What language to use

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/12/01 10:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2005/12/01/498866.aspx

On Language Log, Bill Poser posted about how Icelandic Studies are Shifting to English, quoted in part here:

This isn't an entirely unfamiliar development: there are other fields in which foreigners play a major, if not the major, role. Indeed, it is really what we should expect. So long as a field attracts the interest of outsiders, given that the number of outsiders is larger, often much larger, than the number of natives, statistically speaking we should expect to see foreigners play the larger role. Of course, disparities in access to education and interest in scholarship will affect the relative prominence of different countries, as will differences in access to important resources and motivation. No one should be surprised that Arabs are not prominent in glaciology or that few experts on camels are Scandinavian.

His post made me think of the role that language plays in locales, for some reason.

Every locale has things such as the language name and the country name in three different languages for a given install:

I guess that means that we have English as some kind of ultimate fallback, the localized language as the preferred one to show, and the native language as the one that not every person will know for every single locale (imagine if using Windows required you to know 100 languages!).

When you add the Language Interface Pack (LIP) concept to the mix, something interesting happens. Because this is a partial localization based on what people would most frequently see and expect to see in their native language, the decision of whether to translate those lists of languages and countries and such is an individual one made by the localizer. Which brings me inevitably back to Bill's post and why it got me thinking about this whole issue:

What is interesting here is that the subject in question is the sort that is often taken to be at the heart of the national character, one that only a native can fully appreciate. One hesitates to imagine the reaction to a proposal that French university courses on mediaeval French language, literature, and history should be conducted in English on the grounds that foreign scholars now dominate the field.

Since the localizer's job here is in many ways an advocate for the target language to which they are working to appropriately translate, similar decisions have to be made for every string, especially when it is a string that is easy to see in a user interface that is not commonly launched (Regional and Language Options, in this case).

I would hesitate to imagine the reaction if the French localization of Windows did not translate this list (luckily French is not a partial localization so we do not have to find out!).

But it is fascinating to contemplate this particular aspect of the localizer's job in the LIP scenario, which almost becomes an extended version of the "Lifeboat" scenario as what to take on the boat and what to leave is decided. Especially when (inevitably) non-native testers of the LIP will file bug reports about strings that are not translated, since there is no way for them to know if a string not translated was missed by oversight or by a decision that lies at the heart of the national character....

Thanks for the inspiration, Bill. :-)


This post brought to you by "Đ" (U+0110, a.k.a. LATIN CAPITAL LETTER D WITH STROKE)

# orcmid on 1 Dec 2005 10:32 AM:

Fascinating. I am going to have to face this with my document-management and -processing hat on some day soon, and I can just see how this makes the librarian localization problem real.

These are great examples of how proceduralization of reality stubs its toe, of course. There's never enough context. I wonder how we can let the user drive and get a sane results.

# Maurits [MSFT] on 1 Dec 2005 3:21 PM:

To throw another log on the fire...

Quality of translation is another issue that has to be considered.

What if a user understands X languages, some better than others... and the content is available in Y languages, one of which is the original, and the other (Y - 1) of which are translations of different quality?

See my post on page 2 of this thread:

# Michael S. Kaplan on 1 Dec 2005 4:20 PM:

Not sure how to objectively value the 'quality of translation' from different localizers, though!

# Maurits [MSFT] on 1 Dec 2005 4:49 PM:

Well, you could set the translation qualities to 1 for all translations that exist, and 0 for those that are missing, if you don't want to open the "quality of translation" can of worms.

The user is then presented with translated material based solely on their own assessment of how well they speak languages they do speak, and on the availability of translations for those languages.

Or perhaps it would be worth while to allow users to rate translations? That would give you objective feedback on how good of a job your localizers are doing (or on how controversial a particular language is.)

# Maurits [MSFT] on 1 Dec 2005 5:20 PM:

Or perhaps the "original source" should have a quality of 1, and all translations should have a quality of .8?

That way a person whose primary language is Chinese (say) but who speaks English very well (0.9) would see English text...

but a native Chinese speaker who speaks English only slightly (0.5) would see Chinese text first, and English only if no Chinese text was available.

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