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Re: Examples of language changes in websites

From: Matt May <mcmay@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2003 12:32:46 -0800
Message-Id: <04D0C93D-2699-11D8-BE47-000393B628BC@w3.org>
Cc: WAI GL <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
To: <ishida@w3.org>

On Dec 4, 2003, at 5:04 AM, Richard Ishida wrote:
> When tagging language variations in text, where do you draw the line 
> between what is clearly a foreign language phrase, what is a neologism 
> drawn from a foreign source, and what is one of the latter that has 
> become an adopted part of the language?
> For (another) example, in English we talk about 'a certain je ne sais 
> quoi'.  I would think that a large proportion of people in the UK 
> would understand this half English half French phrase these days, due 
> to the influence of recent advertising and cooking programs, etc., 
> though I'd say that is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Is it English or 
> French?

My colleague has hit on the subject I wanted to bring up. (Good job, 
Richard! How'd you like it if I started talking about 
internationalization, huh? :)

One of my favorite words in the English language is résumé. I say it's 
English, even with the accents, for two reasons. First, it's pronounced 
"reh-zuh-may" by all but the most pretentious Americans, and some 
people who can actually speak French. A screen reader which accurately 
reads this in French may even be unintelligible to someone who doesn't 
understand the language. Second, the term in English doesn't mean what 
it means in French: In France, a résumé is a summary, including such 
things as sporting event wrap-ups. In American English, a résumé is 
what the French (and British) would call a "curriculum vitae". (Which 
is actually something different to us. Go figure.) So we have a word 
which is neither pronounced nor intended like the word it's derived 
from. Should it be marked as French anyway? (I should also note that 
résumé does appear in my English dictionary, with accents, as an 
English word.)

Another example: "voir dire", which in French would mean something like 
"to see (one) say", but is a legal term for the jury selection process. 
It's also horribly mangled in English ("vohr die-er", versus the French 
"vwahr-deer"). So, not a French word, not pronounced like one, and 
still pretty likely to get destroyed in a screen reader.

What about garage, or queue, or the thousands of other cognates English 
and French have? After what period does a word no longer have to be 
marked? What about loanwords, taken from various languages and made 
part of the English lexicon? Is there any real value in marking up 
individual words in otherwise monolingual text, except for citations 
(The expulsion of the last Moorish rulers was the culmination of the 
"Reconquista"), or obscure uses for affectation ("arriviste", "moi? 

What about other languages, such as Japanese? The katakana 
transliteration of the McDonald's restaurant is "ma-ku-do-na-ru-do". Is 
that English? Would Japanese people understand it if it were spoken as 
English? This stuff has to apply across all languages.

I'm starting to believe that we have to look at the real problem, which 
is in larger blocks of clearly foreign-language text without markup. 
It's perfectly reasonable to ask authors to mark up sentences or 
paragraphs that are in a foreign language. What I don't want is to have 
WCAG set standards that only linguists or polyglots with a whole lot of 
time on their hands are able to legitimately conform to. The vast 
majority of the usefulness of this guideline is in the big stuff, not 
in marking up microscopic bits.

Received on Thursday, 4 December 2003 15:32:47 UTC

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