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A meta question proposes appending native language information to a user's profile. This information is probably not necessary for most users, but there are occasions where a question seems so bizarre, but that it might not be so bizarre if one knew the language background of the OP.

A recent question, for example, asks about a seemingly ridiculous sentence "go out in the kitchen", which the OP thinks means "go out from here and into the kitchen." I wondered whether the OP's native language was one where there is not much distinction between prepositions and verbs, and whether the language allows multiple finite verbs. There are quite a few languages which have well-formed sentences that could be literally translated as:

Move exit enter!

Meaning "go out [from here] into [there]." Maybe, instead of appending language info to someone's badge, we could make a boilerplate suggestion for English beginners who post bad/bizarre questions to indicate their native language and perhaps even to indicate any sentence in their native language that they might be trying to translate from. If there are any users who are familiar with the language, it could make the question answerable.

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    I am in fact planning to propose exactly this for ELL when the time comes. I would find it helpful (and probably interesting) here, too; but I worry that it might be misread and prompt rejection as "translation". And then there's the sad fact that practically nobody seems to read the boilerplate until they've been around for a few weeks or months - in part because it's so hard to find. – StoneyB Dec 18 '12 at 5:10
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    It is probably worth noting here that the example, "go out in the kitchen" is a fragment of a quote from Catcher in the Rye. I'm not sure why the OP of that question chose not to include that information from the start, but (in this case) the issue does not seem to stem from a bad translation. – Cameron Dec 18 '12 at 7:38
  • @StoneyB If the question asks not "What is the correct way of saying [foreign sentence] in English?" but instead, "Why is [wrong English] not the way of saying [foreign sentence] in English?" it's not a translation question. – Andrew Leach Dec 18 '12 at 9:23
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    @Cameron Presumably because the OP is not blessed with the knowledge that all native English speakers have that that sentence is a bit weird. On the face of it, it could be a perfectly normal, everyday English sentence, and giving a reference could seem over-the-top or distracting. – Billy Dec 18 '12 at 13:08
  • For what it's worth, I suspect that this will be a non-issue when ELL exists and obviously "non-native" questions can be easily migrated. – Billy Dec 18 '12 at 13:12
  • In fact "go out into the kitchen" does mean that. He was confused, though, in that he thought it meant "go out of the house and into the kitchen" (which didn't make sense in context) rather than "go out of the living room and into the kitchen" (which did). A perfectly understandable mistake, given what "go out" usually means in English. What do you think it means? – Peter Shor Dec 18 '12 at 20:44
  • I would welcome more information about the cultural and linguistic background of questioners. As a former ESL teacher and as a former teacher of English grammar to native speakers, I can testify that there is plenty of ignorance and strange ideas that need correcting among both native speakers and non-native. But different ones, often predictable from knowing something about the cultural, linguistic, and educational background of the speaker. If I knew this information about every poster, I could do a much better job of explaining to them. As it is, I have to be very general. – John Lawler Dec 23 '12 at 21:52
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    That's for everybody, mind. Not just non-native speakers. I'd like to know what language is your native one, what dialect of it you speak, plus any other languages you speak regularly or are familiar with. And for questions about written English, some idea of how much grammar has been studied; it'd be nice to know what the poster thinks "grammar" means, too, but one can't expect that much. Viva voce, I could find out in a minute of two and tune; it's much harder in writing. – John Lawler Dec 23 '12 at 21:55
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First and foremost, I completely agree with every word of KitFox's answer, but...

I think it's not always obvious to the OP whether his location and/or fluency in English is relevant. So I'd like our FAQ to suggest that people consider including such information alongside their questions - or even better, create an account and put it on their User Page (as, sadly, not all do).

In the early days of Internet chat, one of the first things people always typed was ASL (asking for Age/Sex/Location). Okay, we could probably ignore S (we're not a dating site!) - but more than most SO sites, ELU needs context to perform well.

TL;DR: I'd rather have potentially superfluous information I can ignore if it doesn't seem relevant.

  • Yes, this puts what I had in mind better than what I mindlessly responded to above. You can't demand the information, and you probably can't rewrite SE to accommodate and display structured information; but I often look for a questioners' milktongue or dialect or academic level to see where their problems might lie and where I should pitch my answer. – StoneyB Dec 19 '12 at 22:41
  • @StoneyB: Well, we can all see each other's rep scores - even to the extent of it popping up as "hover text" wherever you post. So obviously TPTB within SO think that element of "context" is relevant everywhere. It cuts both ways - it feels like high-rep users are currently being castigated for "imperious" closevoting, but my What exactly is an “adverb”? came within one vote of being closed. Quite possibly my rep alone persuaded one or more closevoters to stay their hand, and it's now my second highest rated question on ELU. – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '12 at 23:11
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    I think it's a reasonable idea, and it's more or less what I wanted to suggest. An FAQ could point out that certain types of information really help those who want to answer: one's native language, context for a quote (whether it's an attempted translation, taken from a book, etc.). – jlovegren Dec 19 '12 at 23:49
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I don't feel that there is any need to single out non-native speakers of English when looking at how to improve a problematic question. Native speakers can ask just as seemingly bizarre questions, and we should hold them to the same standard.

If a question seems bizarre, then the OP must provide more context. In the example you mention, perhaps it would be relevant context to indicate that the OP has little experience with these types of constructions. And possibly it could be explained that it is because those types of constructions don't exist in the OP's native tongue.

But it is also possible to have native speakers who have little experience with constructions that are common in other dialects. "Needs washed" and "today morning" come to mind.

In any case, non-native speakers don't get special treatment. If their background is relevant to the question being asked, the OP should include it. Otherwise, it's superfluous.

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    I'd amend: everybody should get special treatment! :) ... The more you know about the problem at hand and where it comes from, the better you are able to address it. Which is by no means to say that answers should be limited to language-specific considerations. Deal with OP's problem, make it helpful to everybody. – StoneyB Dec 19 '12 at 19:35

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