"Intuitive" in one language may (at best) be "understandable" in another. Please plan accordingly....

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2010/05/22 07:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2010/05/22/10006058.aspx

Sometimes you can have text in documentation that is entirely true that if you translate it to another language, it's not.

This is usually the essence of the difference between localization and translation; however, at times the difference in what you can or would say in the two language is so utterly different that the localization process may consist of simply deleting paragraphs, with nothing to replace them with other than

English-specific claims were made in this space as if they applied universally, but we know better, don't we?

A fun example of this came up the other day. Well, fun for me, at least.

First I'll inject two terms into the conversation: intuitive and understandable.

Intuitive is the stuff you just get right away, without any real help. You see it or hear it or read it or whatever, and you understand right away what is going on. To use a Star Wars metaphor, Ben "Obi Wan" Kenobi was intuitive when he said stuff like "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." it is all pretty intuitive what he is saying. We intuitively understand the words even though we may have neither knowledge nor understanding of "the Force" or any of the stuff behind it.

Understandable is the stuff you have to do a little more work on to get it. it may be easy to do so and it likely gets better with practice. But it cannot be called "intuitive" because there is some degree of a learning curve. To put in a comparable Star Wars metaphor, Yoda was understandable when he said stuff like "Never his mind on where he was" or "Stopped they must be; on this all depends" and "Unexpected this is. And unfortunate.". As many linguists like Geoffrey R. Pullum have pointed out, the way Yoda-speak is applied is unusual (all the moreso because of how it is not used by the jedimaster). Even children can understand him, but everyone has to go through some mental gyrations to do so. It is thus totally understandable, even though it isn't intuitive.

Okay, we have those now?


Now we will move on to PowerShell.

When pages like Microsoft PowerShell syntax | Grammar rules for Scripts say things like:

The fact that you almost don't need this page is a testament to the intuitive nature of PowerShell.

and I could pull up another dozen examples of descriptions of PowerShell that go on to talk about the intuitive nature of the word ordering and so on.

The assumption here is that it would be intuitive to take a very expressive syntax like the "English" used by PowerShell and have native speakers of another language who, if they know English at all (not all of them will!), they do not know it as a first language.

Obviously that assumption cannot be true across all users and the myriad of languages they speak.

So let's say you were a localizer tasked with the work of taking text like the aforementioned

The fact that you almost don't need this page is a testament to the intuitive nature of PowerShell.

and putting it into another language, one where it may not always be so intuitive?

Languages that are more symbolic and less expressive as if it were language actually have an advantage in some of these cases than the Visual Basics and PowerShells do; it is often only, for example, by thinking of PowerShell symbolically that it becomes easily understandable for these people.

Now perhaps the localizer will simply assume that given the likely scripting/programming background of the reader that they have gotten "over the hump" of the learning curve and thus it is pretty much intuitive to them anyway. Though compared to the expressive nature of the language to people who know English, I think it will always be a stretch to call it intuitive across all target languages.

Now I won't necessarily call this ignorance on the part of the core team doing the writing (since by and large it is a non-English issue), though given the large number of non-English speakers who use the English version, a bit more knowledge of this fact might add a little humility to the somewhat prideful statement about "the intuitive nature of PowerShell" since to many, it won't be at first.

Because in cases like PowerShell, that one particular "intuitive" feature so often cited is not going to be as intuitive or as expressive to everyone. Which makes it best to modify that description to make the language sound more broadly applicable, even to those people who aren't native speakers of English....

Especially since in this case, the fix would have to be in the English version; whatever changes localizers would make would be to work around issues that hadn't yet been fixed. :-)

Giljonnys Dias da Silva on 21 Jun 2010 6:05 PM:

I agree with KAPLAN .His subject is very interesting in the area of communication.And it should applied in the teaching of English by other professionals in the area of linguistics.

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