CSS3 for Translation

Years ago I used a CMS to bring content to a web page. But with evolving CSS, markdown syntax and comfortable git hosting, publication of smaller sites can be handled without a CMS. My home page is translated. Thus I liked to express page translations in a stateless language. The ingredients are simple. My requirements are:

  • stateless CSS, no javascript
  • integrable with markdown syntax (html tags are ok’ish)
  • default language shall remain visible, when no translation was found
  • hopefully searchable by robots (Those need to understand CSS.)


/* hide translations initially */
.hide {
  display: none
/* show a browser detected translation */
:lang(de) { display: block; }
li:lang(de) { display: list-item; }
a:lang(de) { display: inline; }
em:lang(de) { display: inline; }
span:lang(de) { display: inline; }

/* hide default language, if a translation was found */
:lang(de) ~ [lang=en] {
 display: none;

The CSS uses the display property of the element, which was returned by the :lang() selector. However the selectors for different display: types are somewhat long. Which is not so short as I liked.


<span lang="de" class="hide"> Hallo _Welt_. </span>
<span lang="en"> Hello _World_. </span>

Even so the plain markdown text looks not as straight forward as before. But it is acceptable IMO.

Hiding the default language uses the sibling elements combinator E ~ F and selects a element containing the lang=”en” attribute. Matching elements are hidden (display: none;). This is here the default language string “Hello _World_.” with the lang=”en” attribute. This approach works fine in FireFox(49), Chrome Browser(54), Konqueror(4.18 khtml&WebKit) and WP8.1 with Internet Explorer. Dillo(3.0.5) does not show the translation, only the english text, which is correct as fallback for a non :lang() supporting engine.

On my search I found approaches for content swapping with CSS: :lang()::before { content: xxx; } . But those where not well accessible. Comments and ideas welcome.