Use of Flags as Language Identifier on the Web (was: About cultural/languages communities flags)

Philippe Verdy verdy_p at
Fri Feb 13 12:20:23 CST 2015

There are many examples and notably on home pages of a lot of commercial
sites un their top bar and in startup selectors of many mobile apps or in
popular games or on various including translation tools or catalogues of
dictionnaires ans manu printed dictionbaries show these flags on their
cover, including wellknown ones from famous brands such as Harraps or
Or on official sites of various tourism information offices and museums on
their printed leaflets or on museums. They do not support all languages
with accurate translations but are giving a visual choice or indicator of
the language this way.
Many physical products use these flags on their printed labels or boxes and
embedded leaflets for listing used components or describe their use. As
this saves space on the limited size of the label or box.
Most people cannot identify standard language codes correctly but recognize
the flag commonly used to designate their language.
These icons also replace bullet separators for their visual impact, they
are true symbols acting like ponctuation, but more visible si they allow
saving newlines as well.
Even if country flags are not culturally neutral for those languages they
are very often sufficient for the few listed languages.
And with the same frequency we see packagings showing country codes instead
of language codes.
When they realize that country flags are too much culturally/politically
oriented they do not want tout show them will juste use region codes, more
less decorated (not always standard ISO codes but like on car plates).
These uses are on fact very old, before standardisation of language codes
and they have notre disappeared and will likely not in any expected short
time frame. Now with the internet available around the world, massively
advertized and used daily in multiple times or activities, people know
their country code but still not their langage code...
Le 13 févr. 2015 18:42, "Shervin Afshar" <shervinafshar at> a écrit :

> I'm neither proposing nor implying what should or should not be done or
> whether Unicode can or can not interfere with anything anywhere. I'm just
> curious about use of flags in language selectors or as visual language
> identifier on websites which you wrote about.
> I know of some organizations that strictly avoid using flags altogether to
> represent languages. Did you encounter that during your research?
> Also, do you have your research on this matter documented somewhere else
> so I can refer my colleagues in i18n to it?
> ↪ Shervin
> On Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 9:13 AM, Philippe Verdy <verdy_p at>
> wrote:
>> This is just experience of visiting sites commonly using these flags to
>> represent (inappropriately) languages *visually*. And even if it is not the
>> best way to represent languages, this is what happens (Unicode cannot
>> interfer with the freedom of speech and the choice of authors if they
>> prefer visual icons to plain words).
>> 2015-02-13 16:37 GMT+01:00 Shervin Afshar <shervinafshar at>:
>>> On Feb 13, 2015 3:12 AM, "Philippe Verdy" <verdy_p at> wrote:
>>> > This is completely a non-issue with the Unicode standard itself.
>>> There's an ample enough space to use various designs that match character
>>> properties as well as user expectations *without* breaking the character
>>> identity itself. So even if the US flag is often used for English, in
>>> Britanic sites they will use the British flag. In the Republic of Ireland
>>> they'll won't use the Irish flag for the English language (prefered for the
>>> Irish language itself) and will unlikely use the British flag. In South
>>> Africa or India to, they won't use their national flag for English
>>> (multiple official languages there, and English is not even the preferred
>>> language).
>>> Are these statements about use of flags for language selectors on
>>> websites, based on some UX study, survey, or commonly accepted guideline,
>>> or are they just speculations?
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Unicode mailing list