Sunday, October 11, 2009

Aversion towards localization a sign of technological barbarism

English is obviously the lingua-franca of everything computer and computer-science related. Having a single language does help everybody since it easily allows people to communicate and exchange ideas.

The side-effect of using English for everything computer related is that it decreases the focus on using the local language for computer-related discussions. Or, if the local language is used, it is filled with English words ! The more complex the discussion becomes, the more English is used until it becomes almost easier to use English full-time and just revert to the local language when some explaining is required using examples. I think this is the reason some multinationals revert to English as the official language -- for computer related workers, it doesn't affect the productivity, especially since people of different nationalities might end up working together.

Well, this means that while English has evolved to be a technology-centric language, most of the other languages either try to play catch-up or, most likely, don't run into the race at all and just import all the English words.

In my country developers, for example, dislike applications localized into the native language. The more technical the application is (like a developer tool), the more foreign it seems to them to see the text in the local language instead of English. Native words disturb them and metaphors seem weird when they make the cognitive connection: a mouse is actually a rodent ! I'm pretty sure English people also thought of rodents the first time they heard "mouse" in a phrase -- but this has been changed nowadays. Computers have become so ubiquitous that "mouse" usually means that computer peripheral. "Firewall" is not some fireman expression or a burning wall, but something computer related, etc.

By focusing so much on the English language and not allowing themselves to jump-start the native language metaphors related to computer science, developers are the main culprit of keeping the native language into a phase of technological barbarism.

An then, they act surprised when the local market almost doesn't exist and their parents can't understand a thing from computers and need help with the simplest things (usually they can't understand the language on screen, which is English).


Brian Barker said...

This seems to be an argument for Esperanto, to me.

It's unfortunate however, that only a few people know that Esperanto has become a living language.

During a short period of 122 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA World factbook. It is the 22nd most used language in Wikipedia, and a language choice of Google, Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

Native Esperanto speakers, (people who have used the language from birth), include World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to NATO and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet.

Your readers may be interested in the following video.

A glimpse of the language can be seen at

Emilian Bold said...

I don't see how this is an argument for Esperanto. If we replace "Esperanto" with "English" then we are already there. I don't think the answer is a single language -- maybe there is some value in diversity ?

What I meant is that existing languages are starting to miss a whole stage in their development: adding technology words. Importing 100% neologisms from English doesn't seem like a smart strategy nor a simple solution for languages that don't have Germanic roots.