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the thoughts (and in parts a first draft proposal) below are about
"semantics" not syntax please keep that in mind when you think about
them.  In other words, if any such scheme gets implemented one day
there are many questions that have to be answered and one has to find
a sensible syntax etc but right now i do not care much about that aspect.

instead what i would like you to think about are the underlying ideas,
eg are there levels missing that are important, are there levels which
do lie outside the proposed hierarchical structure (that would allow
inheritance), etc

frank

% 97/03/03

\documentclass{article}

\usepackage{shortvrb}
\MakeShortVerb{\|}

\begin{document}

\section{Customization of language tag semantics}

As examples show, actions that need to be carried out by a formatter
when encountering a language tag are, perhaps with the exception of
selecting the correct hyphenation rules, not (necessarily) globally
bound to the language tags but can depend on the current position in
the document (e.g., languages nested within each other) as well as the
document type (e.g., a truly multi-lingual document with equal status
for each language versus a document written in a base language with
embedded language fragments from other languages).

In most cases it is a style component deciding which choice to take in
border cases (e.g., are English quotations with French text typeset
using rules employed for the rest of the text or \ldots).
This style might be strongly influenced by traditional typesetting
conventions for the base language of the document but from the inside
\LaTeX{} no actions should be forced upon the user.

\subsection{Customization levels}

For this reason customization possibilities for the following cases
are suggested (explained in more detail below):
\begin{enumerate}
\item
\label{document-lang}
complete document
\item
\label{bg-lang}
background language (and change of background language)
\item
\label{frag-bg-lang}
language fragment within background language
\item
\label{frag-frag-lang}
language fragment within language fragment
\end{enumerate}

Case~\ref{document-lang} describes the language used for the whole
document. This can be different from the background language, for
example one might to have all chapter titles being headed "Chapter"
even if one chapter or section is written in a language other than
english (and thus would contain a change of background
language).\footnote{Right now I don't offer any suggestion how this
document language could be specified.}

Case~\ref{bg-lang} refers to the major language being used for text.
In most documents there exist only a single background language and
all other elements are language fragments embedded into the background
language.

Case~\ref{frag-lang} refers to the case where a language fragment is
embedded in text of the background language and
case~\ref{frag-frag-lang} second or higher order embeddings.

\subsection{Attaching language items to levels}

Each language dependent item gets a definition associated with a
language label (the syntax is irrelevant at the moment), e.g.,
\begin{verbatim}
\DeclareLanguageCommand{\chaptername}{german}{Kapitel}
\DeclareLanguageCommand{\chaptername}{usenglish}{Chapter}
...
\end{verbatim}

In addition for each such command its activation in the above cases,
e.g.,
\begin{verbatim}
\ApplyLanguageCommand{\chaptername}{background}
\end{verbatim}
changes the meaning of |\chaptername| whenever the background language
changes.

The above cases have a natural order that can be used for inheritance,
e.g., if |\Quote{...}| would produce\footnote{This command does not
exist and is meant as an abitrary example.} proper quotation
characters and if that command would be defined at
level~\ref{frag-bg-lang} then an embedded French quotation inside a
German text would be using french quotation marks but if the German
text would be embedded in an English document (making this a second
order fragment) then German quotes would be used. On the other hand it
would be used also if the background language would change to French.

\subsection{The role of language initialization files}

Language initialization files (comparable with the language files
provided by Babel) would offer defaults allowing out of the box
usage\footnote{Even for australian users :-)} but at the same time
offer easy customization in class files or in the preamble of a
document.

\subsection{Discussion}