Re: Origin of the term i18n

From: Barry Caplan (
Date: Tue Oct 15 2002 - 02:37:25 EDT

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    At 10:25 PM 10/14/2002 -0700, you wrote:
    >Hmmph. It was a mildly interesting question at first, and it wouldn't
    >have been too bad to see six or eight responses, but by my count we are
    >up to 52 messages in this thread. (53, counting this one.)
    >The participants have either fallen into a religious debate over which
    >group or individual first came up with the idea -- as if that could ever
    >be proved conclusively -- or have started a fad of coining silly new

    I don't see it as a religious debate or even a debate at all - after all, the conclusion was for all intents and purposes on my web site already.

    What is more interesting to me is an exploration of the history of internationalization now that we have more or less settled when i18n was coined. The history is goes through a period of hand wringing about what to even call what we now know as internationalization and localization.

    It wasn't always so clear cut - I made some calls to people I know who aren't in this community anymore but who were long ago who might provide some insight. I have an article written for me last week by the source in my article last week at my request covering some of the history - further back than we have covered in this thread. I intend to post is ASAP on except I had a server crash over the weekend. Hopefully that will be fixed in the morning and I can get the article to you. There is an interesting twist in the story about why, at that time and place, "internationalization" itself was not sufficient as Mark suggested and it is persuasive to me.

    Then I intend to raise the question of those who were around longer than me of just how far back does the idea of internationalization actually go and when was that term first used. To me, the two holy grails of computer science from day one have been good chess playing programs and machine translation. So at least back into he mid 1950s there was a need for multilingual computing of some type.

    I am sure there was a lot of roll your own techniques for a good long time. When did these techniques get a name at all, and what was the name and definition? Was it something other than internationalization? If so how did it morph to what we know now? when did localization come into it?

    These are important historical questions and I think wholly appropriate for this list.

    You won't see *this* happen every day, but I'm in almost total agreement
    >with Mark Davis. Some of these number-based abbreviations may be useful
    >at times, but for the most part they're like emoticons -- overuse them,
    >or cross the line inventing new ones, and they immediately become trite
    >and cutesy.

    One of the signs of a mature specialty is a set of jargon and a set of inside humor. To me, l10n and i18n are the only ones we should use everyday. I respectfully disagree about g11n. The rest may be overdoing it a bit but I see the point if they express a concept of i18n/l10n as applied to a specific region or locale beyond the word spelled out itself. that is the power of jargon and branding both.

    > It
    >has nil to do with Unicode.

    My research over the last week indicates that the origins of Unicode are very definitely of the same era and from the same community of the people who brought the idea of internationalization to a critical mass, and coined the term i18n. One has not been separable from the other since at least 1989.

    >I can do all that, if it would help kill this thread.

    Personally I would love to see it all end up being moved to

    There has been a fair amount of off-list discussion going on, btw.

    Barry Caplan

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