OSM tags soon in German and French and in the long run in Spanish and Japanese.

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, April 1, 2018

The year 2018 will go down in the history of the OpenStreetMap project as the second year with major changes after 2012. In addition to the new regulations brought about by the basic data protection regulation, considerable changes will also take place during tagging, because the Brexit casts its shadow ahead.

The objects in the OpenStreetMap database have key-value pairs, so-called tags, which describe what kind of object it is. To avoid using different tags for the same things in every country, the rule was established in the first days of OpenStreetMap that the language of the tags is British English. With a few exceptions, where American English has inadvertently established itself, this rule has also been followed through.

But the days when English is an important language in Europe are over. With the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the lead of the German and French languages (in relation to native speakers) will increase further.

The OpenStreetMap project will adapt to this. The board of the OpenStreetMap Foundation will therefore present the translation of almost all tags on the OSMF-Talk mailing list in the next few days.

However, a whistleblower gave other community members the opportunity to take a look at the proposal.

The proposal begins with a discussion of which language should be used. The answer is obvious – German, because it is the most common mother tongue in the European Union, including its dialects, and French to avoid veto. So that it is not too simple, a few special tags will be in Swiss German. More about this later.

This is followed by a long list containing the changes to be made. We publish extracts of them here:


The key highway will be replaced by verkehrsweg.

Here are a few examples for the translation:

old valuenew value


The tags for buildings will be in French, as France has more buildings in OSM than Germany.

The key building will be replaced by batiment, but without circumflex on the â. The correct French spelling bâtiment is quasi internationalized by the simplified spelling batiment.

As can be seen below, the particularly differentiating French language will then also have a very positive effect on the quality of the OSM data, since the objects can now be designated much more precisely instead of a single value.

Here are a few examples for the translation:


old valuenew value / new values
hutbaraque, cabane, hutte
industrialusine, fabrique, atelier
shedhangar, cabanon, remise, abri, étable, grange


Also a tagging reform

The changeover is not always as easy as on roads. Some tags suggest combining the tagging change with a tagging reform. The key service=*, which is currently used in several contexts, will be shared in the future:

service=sidinggleistyp=hauptgleisin Verbindung mit railway=vollbahn/stadtbahn (vormals railway=rail/light_rail)

Why that?

Many people will probably ask themselves what the hell is all about and so even before this blog entry was published, the first critics asked for the floor. Christoph Hormann comments:

The Brexit should be seen as an opportunity to free oneself from the prevailing Eurocentrism and to support keys and values in all languages of the world in a spirit of diversity, instead of replacing the dictate of English with the dictate of German without reflection.

What the critics forget is the possibilities that the German languages now offers us. After all, one of the strengths lies in the linking of nouns. This will also be reflected in tagging. First considerations have already emerged in the penultimate paragraph of the German article: https://blog.openstreetmap.de/blog/2018/04/openstreetmap-tags-kuenftig-auf-deutsch-und-franzoesisch/

Not all tags will be changed as part of this action. The draft provides for deleting all tags whose keys occur less than 2000 times and whose values occur less than 20 times. In this way, splinter interests should no longer be given room in a project and the OpenStreetMap Foundation should be made fit for the stock exchange. A series of railway and brothel detail tags will therefore not survive the change, especially since some of the terms from the Red Light Mileu do not have a proper German/French translation.