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Language of Parts:
Understanding SC 3.1.2

3.1.2 Language of Parts: The human language of each [begin change]passage[end change] or phrase in the content can be programmatically determined [begin add] 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[end add]. [2069] (Level AA)

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Note: This requirement does not apply to individual words. It also does not apply to proper names, to technical terms or to phrases that have become part of the language of the context in which they are used.

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Intent of this Success Criterion

The intent of this success criterion is to ensure that user agents can correctly present content written in multiple languages[begin add] and so that assistive technologies that helps users understand text use appropriate language-specific knowledge and resources.[end add]. This applies to graphical browsers as well as screen readers, braille displays, and other voice browsers.

Both assistive technologies and conventional user agents can render text more accurately if the language of each passage of text is identified. Screen readers can use the pronunciation rules of the language of the text. Visual browsers can display characters and scripts in appropriate ways. This is especially important when switching between languages that read from left to right and languages that read from right to left, or when text is rendered in a language that uses a different alphabet. Users with disabilities who know all the languages used in the Web page will be better able to understand the content when each passage is rendered appropriately.

When no other language has been specified for a phrase or passage of text, its human language is the default human language of the Web page (see Success Criterion 3.1.1). So the human language of all content in single language documents can be programmatically determined.

Individual words or phrases in one language can become part of another language. For example, "rendezvous" is a French word that has been adopted in English, appears in English dictionaries, and is properly pronounced by English screen readers. Hence a passage of English text may contain the word "rendezvous" without specifying that its human language is French and still satisfy this success criterion. Frequently, when the human language of text appears to be changing for a single word, that word has become part of the language of the surrounding text. [begin change]Because this is so common in some languages, single words should be considered part of the language of the surrounding text unless it is clear that a change in language was intended.[end change] [2069]

Identifying changes in language is important for a number of reasons:

Specific Benefits of Success Criterion 3.1.2:

This success criterion helps:

  • people who use screen readers or other technologies that convert text into synthetic speech;

  • people who find it difficult to read written material with fluency and accuracy, such as recognizing characters and alphabets, decoding words, and understanding words and phrases;

  • people with certain cognitive, language and learning disabilities who use text-to-speech software;

  • people who rely on captions to recognize language changes in the soundtrack of synchronized media content.

Examples of Success Criterion 3.1.2

  1. A German phrase in an English sentence.

    In the sentence, "He maintained that the DDR (German Democratic Republic) was just a 'Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte'," the German phrase 'Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte' is marked as German. Depending on the markup language, English may either be marked as the language for the entire document except where specified, or marked at the paragraph level. When a screen reader encounters the German phrase, it changes pronunciation rules from English to German to pronounce the word correctly.

  2. Alternative language links

    An HTML web page includes links to versions of the page in other languages (e.g., Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Castellano, etc.). The text of each link is the name of the language, in that language. The language of each link is indicated via a lang attribute.


Related Resources

Resources are for information purposes only, no endorsement implied.

Techniques and Failures for Success Criterion 3.1.2 [Language of Parts]

Each numbered item in this section represents a technique or combination of techniques that the WCAG Working Group deems sufficient for meeting this success criterion. The techniques listed only satisfy the success criterion if all of the WCAG 2.0 conformance requirements have been met.

Sufficient Techniques

  1. Identifying changes in human languages using one of the following techniques:

Additional Techniques (Advisory)

Although not required for conformance, the following additional techniques should be considered in order to make content more accessible. Not all techniques can be used or would be effective in all situations.


The following are common mistakes that are considered failures of Success Criterion 3.1.2 by the WCAG Working Group.

(No failures currently documented)

Key Terms

human language

language that is spoken, written or signed ([begin change]through visual or tactile means [2264] [end change]) [begin delete]by humans [end delete]to communicate with [begin add]humans[end add] [begin delete]one another[end delete] [2139]

Note: See also sign language.

programmatically determined / programmatically determinable

determined by software from author-supplied data provided in a way that different user agents, including assistive technologies, can extract and present this information to users in different modalities

Example: Determined in a markup language from elements and attributes that are accessed directly by commonly available assistive technology.

Example: Determined from technology-specific data structures in a non-markup language and exposed to assistive technology via an accessibility API that is supported by commonly available assistive technology.