Acceptable Languages?

A question was posted under the “Using Swift” category that provided its source code in German. When I responded to the question in German, it sparked a complaint from another user that quickly gained several hearts. And this is not the first time.

I would like official clarification of the forum policy in this regard. It seems to me that requiring participants to not use their mother tongue would be a violation of Swift’s Contributor Coventant, which itself is provided in 31 different languages. Swift.org also has a request for aid translating the documentation and provides a link to the officially recognized Chinese. (A recent offer of a Korean translation went unanswered though, so maybe this isn’t as serious a request as it looks.)

I understand that responding on a review thread in Hindi would just be a waste of the review manager’s time. But for “Using Swift” and similar categories it does not seem unreasonable to answer the original poster in their own language. (There tend to be plenty of duplicate questions even in one language anyway.) Or if several translators create a thread to discuss the work they are doing translating The Swift Programming Language into Arabic, do they have to switch into English just because it is on the forums and someone else might read it?

I also understand that a user might want to filter things like the “New Threads” list to only see what is intelligible to him. But I believe there ought to be better ways of solving this problem than forbidding linguistic diversity. Maybe some sort of etiquette could be developed, such as tagging threads according to their language? Or maybe “Using Swift” could be split into separate categories by language?

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My personal opinion is that it's not great to respond to a question in language A with an answer in language B, even if something in the question implies that the asker understands language B. It's one thing to have a conversation in a language that doesn't include everyone—all of our English-only threads are obviously that!—but it's another to take an existing conversation and leave out some of the people already participating in it by switching to another language.

(It does also mean an answer isn't "reusable"; if someone else has the same question and finds the post, they may not understand the answer. But as you pointed out we already get quite a few repeat discussions, especially in "Using Swift".)

Some of this opinion does hinge on the definition of "existing". On Stack Overflow, for example, multiple responses to a question are considered alternatives; on Discourse they look like one long thread. Is a single question in English an "existing conversation" if there are no responses yet? I don't have a good answer here.

I do think it makes sense to explicitly say non-English forum threads are allowed, especially in "Using Swift". While the project and the community have a strong English bias (for a number of reasons), I think it would be net-helpful to allow parts of the community to interact on this site without being forced to use a language they may not be comfortable in.

I definitely think it's worth bringing this up, so thank you.

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Usually I include an English translation as well. This last time I didn’t, since I was basically just translating the last English comment in case it would be clearer to the original poster that way. But I guess that wasn’t obvious to everyone, so I apologize. I went back and edited in a brief English explanation.


If there were both a German category and an English category, and the poster chose to post in the English one, then answering in English to respect the poster’s evident choice is probably a good idea, no matter what might otherwise be known about them.

However, since there is little indication to a new poster that they even have the option of asking in their own language, I have been trying to gauge whether they are choosing English because they want to practice it, or only because that is the only way they think they can get an answer, despite how much extra time and effort it might cost them. If an original post was not completely expressed in English, but falls back into some other language for parts of it, I take it as a probable indicator of the latter (until something else indicates otherwise). Somehow, stopping to ask “Would you like me to answer in English or German?” and then waiting for a response seems like it would waste everyone’s time even more.

My goal is always to be as helpful as possible, never to shut people out. I am saddened each time my intent fails.

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I was the user complaining who quickly got some hearts. I just like to clarify that my complaint is about effectively forking a thread.

This is already a problem when the discussion takes several directions, and hard to avoid. We don’t need to establish new ways of forking existing threads, and especially when they will likely be excluding a significant part of the thread’s original audience.

The specific thread in question was perhaps short, sweet, already answered, and kinda already terminated. And your answer was helpful, sweet and polite. (And I actually understand German).

But still: I don’t think we should establish a precedent of forking a thread into different languages. If your answer was in — say — Chinese, I would have had no way of knowing wether your reply was sparking some new life into the thread, bringing new information to the table.

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I'll bring this up with the rest of the Core Team.

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Unless we get an autotranslation feature on Discourse that can be also indexed and searched I would prefer a single 'international' language to remain the standard in these forums. Furthermore we would need a filter to filter out threads in languages we don‘t understand. This would be a critical issue if we would get a wave of threads in languages we can‘t understand, because it creates some sort of visual noise for the particular reader and could potentially shadow topics of interest.

I speak only for myself. While I do speak three languages, I as a non-native speaker prefer English threads in this Swift forum regardless the fact that it’s sometimes super hard to follow.

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I'm personally fine with responding in another language if:

  • You are certain that the OP has more fluency in that language. (I don't think that you can infer this from a code snippet, however--people copy code from all sorts of sources, especially small examples that get used in questions here. Ask if you need to.)
  • You provide a short summary in English for the rest of the thread participants.

This is really an issue for the core team to decide, however.

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I had no problem with the post in question, and I personally found @sveinhal's reply to it rude in context. If you wanted to propose a policy making these forums monolingual then you should have done that in a new thread.

I struggle to see any harm here at all, and if I wanted/needed to understand a post then I could politely ask for a translation or attempt machine translation. Everyone is already happy to ask for clarification when parts of English language posts aren't clear.

I also don't buy the slippery slope arguments where there is suddenly so much mixed language content on the forums that it becomes an issue to sort through, because there is no sign of this happening thus far. If it did become an issue in future then perhaps technical and policy solutions would be required, but I can't see how the current state of things requires any formal response or changes.

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I didn’t want to propose a new policy.

I also don’t think there was any harm. I speak German so I also didn’t need clarification.

However, as I said, I wanted to point out that the mid-thread language change could potentially be exclusionary to other people, and ask people to be wary of that. I think Jeremy was both polite and helpful, but I didn’t think he had thought about it that way.

I’m sorry if that came out rude.

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I'm one of those other people: I can't read German. The exclusion you talk about exists, but it is not as bad as you say it is. I'd even say that "moments of exclusion" should be expected, and even welcomed as a sign of a healthy and friendly community.

There are surely social situations where a private conversation held in a language that is not understood by all attendants can be considered better if avoided. As a French, I avoid talking a foreign language for too long during a dinner, for example.

But in a friendly environment, nobody would assume I'd have a semi-private short conversation for no good reason (whether it is pleasure, clarification, or any other friendly social interaction). And if a semi-private short conversation becomes long and I feel excluded, I can interpret this bending of the implicit social rule as an even stronger hint that this happens for a good reason. And if this good reason happens to become of general interest, I can expect people to come back to the common language eventually.

I'm assuming the same here: I'm not offended whenever a conversation breaks into a language I do not understand. And I would just move on, should the conversation turn into this language for good. I don't lack other topics to read: those forums are overwhelmingly written in English.

Furthermore, there are a lot of English conversations here I don't understand because the topic is too complex for me. Those are not very different from German to me. There are also conversations I'm not interested in. There are many review threads I can't, or won't, participate in. And there are many very important conversations that happen outside of these forums. I do not think a second about complaining because I'm "excluded" from those.

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Okay, well it's safe to say I don't know what you meant by “Please keep this forum monolingual”, then. Just further proof that writing the same language doesn't ensure mutual intelligibility.

I think it is not very controversial to say that the forums are de facto monolingual and in English. The same is true for swift.org, the Swift blog, the Swift twitter account and all the documentation. I think a lot of people would be surprised if there was a blog post announcing Swift 6.0 in vietnamese. Even if there is no explicit policy stating that blog posts should only be in english.

On a personal note, as a native speaker of a language with traditionally very poor support in everything (from fonts to keyboards, to translations), I get very annoyed with attempts of faux inclusivity (let's translate Swift keywords!). Let's not pretend that someone that doesn't speak english can survive anywhere around *.swift.org. How did they even manage to create a discourse account?

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You are quoting me out of context.

I'm not entirely sure it is productive, but in what way is that out of context?

I clarified my view in both the preceding, and the following sentence, which you didn’t quote. (As well as several times again in both threads)

I don't see how adding “or at least keep single threads in a single language” to the end changes the fundamental meaning of “Please keep this forum monolingual” (i.e. that you would prefer that everyone posts in English), but perhaps this is a language barrier.

This personal preference is actually irrelevant, and I'm not sure it is useful to discuss it. The personal opinion of @sveinhal (or mine, for that matter) has absolutely no influence on the languages used of these forums. Zéro, none, zilch. Most people don't read rules before posting, and they will sometimes use a non-English language, in good faith. The reasons for rules to exist is to fix abuses and conflicts, and also, unfortunately, to help tactless moods ruin fine conversations. I did not see any language abuse, we can avoid creating a conflict, and forgive a few temporary shortages of tact. This thread will die its normal death, and we'll continue the usual (99.9% English) conversations.

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I agree with Gwendal on most of this. But I like to add that the so called "personal preference" of mine, is merely Jawbroken's projection of me, and not actually my stated preference. However, I agree that it is irrelevant. I also like to repeat that I have not suggested any rules.

I don't understand the polarising tone in this thread. Why are people talking about "harm", or wether or not they're "offended"? I don't thing anyone is neither actively or implicitly doing "harm" by writing in a certain language, so there is no need to talk like that is the case (or like someone is suggesting that that is the case). The tone of this conversation is somewhat harsh.

I think Jeremy is asking the right question, as I understand the gist of OP, when he seeks to find a pragmatic solution to what boild down to a de-facto international audience participating in a de-facto English forum. This conversation should be about practical utility, challenges and solutions. The point of this conversation should be to make sure that the forum is as useful and welcoming as possible, to as many as possible. How can we achieve that goal?

I personally think it is hindering participation to switch language mid-thread without giving context, forking it into a new thread, or giving a short summary in English. I don't, however, think that we should impose rules on which languages are acceptable, and I don't think that anyone has caused harm, tried to exclude anyone, or be anything but helpful. In fact, I quite enjoy how much effort Jeremy put into his reply, and especially the effort he makes in formatting his replies in ways that makes it easy to read (given that you understand the language, that is)

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Indeed I do not thank you for indirectly creating yet-another combative thread. This tone is a direct reaction to your initial message, in which you ask people to change their behavior. Of course there is a push back.

Since you had good intentions, that you enjoyed displayed efforts, and agree that no harm was caused, you may think twice in the future before posting such a message.

Neither Jeremy nor I have accused anyone of wrong doing or ill-intent. We are simply having a conversation about how language can be inclusionary or exclusionary. A conversation I think is worth having.

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