The recent question on how to represent in English a language which does not have a word for "I" has been closed as General Reference and deleted. Link (10k only; text below)

I've seen What is a "General Reference": Wikipedia? TV Tropes? Urban Dictionary? and Common accepted online resources and [Main site] What are your favorite English language tools? which list some resources which qualify as General References for ELU. Different SE sites will have different General References, so I understand that the message itself is going to be vague and users will need to refer to such external lists of resources.

There is of course the possibility that the question is off-topic, and perhaps it should have been phrased as I've described in my first sentence here rather than being presented as a translation issue. Perhaps "When translated into English" should have been "If I am to render this spoken sentence in English". Perhaps the question should have gone to Writers.SE. But it wasn't closed as off-topic; it's General Reference.

What General Reference exists which answers the deleted question about how to cope with un-English mannerisms or constructions in English? If it can be identified then it can be added to the list in the linked question(s).

In some cultures people might call themselves by their name.

For example if her name is May she might say in her native language

May has a very important thing to say.

When translated to English, should it be changed to

I have a very important thing to say.

in order to fit in with common practice in English language?

  • 1
    I agree that probably no GR specifically addresses that, unless you consider that nobody speaks that way in English, so you could argue that of course you always use "I". However, as it stands, it's unanswerable anyway, because it's a hypothetical question about an unknown language, and nobody but the original author/speaker can say whether it would be better to preserve the original meaning or to make the translation more idiomatic. Sep 17, 2012 at 14:47
  • 2
    If it is about a made up language, then this is Not Constructive; how do we know what the rules are of the made up language are, unless they are specified, and part of that specification would answer this. If it is about a real language, well, the question would then be more about this other language. If they explain enough about this other language then great. If not then it's all speculation on our part. 'Should' and translation are hard, with no strict rules.
    – Mitch
    Sep 17, 2012 at 15:59
  • I'd say, to answer your question, YES, you should gerually use "I", and not refer to yourself in the third person. As for references, here are a few: Wikipedia; an e-zine article from Esquire; a blog. If the O.P. reads all that, and still has a question, then maybe he can ask that question, but be very careful and deliberate about showing what he's discovered, and very explicit about what question remains.
    – J.R.
    Sep 17, 2012 at 17:26

3 Answers 3


I've reopened the question—it is clearly not general reference by any test, litmus or otherwise. The close reason of General Reference was created specifically for EL&U and SF&F, on the basis that these sites receive an extraordinary number of questions for which uncontroversial and uninteresting answers are easily available and findable. This question meets none of those criteria.

I'll also quickly address the other close reasons:

  • Exact duplicate: no one has suggested one as far as I can tell, nor am I aware of one
  • Off-topic: The question is about English
    • Proofreading: Not proofreading
    • Writing question: While the question is about how to write a sentence, it is not inherently one about writing.
    • "How to improve": no
    • Translation: While the question rises from a translation, the question-in-essence is not one limited to the scope of translation
    • Naming: no
    • Literature: no
    • Joke: no
  • Not Constructive: a reasonably objective answer may exist
  • NARQ: while the question could be edited for improvement, it is reasonably answerable in its current form
  • Too Localized: no

That doesn't mean the question can't be improved, but there is no substantial reason for it to be closed.

  • 1
    I took a crack at improving the question, FWIW.
    – J.R.
    Sep 18, 2012 at 9:57
  • On Science Fiction & Fantasy, we do not get an “extraordinary number” of GR questions. Getting the statistics would be a little painful as some of them are deleted, but given my impression (as a moderator on SF&F) is that they are not more common on SF&F than on other SE sites. I think language sites (not just EL&U) get more look-it-up-in-the-dictionary-already questions. Sep 19, 2012 at 20:46

I agree the question is not general reference. When I did a short TEFL course there was nothing covering this sort of issue, so if people teaching English don't know it, I don't see how the question is too basic.

It could be considered off topic if there is a generally accepted method for going from a language that uses a personal name for I to one that uses I, because that would be a linguistics question.

However, if the convention is language specific, then it's on topic.


As mr-shiny-and-new points out in a comment, the question Andrew Leach asks about is too basic for the site: it suffices to say "nobody speaks that way in English".

The General Reference close reason means the question is too basic for the site, but there's only one criterion:

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

This sole criterion for identifying a question as too basic is limiting. There are millions of basic errors: combinations of words that fall in the category of "nobody speaks that way". Very few of these idiosyncratic combinations are likely to have been explained by a reference source. Hence most of them cannot be closed with a reason of "too basic".

Such questions can be closed Too Localized or Not Really A Question; however, a categorization of Too Basic would be more helpful to the OP. It would be nice to see General Reference retitled Too Basic and described as:

This question is too basic and/or can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

  • 1
    I guess Bob Dole is nobody?
    – Marthaª
    Sep 17, 2012 at 21:22
  • The question is about common practice. An idiosyncratic usage does not define common practice just on account of the person's notoriety.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 17, 2012 at 21:26
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    The question is not about common practice: the asker knows what the common practice is. The question is about rendering a foreigner's speech in English. Think Yoda, or Hercule Poirot.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Sep 17, 2012 at 22:03
  • @ΜετάEd: Like Andrew said, the question is emphatically not about common practice. If it should have been closed at all, it should have been for being off-topic (and I'm not convinced it is off-topic). I can see absolutely no justification for deleting it.
    – Marthaª
    Sep 18, 2012 at 0:16
  • As quoted above, it's a translation question, and the OP even invites the answer that one should do what is common practice in English. I'm willing to accept that the question is not about common practice, even though common practice is specifically appealed to in the last sentence. Possibly there was something in the comments to the deleted question which clarifies this.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 18, 2012 at 14:49
  • @ΜετάEd: If I ask you whether you like vanilla or chocolate ice cream better, the question is about ice cream, not about vanilla.
    – Marthaª
    Sep 18, 2012 at 23:57

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