Re: Multilingual Documents [was: HTML forms and UTF-8]

From: Asmus Freytag (
Date: Wed Dec 01 1999 - 20:51:43 EST

Chris suggested that we on this list have a bias in favor of multilingual
documents. I think, we tend to have a reverse bias, overlooking the
existence of very everyday multilingual 'documents' that surround us. Even
in the solidly monolingual US.

Following suggestions from earlier postings I'll focus on those
multilingual documents that cross one of the technical boundaries that
non-Unicode systems erect.

1) My utility bills in Seattle are printed in these languages

- English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Lao and Thai.
  (on the same bill).

2) Some of the foods (and other goods) I buy come with packages that contain

- English, European languages, even Arabic
  (These are not necessarily 'ethnic' foods, but the packages are
   intended for export. Extreme combinations of languages are more
   common in some markets, those that get the 'Rest of World' package
   as seen from the perspective of the producer)

3) Instruction and safety booklets come with almost any juxtaposition of

4) Most of my (European) newspapers easily cross alphabet boundaries
   (e.g. use of correct Latin-2 accents is common in Latin-1 languages).

I'm not listing the dictionaries, foreign language works, etc. that are all
specialized multilingual documents that I own because I am a member of this
list (or is it the other way around?) but ordinary everyday documents that
I did not particularily seek out for their multilingual nature. (This is
true even for (4).

Somebody has to produce all of these. For that purpose it would be enough to
have the translators use special purpose software. But just as with the
problems of German e-mail in a mixed 6/7/8 bit e-mail infrastructure, this
scenario runs into problems as one finds oneself reduced to manipulate
pictures of translations in the rest of the production process. And that is
how many of these things are done.

I appreciate Chris' attempt to not overstate the case for multilingual
support, but as we become more dependent on the web and net infrastructure
to handle all our text processing, the remaining bottlenecks do tend to
have a 'reverse synergy' type cost to them. My theory is that these
bottlenecks prevent some users from fully adopting the new technologies.
This 'cost' probably scales more with the percentage of users who have to
waorry about identifying and managing work arounds for them, even if
infrequently, rather than merely with the straight percentage of documents.


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