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

Philippe Verdy verdy_p at
Fri Feb 13 16:33:17 CST 2015

2015-02-13 20:37 GMT+01:00 Shervin Afshar <shervinafshar at>:

> Some of what you mentioned are relevant to the general topic in a very
> broad sense, but not relevant to the focus of the conversation we're having
> here; e.g. saving space in package design, replacing bullet separators,
> etc. Although not relevant to the conversation, still as an i18n
> practitioner, I'd like to see them in a document with some figures and some
> references. See this[1] as an exquisite example.
>> 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.
> Is there an example of a multilingual document pre-dating ISO/TC 37 and
> ISO/R 639 which uses flags to distinguish text in different languages?
My sentence was more generic than that. It was about the old practice of
using things identifies countries/regions where the real meaning was to
represent languages (independantly of regions where it is supposed to be
"mostly" spoken (false for languages that are much more spoken in other
places than their native region.
So various things associated to places (rather than languages) have been
used and continue to be used:
* more or less abbreviated coutnry/region names (often altered locally or
using imaginative/poetic descriptions at best, or frequently as well using
insulting slang words for these  regions names)
* the standard name of these regions (even if the language is no longer
spoken there: it has the side effect that those that speak the language
today are considered as "strangers" within their current country.
* the new name of the region once it has become an region occupied by
another ruler (the old name used when that region was still self-governing
is prohibited.
* iconic representations of various objects typical of this region (e.g.
using an icon of the Eiffel Tower to designate Paris, or France, or an
iconic representation of the Colyseum to erpresent Rome Italy, or the Tower
of Pise as well, or a Pyramid to represent Egypt) as a way to designate the
language that is mostly spoken there or originates from there; wellknown
monuments in this region are the most used
* But you'll see also (notably in sports) a frog or a peacok to represent
France, an other natural elements symbolizing historical events in nations
of UK. Frequently these elements may be also part of today's flags (e.g.
the mapple leaf for Canada, the hermine for Britanny)
* Flags **of course** for these regions (but there are disagreements about
the choice of Flag, as well as to the graographical border of the region
where that language is spoken or originates)
* Coats of arms
* National colors in some arrangements (far from the effective form of the
flag even if it includes these colors).
* Iconic representation of the region borders (often only the borders
remaining in today's countries)
* Religious and esotheric symbols
* Other non inconic symbols of these regions (flags are not the only
official symbols of today's countries) : it could be some notes of an
anthem, or a a famous song or music from a musician of that region (which
European country do you think the three apples may mean in Romance
countries ? you have to think about it phonetically, and then to which
European language will you associate these three apples ?)
* Photos of portraits, or scultpures of famous persons from that region,
notably the most famous artists (e.g. look into per-language categories of
the "Languages" category on several editions of Wiktionnary),frequentlty
these are poets, writers, dramaturges.
* Common sentences attributing object to the country or region (a standard
used in East Asian regions, and replacing country names without using any
phonologic similarity). Those sentences are also depicted iconically on
their flags (e.g. Japan).

In all those cases, there's a common confusion between designating regions
and languages (and politically it seems that most countries want to define
their concept of nation and associated territory to a language and want
that language to be named according to the way theur also name the region.
So most frequenty, the "gentilés" derived friom the region name to
designate people of that region are used as adjectives qualifying every
subject used by people of this region or from hat region (and these include
theur language)

Human history, since many centuries, has a huge record of dramatic events
caused by this confusion of cultures/languages/peoples with regions by
their current winning rulers as well as by their occupants and occupied
countruesx. This is stil lthe case today and new events are coming almost
every day to recall it. This contaminates the basic concept of "nation" and
even th way we write and pronounce languages.
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