RE: Internationalization--Rants

From: Addison Phillips (
Date: Sat May 29 1999 - 16:38:53 EDT

Perhaps the sound of grinding axes should be added to the official Unicode ceremonies as outlined recently by Rick...

<rant; type="grinding axe">

Folks: Markus makes some interesting observations that are just BOUND to generate intemperate responses such as the attached message. It is tempting to respond to some of the observations below with good American counterexamples (I will leave this as an exercise to the user). I think the real point here is that people *like* and are used to their own cultural differences/icons/paper sizes/irrational systems of measure. Vive le différence.

Unfortunately for the poor software developer, this means incredible extra work. For example, I had a chance to chat with Toby Phipps over at Peoplesoft a couple weeks ago about his problems: can you imagine his pain? Accounting rules and HR regulations differ by CITY, let alone "region" or "country"!!! And he has to address it in code somehow (and appears to be doing it quite well, I might add). It took his team years, though, to achieve this level of enablement.

There is an assertion that US programmers tend to be myopic cultural Visigoths. However, I can add that few-if-any programmers worldwide are trained in appropriate development standards for worldwide release. I mean, sure, many Asian programmers write double-byte enabled code... but they embed strings, create weird icons, hardcode address data structures, and so on with the rest of them (and ditto throughout the world).

A few development organizations are truly global at design time and these paragons (tend to) produce worldwide sim-ships. Their biggest problem: they have to train every developer they hire, which should be no wonder... for giggles and grins, pick up *any* developer-oriented training manual that includes a section called "Internationalization" or "localization"... I can almost guarantee that the concepts, classes, examples, etc. in that section appear NOWHERE ELSE in said manual.

I18N is about more than just language. The problem begins with overall mindset of the development community (that I18N is something you add later--e.g. a feature and not something integral) and we ought to quit kidding each other and do something about that rather than arguing about whose language/currency/date format/color scheme is more poetically expressive.

Just my 0,0197 Euros worth. </rant>



        Addison Phillips
        Director, Globalization Services
        SimulTrans, L.L.C.

        +1 650-526-4652 (direct telephone) (Internet email) (website)

        "22 languages. One release date."

-----Original Message-----
From: G. Adam Stanislav []
Sent: Saturday, May 29, 1999 12:19 PM
To: Unicode List
Cc: Unicode List
Subject: Re: Internationalization--Standard Conventions

On Sat, May 29, 1999 at 08:32:51AM -0700, Markus Kuhn wrote:
> Telephone numbers
> +44 1223 334676
> ITU-T Recommendation E.123

Please elaborate. Is the +44 the area/country code, and the rest of it the local
number, or is everything the local number, with the plus indicating the
are code is missing. I have seen numbers like this, but could never figure
them out.

And what would be my company number in this notation? It is (715) 362-9586, but
that carries an assumption that the country code is 1. The are acode within the
country code 1 is 715. How would I write it internationally?

> Language
> English
> -
> -
> Over 50% of the world population are able to communicate in some basic
> form of English.

That sounds highly overstated. It is also ridiculous to try to standardize
what language people should use. It is English now, it used to be French,
before that Latin, before that Greek, at least in the Western world. It will
be something else in the future.

English is a very poor choice for international communications, IMHO. It is
a very inexact language, full of idioms, double meanings. And its use of verbs
followed by a preposition (or whatever it is called properly) is entirely
counterintuitive to anyone who has neither been born to English nor lived in
an English language country for at least 10 years. Just how is anyone supposed
to figure out that another way to say continue is `carry ON'. Why on? And,
for that matter, why `figure OUT'?

Yes, English is the de facto international language of today, but I would hate
for it to become a de iure standard. Times change, and so do linguae francae.

Let's also not forget that a language carries a lot of cultural bias with it.
I have lived in the US for about 16 years, am fluent in English (I think), yet
I still cannot translate Slovak proverbs into English (Slovak being my native
tongue). Proverbs tend to take advantage of many shortcuts a given language
offers. They lose their power when translated without the shortcuts.

> Graphical Icons
> -
> ISO 7000, ISO 3864, IEC 417, UN road sign guidelines

Any web sites about it? ISO standards are unaffordable to many of us.

> Any others that I did forget?

Yes. Mathematical notations. How do you read 123.456? One hundred twenty-three
and 456/1000 or 123456? Some countries use decimal points, others use decimal
commas. For all I know, some countries may use something else?

Yes, currency placements. What is correct: $123 or 123USD? In other words,
should currency precede or follow value? Should there be a space between the
two? Should the sign precede or follow the number? What about the relative
position of sign and currency? -123USD? 123-USD? 123USD-? $-123? -$123? $123-?

> Curiously, the dominance of English in international communication seems
> to have led to a significant delay of the introduction of other
> internationally accepted conventions in English-speaking countries, with
> the US being the worst example (They still have non-standard date/time
> format, paper sizes, measurement system, etc. while the other
> English-speaking countries fixed that mostly in the 1970s).

The first time I came to the US, I asked students at a campus cefeteria when
the US was going to switch to the metric system? One of the students started
screaming hysterically that we Europeans want to impose our system on the
US. My pointing out that the "US system" came from England while the metric
system being international, not European, did not convince her.

Funny thing happened many years later when I was trying to help a Romanian
physicist to apply for a Pennsylvania driver's licence. The application
was asking for his height in feet and inches. He knew it in centimeters.
I knew there were 30.5 centimeters to a foot, so we could calculate the
feet. As for the inches, I knew there were either 12 or 16 inches to a foot,
but was not sure which it was (I am still not sure). So I asked the 20 or
so people in the waiting room how many inches were in a foot. Nobody knew...

Incidentally, I doubt the dominance of English has anything to do with the delay
of internationalization in the US. I think it has something to do with
geography. The US is as big as Europe and is separated from the rest of the
world (except Canada and Mexico) by massive amounts of water. You can travel
for weeks without ever leaving the US. Plus, of course, the US is (or thinks
it is) completely self-sufficient. Most of its inhabitants have never left
the US, nor had to seriously deal with other cultures. They simply have no
REASON to learn a different system, even if that system is simpler to use.


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