You work in NLS? How many languages do you speak?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/09/10 10:14 -04:00, original URI:

If I had a dollar for every time someone said the exact words that form the title of this post, I would be able to rival the annual salary I paid myself as Chief Software Architect of my software company before I became a serf at Microsoft. :-)

As Cathy Wissink first told me a long time ago, NLS may be best thought of as an acronym for Not Localization, Stupid. Which is not to call localization stupid, it's not. In fact, as I implied yesterday and the day before, localization really depends on good support from what is covered by NLS, and could thus be thought os as a proper subset in any software that is not itself stupidly implemented to international markets.

The term stupid in that recasting of the acronyn is meant to refer to the people who think that what I do is localization. Though in polite Kyoto to Tokyo form, I usually tell the person who made the mistake that NLS stands for Not Localization, Silly. It is just more polite....

Also to alter the aside from TStT:

[Aside: This anecdote is sort of, but not exactly, an instance of what Mark Liberman calls "silly talk about linguistics".  It doesn't really qualify, though, because the misconception (a) was really about localization, not internationalization or NLS in general, and (b) was brought up not because I mentioned I work in NLS, but rather because in this case they claimed to have read my blog when pretty obviously they could not have read any part of it.]

Speaking of the RHDL Emeritus again for a moment (Kieran claims that I have caused Cathy's Google hits to expand voluminously though a quick look seems to disprove that notion), when she and I write articles she usually has to translate the Michaelisms into English, so perhaps Cathy is in fact a localizer in that context? :-)

And that reminds me, speaking of articles, we have one in the October 2005 MSDN (the one I referred to last month), which will be available online in a few days. She struggled to localize this one back to English in addition to all of the work to provide actual content. I wonder if she pines for the days before I was a serf when we actually got paid for that sort of thing? :-)

Maybe that is a better answer for the silly NLS question:

woman on plane: You work for Microsoft, what to do you?
me: I work in NLS.
woman on plane: NLS, what is that?
me: Well, basically the international support. So people can use their language (or really any language) in Windows.
woman on plane: NLS, that is wonderful! How many languages do you speak?
me: Only one. But I have a colleague who is really patient about it, and she translates for me.

Kind of passive/aggressive, but no worse than when I used to respond to "Jewish? Where are your horns?" type questions as a teenager travelling through West Virginia with "I'm don't wear them when I travel."

# Gabe on 10 Sep 2005 4:36 PM:

In all honesty, I can imagine somebody reading your blog, seeing you expound on various parts of Cyrillic, Chinese, and Sanskrit, and thinking that you actually know the languages written in those scripts. Or more likely, they might think that those are languages.

Much the way computer novices think that somebody who uses keyboard shortcuts must be a computer expert, it's pretty easy to assume that you must know some language because you know intricate details of its sort order. Hell, I once had an old Russian lady convinced that I was a native speaker because I was able to use all six words of the Russian vocabulary I know appropriately in conversation (with an accent I learned from movies).

# Michael S. Kaplan on 10 Sep 2005 4:45 PM:

A fair point, Gabe -- and it is odd to think sometimes about how I am an expert on a mechanism that supports things about which I am merely an egg (or a neophyte, to the less geekily inclined!).

# J. Daniel Smith on 11 Sep 2005 12:22 AM:

Some of this depends on exactly how you define "speak". In the context of this question it doesn't literally mean "speaking" but probalby a more general "know" (speak and/or read and/or write and/or listen).

You might rate your knowledge of particular language as less than others would say.

And you must admit that you do have at least a casual acquaintance with a number of languages -- perhaps even enough to read "USA Today"-style (i.e., simple) headlines from around the world.

Even if reading headlines or counting to 10 doesn't count a speaking/knowing a language to you, the average English-speaking american might be pretty impressed.

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referenced by

2010/08/01 It's not a localization bug; it's a core bug in the way they do their globalization and resource loading

2005/09/12 How does Microsoft assign new collation weights?

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