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International standards for date and time

International standards for date and time
It's not exactly "medical" translation, but different date formats come up fairly frequently on medical translation projects. Many of our U.S.-based clients are unaware of the different formats around the world.

ISO 8601 is a standard orders from the largest (the year) to the smallest (the second), which is rarely followed.

International Standard ISO 8601:2004(E) specifies numeric representations of date and time. This standard notation helps to avoid confusion in international communication caused by the many different national notations and increases the portability of computer user interfaces.

According to ISO 8601, dates are ordered from the largest (year) to the smallest (second), as follows:

Dates and times can be a medical localization nightmare. Often political, geographic and religious factors have come into play.

ISO 8601 is a good solution because it is a standard designed for computer data transfer and developed by a standards body. It is also a good choice because it is compatible with the calendar system used by businesses around the world. Finally, it is a good choice as it forces API users to think about the decision they make if they require non-ISO calendar systems.

UPDATE: The original post contained a couple of mistakes, as Gonzalo pointed out in the comments. (Thank you, Gonzalo.) Also, for a copy of the ISO 8601 standard, see this PDF file.


  1. GEN2FOR said...
    ISO 8601 is a good idea.

    But the last update is not the 1988(E) but 2004(E). It can be seen at http://isotc.iso.org/livelink/livelink/4021199/ISO_8601_2004_E.zip?func=doc.Fetch&nodeid=4021199

    Additionally, this ISO rule indicates that when writing together date and time, you should include a T among them, like:


    Scott Fisher said...
    I find the ICU Locale Explorer website very helpful for this and other locale specific data.
    Tex said...
    It is important to stress that ISO 8601 is designed for data exchange and not for user interface.
    It is true that dates and times suffer from diversity due to political, religious, geographical and other influences, and so we need to adopt an internal standard for the purposes of normalizing the representation of dates and times. But a reader might mistakenly infer from that statement that 8601 is therefore good to use for user interface which it is not. Something in the same flavor works very well, but for example having users use a "T" in their dates would not be acceptable.
    The comment that businesses rely on the Gregorian calendar worldwide is not 100% true as some governments and users require other calendars. As an internal standard and for API it is fine. For UI, it is not.

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