Attribute selectors to provide language information

Attribute Selectors for International Web Sites

Sébastien Guillon, recently wrote a post about using the CSS2 attribute selector and content rule
to let visitors know what to expect when clicking on a link to an international web site. Inspired by his approach, I’ve simplified some of the code and added background images to
represent the countries.

Guillon’s original project focused on adding a text description after the link in the site’s native language. To do this, he used a set of descending selectors to look at the page’s language declaration and the link’s hreflang attribute. I am assuming the site that hosts this CSS is in english. However, it would not be difficult for you to simply change the generated content if your site is written in French, Spanish,
Swahili, etc.

Sample list of international Yahoo sites

Europe

Now look at the final version with new CSS. Internet Explorer users will not see a difference, try Firefox or Opera. Internet Explorer 7 beta 2 shows the flags but does not show the generated content.

The hreflang Attribute

The hreflang allows the user/browser to define the language of a link’s targeted page to avoid presenting
unreadable information:

The hreflang attribute provides user agents with information about the language of a resource at the end of a link, just as the lang attribute provides information about the language of an element’s content or attribute values.

W3C.org

The hreflang attribute defines the language of the web site you are sending someone to. The language is defined with a two letter abbreviation, such as en, fr, sp… You can also define the locality of this language by adding the country code to this language. This is particularly helpful for languages that have dialects. A Mexican site would have this attribute: hreflang=”sp-mx”.

The Attribute Selector

CSS2 allows us to look for tags that contain specific attributes. We can look for blockquotes with cite attributes, tables with summaries, table cells with header attributes,
and our little friend, the link with an hreflang attribute.


/*English */
a[hreflang="en"]:after, a[hreflang|="en"]:after {content:"\A0(In English)";}

Breaking it down

This rule uses a combination of attribute selector and pseudo-class to transform the link from common to fabulous.

a[…]
Look for a link with an attribute
hreflang=”en”
The hreflang attribute must include the letters “en”. This allows the CSS to work on links that do not define a country variation
:after
This pseudoselector defines the space after the link
{content:”\A0(In English)”;}
After the link, place the following text: (In English)
hreflang|=”en”
The hreflang attribute must include the letters “en” within a hyphenated set, i.e. en-us, en-ca, …

Adding the flag

Now that we’ve notified the user about what language the link will be in, let’s tell them the country the site is from. Once again, we will look at the hreflang attribute for this information. This rule is not as neat and tidy. For each country, we are going to look for all of the possible language attributes. For instance, Canadian links could have hreflang=”fr-ca” and hreflang=”en-ca”.


/*Canada */
a[hreflang="en-ca"], a[hreflang="fr-ca"] {background:URL(flag-sprite.png) no-repeat 0 0; padding-left:35px;}

This time, we will give links that have Canadian country codes 35px padding to the left side and a background image of the Canadian flag that sits to the
left edge of the link’s text. This style sheet is using an image sprite to keep the server requests to a minimum. See the Alistapart.com article about using
image sprites for more information on this technique.

Et Voilà

There we have it. A set of international links with the country of origin and language clearly defined. All of this has been made possible by our friends, the
attribute selector, the pseudo-class, and the content style. Tune in next week as we learn how to make a cruise ship out of two
shoe-boxes and an XML schema.

Fine Print

This has not been tested in Safari, but it shouldn’t be a problem. The pretty and useful presentation elements will not appear in IE6, NN4, and probably
most alternative devices (My Treo shows the flags but not the added content). I do not know how assistive devices would render these styles, more than likely they would be ignored. This project falls under
the “build for the best, don’t hurt the rest™” protocol.

Resources

One thought on “Attribute selectors to provide language information

  1. Very helpful for a project I am working on. However, I get a file not found error when trying to get the flag-sprite-master.png.

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