If HTML5 Were British

by @edent | , , | 7 comments | 450 words | Read ~444 times.

If you've been around programming circles long enough, you'll probably have read the seminal "If PHP Were British". If not, go read it now. I'll wait.

I love the idea of a non-American programming language. I'm aware that there are some, but I'm unaware of any which are in British English. Except, perhaps, BBC Basic. Although that also allows traitorous American spelling for some keywords.

HTML was invented by a Brit (Hi Sir Timbl!). So why doesn't it use British spelling for everything?

Well, I guess, the answer is... it mostly does!

Looking through the big list of HTML elements only one is noticably in American English. The <dialog> element was introduced reasonably recently in HTML 5.2. I would love to know if there were any late-night arguments about whether it should have been dialogue...

In the obsolete element section we find the much-missed <center>. Perhaps, in an alternate timeline, it was named centre and is still in use today?

Center has a curious history.

CENTER was introduced by Netscape before they added support for the HTML 3.0 DIV element. It is retained in HTML 3.2 on account of its widespread deployment.
HTML 3.2 Reference Specification - 1997

You can read some of the original arguments discussions from the early 1990s.

CSS was invented by Håkon Wium Lie with CSS version 1 specifying the spelling color. As Håkon was Norwegian, I suppose we could have ended up with farge. That might have been nice.

Perhaps that's what the World-Wide Web needs. HTML elements which are not in English. There is no technical limitation why we can't have an <电影> element. Or a CSS property of نطاط

British English is the best. But I only think that because it is what I've grown up with. English is the world's most popular second language. But it won't be long before Chinese catches up to the total number of speakers. Is it fair to make new web developers learn an entirely new human language while they struggle with learning a new computer language?

I constantly find myself typing colour when I mean color - does a Hindi speaking developer want to be able to program in their preferred language?

Why can't an HTML document start <!DOCTYPE html ፊደል> and then have all the elements written in Geʽez script?

I know you think this is too hard to achieve. But part of the job of computer scientists is to work out how to make computers do the hard work for us. Humans shouldn't adapt to a computer's needs; the computer must adapt to ours.


7 thoughts on “If HTML5 Were British

  1. Alex Gibson says:

    100% agree with the basic point - and the English (simplified/US) hegemony can be frustrating.
    Your computer doesn't know what 'English' is - it's just a set of defined code words, and could be interchanged.
    Computer languages vary considerably but actually the words used are rarely contradictory and they are a small dictionary mostly shared between many languages.
    It would be nice to see something like a language abstraction layer agreed upon. Eventually this could work like you say - as long as the code is correctly written for that language variant of the syntax it would work with any interpreting software (e.g. browser) that included this facility - which would not be huge or processor intensive. But it would be a good start if in local IDEs, text editors, compilers, the user could choose to have software they are editing translated into their language, edit it, and then save out in English (US). I don't bother any more but I used to have a very simple script to idiot-check my OpenSCAD code and 'correct' centre to center, colour to color, etc... I could have it autocorrected in some text editors, but would be nice if it was more universally implemented.

  2. Laurence B says:

    I love this idea. Having to code in another human language must be a barrier to so many.

  3. Re British English programming languages, the two I can think of are Haskell and Unity's scripting API. But they are both inconsistent with it.

    Of course "American spelling" actually "British" as well en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_sp…


  4. the majority of coding languages are in english, which gives the tech industry some big colonial vibes imo en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-Engli…


  5. Joe Lanman says:

    one thing that's fascinating, Arrival-wise, is different grammar. English leads to certain grammar in programming that lets you express and achieve certain things, what could other languages grammar do?



  6. I love Ruby’s emphasis on being readable. I’ve been working in Python recently (new to me) and miss Ruby so much for its concise clarity.





  7. Matt Hobbs says:

    Bringing in multiple languages into HTML elements... eek! Many developers seem to struggle with how to markup a button!

    You really are living up to your "Digital Troublemaker" bio on Twitter @edent 🤣


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