?). It must allow more than two letters to be included,
when we are going to cover the numerous "minority" languages.

Besides having the potential of being offending, flags are not suited as
symbols for languages which are not associated with a regional entity, e.g.

On the other hand, I suspect the offending potential of flag icons for
languages is somewhat overemphasized here. For most of the "multinational"
languages (e.g. English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese) the language
name itself denotes the regional entity from which the language "came from"
and is indistinguable from the adjective which denotes "coming from that
regional entity". Are there any U.S. citizens feeling offended when the name
of their national language is called "English", or e.g. Mexicans for
If you declare the flag as an icon for the language name, not for the
regional or national entity, it needs not to be more offending than the
language name itself (even if you prefer the British to the English flag for
denoting English).

Moreover, flag symbols are *colourful* and thus meet the needs of the
average web page designer far more than some dull squares with letters
inside. Thus, as long as the vast majority of multilingual web pages offers
that very few languages anyway, we have to live (and in my opinion we can
live) with flags as language symbols - until a better solution is
standardized and brought to wide acceptance.

Best Regards
Karl Pentzlin
AC&S Analysis Consulting & Software GmbH
München, Germany

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