Even in India, the language is actually known as Bangla (not Bengali)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/01/30 07:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/01/30/10121996.aspx

I'd like to point out that all of this blog today is my opinion -- it is not a strategic statement of intent for Microsoft. Please set your expectations and interpretations accordingly....

It started on July 29, 2010, in 4 out the door, in both 32 & 64 (aka What Irish, Malay, Maltese & Bengali have in common) -- where I mentioned the release of the 32bit and 64bit versions of the Language Interface Pack for Bengali (India).

And then it continued on January 17th, 2011, in The Bangla LIP is out, only 5½ months after the Bengali LIP!-- where I mentioned the release of the 32bit and 64bit versions of the Language Interface Pack for Bangla (Bangladesh).

It culminated at the end of that second blog where (in true pot stirring form) I mentioned:

Perhaps in some future blog I may contrast the two LIPs, if people would perhaps find that interesting....

and in the comments where many people made it clear they were taking me up on the offer. :-)

Now the general issue of deciding to bifurcate a localization for two or more markets that speak the same language differently is something I have talked about countless times before, especially relating to customer satisfaction for English, Spanish, and Arabic. Especially when one considers the issues of mutual intelligibility across these many places. We don't really do any of those, though.

Now we do split Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, though. There is simply some threshold of differences combined with threshold of market sizes that plays into that one.

And if you consider About that Portuguese localization question... and About that Portuguese localization question, redux..., I have clearly discussed the one other big significant case where the bifurcation took place -- between Brazilian and European Portuguese (note that it too involved definite market pressures and formal usage research).

One more article I need tyo bring into the mix here, since all of the language issues I mentioned so far relate to full Language Pack SKUs, is Why one LIP and not another?, which will help provide some of the additional context of LIP-type language decisions.

First, I'll add one explicit fact that was buried a little implicitly in Why one LIP and not another?, previously.

The truth is that there are some individual cases where the people who were asking for a LIP (whether Public Sector in Microsoft or a government) might have no real interest in language quality, whatsoever. Maybe Someone is just trying to "sign a deal", maybe someone else is trying to "prove they care about a language" -- so perhaps to them it is just a line item, and if we shipped a brick with the language inscribed on it then it would meet *those* needs.

But the localization team tends to have higher standards than that, and of course the reason they care i because they know the customer will care too. A lot.

Let me introduce one more blog before I start talking about Bengali/Bangla: A way to say "this is who I am, where I am, what I think is wrong, and why" ?. It is right there that the problem of actionable feedback really comes into play.

Because it is much more difficult to respond to feedback that is either not directly actionable or at least interpret-able by others.

Now taking into account my own interest in Tamil¹, my own interest in Bengali/Bangla², and a lot of feedback on other LIPs targeting languages of South Asia, I am willing go out on a limb and say that although translation quality has improved in both languages (in some ways significantly), there remains issues (of the localization quality type I described in A way to say "this is who I am, where I am, what I think is wrong, and why" ?).

Combined with the general lack of actionable feedback, it can be hard to address this problem, which is one of the reason that it takes a while to do.

Even people who are unhappy with Bengali or Tamil or Kannada or Marathi in Windows 7 will readily admit that the quality is better than the initial LIP release in XP and/or Vista.

But if Microsoft has to tease the bugs out if the people who are saying something is wrong, it can take even longer than it would if we could just give up and go with what we had.


Think of all of the above as introduction. :-)

When it comes to Bengali/Bangla, there are three issues I am going to cover here:

 It would make a lot of sense for me to emphasize again that this is all my opinion -- it is not a strategic statement of intent for Microsoft. So please consider yourself reminded!

Now the first point is easy -- with more than 200 million speakers who consider it a first language across several countries (a not insignificant percentage of whom do not know English), it clearly makes sense to consider it for localization.

The second point is a bit more complicated.

A bunch of feedback had been coming in about how the Bengali (India) LIP was inadequate for Bangla-speaking computer users in Bangladesh.

Not a roar but a dull sense of dissatisfaction and frustration that one can expect from people who may not need the product for their own understanding (since they know English) but would need it to bring it to others (who may not, or at least not as well).

The issue can in theory be similar for Tamil though they tend to bring more passion and anger to language issues. So you can assume the volume will be higher, even if the message is just as hard to understand or harder!

It simply became more and more obvious as problems continued to come in as feedback that there was an honest feeling of inadequacy within the market, of a sort that could perhaps only be met by having localizers who were more attuned to that market on the job.

When considers that the majority of those > 200 million people are in Bangladesh, it becomes even more interesting to consider. And consideration turned to action!

The third pointis perhaps not as directly interesting, though as near as I can gather it would seem that while the Bengali (India) LIP is in its third version, the Bangla (Bangladesh) LIP is v.1. And the feedback that would come in was not as actionable. In essence, the biggest part of the delay seemed to be due to the fact it took longer for people to be comfortable with terminology choices and phrasings and usage, and to get the appropriate feedback when there were bugs to be fixed in these items.

But let me loop back to the second point for a moment.

Even in India, the language is actually known as Bangla, not Bengali, by almost all of the native speakers you might ask.

In fact, I may be wrong but I think calling it Bengali is yet another Britishism (there would be a surprise -- yet another problem in South Asia we could ultimately blame on the British!).

When one considers the fact that the language name was the first and most visible problem that Bangladeshis saw in the India-bound LIP, an important question comes up about whether this difference is typical of the many other differences that was imputed and suggested.

Because if it is that would suggest that the differences between the two LIPs are ones that would really better served if it were one single LIP with those Bangladeshi changes as the base.

So, now my challenge to all of you who read this blog who are in West Bengal or Assam is to:

  1. Install the Bengali (India) LIP for Windows 7, and
  2. Install the Bangla (Bangladesh) LIP for Windows 7, and
  3. see if you can discern significant differences between them, and
  4. assess whether in your opinion the differences represent real differences between usage in the two countries, or just kess willingness to put up with problems that exist for the localization in both countries.

I may not be correct here, but I think native speakers in India are the ones who can say for sure whether these differences are in fact ones that would benefit all Bengalis or not.

If the feedback is that both sides are right -- that some changes belong in both places but some genuinely are differences in the two markets -- then perhaps that would suggest that at a minimum the translation of one could benefit from a bit of review of the other!

I figure the first step is to ask the question. So in the hopes that a few of those 55 million Bangla speakers in India are reading this or have been pointed to it by friends what they think of the two language packs, compared....

And yes, I think both locale names in English should be updated to Bangla in future versions of Windows either way.


1 - Based on my decade of involvement with it, and the several native speaker friends I have.
2 - Based on the woman I dated, the several native speaker friends I have, and my desire to be able to read Tagore as he wrote.

John Cowan on 30 Jan 2011 1:11 PM:

"Bengali" is an adjective in both Bengali and English, but in English, the rule is that an adjective referring to a group of people who speak a common language is also used as the noun meaning the language itself.  We have French cuisine, French territory, French leave (:-)), and so on, but "French" as a noun means the French language, and likewise with the nouns "English", "German", and so on.  ("Scots" is an exception.)

So "Bengali" as the name of a language is regularly formed English.  Later on, we borrowed the word "Bangla", the name of the language in Bengali itself, and this now competes with the regularly formed "Bengali" as the name of the language, much as "Farsi" competes with "Persian" as the name of the Persian language.

It's interesting to note that the country name "Bangladesh" means the territory of those who speak Bengali, rather than the territory of the (ethnic) Bengalis.  Most of the people who speak Bengali today are the descendants of those who spoke other languages (some related to Bengali, many not) a few centuries ago.  Consequently, the notion of "ethnic Bengali" really doesn't have a referent: the achievements of Bengali culture as such tend to be language-based ones like poems and novels.

Similarly, "ethnically French" is not a category within France (though it is in Canda): you are either a citizen of France or not, and if not, you are either francophone or not.  French norms of discourse don't really recognize non-francophone citizens of France as a concept, although of course there are some. "Ethnically Russian" on the other hand makes plenty of sense: there are even separate words for "ethnic Russian" and "citizen of Russia".

Michael S. Kaplan on 30 Jan 2011 3:10 PM:

Of course I did not link to them, but the question about "who decides the English spelling" that has come up for both Uighur/Uyghur and Farsi/Persian is relevant to the decision for us, at least somewhat! :-)

Pavanaja U B on 30 Jan 2011 11:39 PM:

<Even people who are unhappy with Bengali or Tamil or Kannada or Marathi in Windows 7 will readily admit that the quality is better than the initial LIP release in XP and/or Vista.>

Agree with this as far as Kannada is concerned.


Omi Azad on 3 Feb 2011 8:53 AM:

I learned that a major update of Windows Phone 7 is coming. Do they have any plan to add Indic (at least display) capability on that? If I cannot read my friends' tweets/status then the phone may not be useful to us!

Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Feb 2011 9:35 AM:

I do not expect that the version of Silverlight and .Net is changing in this next update (which is the fix here), though I have no hard facts to cite on the issue.

Omi Azad on 4 Feb 2011 6:31 AM:

I assume the phone didn't start good. It's too much US based.

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referenced by

2012/03/02 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 20: Yes, it's Bangla. Not Bengali!

2011/08/08 Bengali vs. Kamrupi?

2011/02/18 speaking with an accent, conceptually

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