And it all started with a request that was refused....

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2012/03/21 06:01 -04:00, original URI:

The blog you are reading right now is based on a true story.

Some liberty has been taken with specific details, both to assist the overall narrative and to avoid revealing details that are not mine to share.

And further, I was not a witness to many of the events I describe herein.

Think of this pre-blog disclaimer (in red) as the sort of thing Mike Daisey should have included!

I hope you enjoy. :-)

In January of 2005 I blogged Lions and tigers and bearsELKs, Oh my! about Enabled Language Kits, and in February of 2005, I blogged Microsoft, you giving us some LIP? about Language Interface Packs.

They painted two bold models by which Microsoft Windows was able to achieve specific tasks:

ELKs extended the underlying OS support to specific targeted languages.

And LIPs used partial localizations to extend the language list to include languages that may not be able to support a business case for a fully localized SKU.

But that isn't how they all started.

That is technical marketing material to sell people on the concepts.

The story of how they started is much more interesting.

And it is the story I'm telling today....

It started in Spain, as many good stories do.

Somebody from somewhere or another in the government of Spain, to be [imprecisely] precise.

A request came to Microsoft.

They wanted us to create a Basque version of Windows.

A what?!?

A version of Windows localized into Basque.

Now in Spain, language is in many cases a serious thing.

It's not like the phrase "militant Basque" is something I made up during my 20% time. They have good reasons in Spain to promote other languages spoken within its borders.




And so on.

And Basque.

Anyway, some engineers made some estimates.

And some bean counters counted beans.

It can cost millions to localize into a new language.

Microsoft as a rule doesn't like to say no in this kind of situation, but the numbers just didn't work out.

So we had to say there just wasn't a way to make it work.

The person from Spain seemed ready for this response.

He brought a prop, in fact.

{cue mythical dramatic scene in 5...4...3...2...1...}

"Let me put it another way"

{thud - the sound of  bag of a aparently full bag of money hitting the table}

"We can give you USD$100,000 for a Basque version of Windows."

{pregnant pause}

"We'll take a look and see what we can do!"

"Thank you very much...."

{end mythical dramatic scene}

After that, each engineering decision, plan, and feature worked within a known budget.

And each obstacle was overcome, one at a time.

Sample obstacle #1: 100% localization would be way too exepensive and we'd go way over budget.

Sample solution #1: You can run Windows for years and never see a given obscure networking configuration dialog. Or its help file. While you see the Start Menu all day long. Maybe localizing lessmore of the former and moreless of the latter can bring the price in!

Sample obstacle #2: Windows Multilingual User Interface always has to be installed atop English, which wouldn't make as much sense for a language like Basque -- especially if some of the more obscure text might have to be in the non-Basque language.

Sample solution #2: We load most resources via traditional means. By making changes in the resource loader, the way that language fallback occurs can be changed in intentional ways.

And so on. You get the idea.

From there, we found out something interesting.

Something very interesting, in fact.

You see, folks in Government Affairs do see requests like this. And so do folks in Education. And in Public Sector.

Rather than a long, drawn out multi-version process of making requests and hoping they are one day approved, more direct efforts to figure out what people wanted and working to provide it were feasible.

We no longer needed oppressive and huge business case evidence. Because we found that getting into markets with the languages people want generates interest. And whether it is universities or governments or NGOs or whoever. Before we fully understood it, we changed the game out from under ourselves.

And helped millions of our customers, around the world. In every version of Windows since then.

And it all started with a request that was refused....

Richard Deeming on 21 Mar 2012 1:42 PM:

"Maybe localizing more of the former and less of the latter can bring the price in!"

Shouldn't that be the other way round? If you never see A, but you always see B, you want to localize the latter (B), not the former (A).

Michael S. Kaplan on 21 Mar 2012 4:40 PM:

Indeed Richard. In the words of Gene Wilder from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory -- "Strike that! Reverse it!" :-)

Doug Ewell on 27 Mar 2012 8:27 PM:

Valencian is Catalan.

Michael S. Kaplan on 27 Mar 2012 8:42 PM:

The Valencian Language Institute disagrees, Doug. :-)

I just try and keep an open mind....

John Cowan on 2 Apr 2012 8:14 AM:

Actually, the AVL *doesn't* say that at all.  From their official 2005 resolution on the name and identity of Valencian:

D’acord amb les aportacions més solvents de la romanística acumulades des del segle XIX fins a l’actualitat (estudis de gramàtica històrica, de dialectologia, de sintaxi, de lexicografia…), la llengua pròpia i històrica dels valencians, des del punt de vista de la filologia, és també la que compartixen les comunitats autònomes de Catalunya i de les Illes Balears i el Principat d’Andorra. Així mateix és la llengua històrica i pròpia d’altres territoris de l’antiga Corona d’Aragó (la franja oriental aragonesa, la ciutat sarda de l’Alguer i el departament francés dels Pirineus Orientals). Els diferents parlars de tots estos territoris constituïxen una llengua, és a dir, un mateix «sistema lingüístic», segons la terminologia del primer estructuralisme (annex 1) represa en el Dictamen del Consell Valencià de Cultura, que figura com a preàmbul de la Llei de Creació de l’AVL.

Or in case your Catalan isn't so hot, from the official translation:

In  accordance  with  the  most  trustworthy  contributions  that  have been  made  by  Romance  linguistics  since  the 9th  century  (research into historical grammar, dialectology, syntax, lexicography, etc.), the Valencian people's own historical language is the same language, from a philological point of view, spoken in the autonomous communities of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands and in the Principality of Andorra. It is also the historical and autochthonous language of other regions of the former Crown of Aragon (the eastern strip of Aragon, the Sardinian city  of  Alghero  and  the  French  department  of  Pyrénées-Orientales). That spoken in all of these regions constitutes one language, that is to say, one single «linguistic system», to use the terminology of early structuralism (Appendix 1) which was taken up in the resolution of the Valencia Council of Culture, which appears as a preamble in the law on the constitution of the AVL.

Now that text bends over backwards not to use the word "Catalan", but there is no denying that the "historical and autochthonous language of [...] the former Crown of Aragon" is Catalan.

The resolution goes on to say:

Within this group of speech variants, Valencian  has  the  same  position  and  value  as  any  other  regional variety of the linguistic system; moreover, it possesses distinguishing characteristics which the AVL should protect and promote based on local lexicographical and literary tradition, on the true linguistic situation in Valencia and on the normative rules already established in the Normes de Castelló (the Castelló Regulation).

So there you are: according to the AVL, Valencian is a specific variety of the language otherwise known as Catalan.  Only a minority of Valencian nationalist politicians (most of whom allegedly can't speak Valencian) call it a separate language.  In short, this is another Romanian/Moldovan case (or for that matter Castilian/Spanish case): one language, two names.

Michael S. Kaplan on 2 Apr 2012 10:44 AM:

I guess I admit more willingness to suppport a wide variety of viewpoints then some... :-/

But what this has to do with Basque or the topics of THIS blog? Completely beyond me....

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