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Re: Language negotiation a failure?

From: John Cowan <cowan@mercury.ccil.org>
Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2013 12:23:12 -0500
To: Gunnar Bittersmann <gunnar@bittersmann.de>
Cc: www-international@w3.org
Message-ID: <20130107172312.GE6700@mercury.ccil.org>
Gunnar Bittersmann scripsit:

> “Negotiation by natural language is a failure for multiple reasons,”
> says Henri Sivonen http://wiki.whatwg.org/wiki/Why_not_conneg

Well, you expect shocking remarks out of WhatWG members.

> He can’t be serious, can he?

The story is about negotiation using the _names_ of natural languages,
rather than using content _expressed_ in natural languages.  In this
case, all that is meant is that for a Web server and the user's browser
to try to decide between them what natural language to use probably
isn't going to work, because the chances are that the user's browser
is not correctly configured for the user's actual preferences, and the
Web server probably doesn't provide equally satisfactory content in all
its languages.

What is more, the user probably *can't* configure his browser correctly.
In Henri's case, given the choice of Finnish or English (which we will
say he reads equally well), he probably prefers Finnish on web servers
*in Finland*, but English on web servers elsewhere.  Current browser
dialog boxes do not accommodate such complicated preference notions.
The result ends up like the following anecdote:

    Somewhere in Europe, a group of obvious tourists are talking
    together in Italian.  Another tourist (B) comes up to them, 
    and begins speaking to a member of the first group (A) in Spanish.

    A (surprised, in Italian): Why are you talking to me in Spanish,
    when I'm speaking Italian?

    B (in Spanish): I don't speak Italian.  Don't you understand me?

    A (in Italian) Not very well. (in French) Do you speak French?

    B (in bad French) I no speak French.  (in German) How about
    German?

    A (also in bad French) I no speak German.  (back to Italian)
    You speak German and Spanish?  Tell me, where are you from?

    B (back to Spanish) I am from the United States.

    A (in English) We're from New York!

Here it is only Real World context that gets A and B finally communicating
in their truly preferred common language.

-- 
Dream projects long deferred             John Cowan <cowan@ccil.org>
usually bite the wax tadpole.            http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
        --James Lileks
Received on Monday, 7 January 2013 17:23:34 GMT

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