8

What should we do with comments in languages other than English? This isn't about referencing specific non-English terms. It's about comments that are completely written in a language or languages other than English. For example (user names suppressed here; UPDATE: the referenced comments have since been deleted):

  • Hmm... meinst du nicht, der Krug hat wiedermal eine kleine Entkalkung verdient?

  • ja, aber es ist eine WG und der Krug gehört mir nicht

  • Krug, oder Bild?

  • das Bild hat eine Entkalkung verdient?

  • ah, ja, kenn ich.

Should we:

  • recognise that we live in a multicultural society, so anyone can use any language we like (there's always google translate); or
  • note that Stack Exchange communication is typically conducted in the English language, so everyone should use English as the 'trade language'?

(I suppose it's something of a non-sequitur to point to the E in EL&U and require discussions to be in English since the topic being English doesn't necessarily require the discussion about that topic to also be in English.)

  • 4
    This Meta post might help inform the discussion : meta.stackexchange.com/q/13676 In my opinion, if two people are having a conversation that they don't necessarily want to welcome the rest of the community to participate in, they should be in chat. – ColleenV May 9 '18 at 17:39
  • 6
    Comments aren’t meant to be private conversations between individual participants, but a public conversation about the post they’re attached to, which anyone can contribute to. Given yes, the “E” in “EL&U”, the only language we can rely on all participants here sharing is English, so comments should be in English. We needn’t be martinets about this, an occasional comment here or there in a non-English can be tolerated (eg for two users to quickly signal they have a common linguistic background, Latin jokes, etc, and certainly no need for reprimands but extended conversations should be verboten – Dan Bron May 9 '18 at 17:59
  • 1
    Apart from the examples you are making, are comments in other languages so common to be an issue? I must say I’ve come across comments in foreign languages on very rare occasions. – user067531 May 9 '18 at 22:11
  • @user3850720 No. I agree it's rare. I asked this meta question because I was unsure whether to flag the non-English comments, drop an "in English, please" comment there, or just leave them be. – Lawrence May 10 '18 at 1:16
  • Thanks @ColleenV. Following your link led to another that specifically includes comments, not just Q/A posts. – Lawrence May 10 '18 at 1:24
  • @DanBron Nice one! I saw what you did there. :) – Lawrence May 10 '18 at 1:27
  • 4
    Just for data points, the other 'X Language & Usage' sites on Stack Exchange are multilingual. – Mitch May 10 '18 at 11:43
  • 2
    In some cases the user might have troubles communicating the nuances of a question in English, simply because a concept doesn't exist or transmit well in English. Speaking with another user in their native language can help improve the post in ways that English wouldn't. – Nemo May 18 '18 at 13:11
13

Dan Bron’s comment on the question is very practical:

Comments aren’t meant to be private conversations between individual participants, but a public conversation about the post they’re attached to, which anyone can contribute to. Given, yes, the “E” in “EL&U”, the only language we can rely on all participants here sharing is English, so comments should be in English.

We needn’t be martinets about this, an occasional comment here or there in a non-English can be tolerated (e.g. for two users to quickly signal they have a common linguistic background, Latin jokes, etc), and certainly no need for reprimands, but extended conversations should be verboten.

This is why the help pages specifically recommend English “to the best of your ability” for questions. The only language you can assume that all site experts will know is English.

That being said, other languages in comments sometimes come in very handy when trying to clarify a question with someone who is not a native English speaker. There is not and should not be a hard and fast rule about this, particularly in comments.

  • 1
    'Forbidden' is a bit strong. – Mitch May 10 '18 at 17:08
1

Per the Help Center,

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

Virtually all other uses of comments are either specifically forbidden, discouraged, or at least not recommended, and thus flaggable (as "no longer needed" if nothing else).

Based on these criteria, I would think that comments in languages other than English would make sense when they facilitate either of the two first recommended uses for comments. That is, if it seems likely that the author of the question or answer will better understand either a request for clarification or an offered constructive criticism if it is in some language other than English, then go for it. Of course, if it turns out that the OP does not speak the language of the comments, then they aren't going to serve any useful purpose and should go away.

On the other hand, since the lingua franca of EL&U is English, it makes sense to use English for the third use of comments (adding info to the post), since that info ought to be available to all users of the site.

Any other uses of comments are inherently deprecated here, regardless of whether they're in a specific language or not. So, for example, having a back-and-forth in some language other than English might make it more obvious that users are having a "Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point", which ought to happen in chat instead of in comments, but it's the nature of the comments that is the main issue, rather than the language in which they're occurring. Users should feel free to flag such conversations or not, using the same judgment as if the comments were in English.

-3

No restrictions on language choice whatsoever please, so long as the content of the language is appropriate. United States and UK are the exception as far as it being unusual for people to mix languages in their discussions, and I see no a priori reason to treat a peculiarity of these two societies as a default rule of conduct for this website. In fact, it would enrich the website greatly if we had more contributors from Anglophone, multicultural countries like Nigeria or India, presenting questions and discussion on World Englishes.

If someone is commenting in German, you should probably know German.

  • Exactamundo! Genau! Précisément! Uneducated parochialism. – Mitch May 19 '18 at 12:15
  • 4
    I don't follow your closing statement. Why should someone's choice of language in comments influence which language(s) I ought to know? For example, if Mitch had commented in Russian, French or Navajo, why should there be an assumption that you and I know those languages? – Lawrence May 19 '18 at 15:55
  • 1
    આ પરિપ્રેક્ષ્ય મૂળભૂત ભરેલું છે – Jane May 19 '18 at 17:47
  • @Lawrence if Mitch is using Russian, and we assume that Mitch is a cooperative participant (viz., not being obscure) as we normally do in conversation, then it means that Mitch expects for you to know Russian. Or it means that Mitch only intends for you to understand that you're being addressed in Russian, and the content is not important. – jlovegren May 20 '18 at 0:41
  • @Jane What is so wrong with this perspective? Can you elaborate? – Mitch May 20 '18 at 19:05
  • 1
    @Jane The first time I got "This attitude is basically prone" but the second time, Google translator gave me "This perspective is basically fraught" which shows how the same characters can give out different interpretations. – Mari-Lou A May 20 '18 at 21:57
  • @Mari-LouA the various senses of ભરેલું are so context-specific that it's tough to render in English. – jlovegren May 20 '18 at 22:27
  • Google is making two over-literal guesses. – jlovegren May 20 '18 at 22:33
  • 1
    @jlovegren That people who don’t speak the language can’t be guaranteed a reliable translation is the fundamental problem. Comments are fora, they’re meant for all participants in the post. Everyone has to be able to read them if we’re going to meet that aim of the site and its designers. On EL&U, the only mutual language we can assume is English. But as I said, it doesn’t have to be draconian. Like jokes, we can allow them in moderation. Also sorry for posting from the wrong account again, I keep forgetting the SE app doesn’t allow copy/paste to comments the. I’m gonna kibosh the Jane project – Dan Bron May 21 '18 at 4:01
  • @DanBron Wait... you're Jane? Sock-puppeting is pretty weird. – Mitch May 21 '18 at 12:20
  • @Mitch Yeah, see here: english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/11432/… . It was intended to be an experiment following-up on the “SE is not inclusive” blog post. It was suggested by a high rep user on Meta. But I didn’t follow through on it, and I kept forgetting that one browser was logged in with the other username. I’ve killed it now. I may try again. If we’re exclusive we need to fix it, stat. – Dan Bron May 21 '18 at 12:31
  • 1
    @DanBron: If I ever go undercover with my "Svetlana Yargs" investigation, I'll share my findings with you. – Sven Yargs May 21 '18 at 21:52
  • 1
    @DanBron taking your argument further, why not push Plain Language in the comments section? Why not discourage the use of jargon between specialists in the comments section? – jlovegren May 21 '18 at 23:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .