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Ordering a list of languages
November 2, 2011 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Language fans: is this the most logical way to order a list of languages?

On one page of a primarily-English-language, non-profit website, there will be a list of other languages in which people can read at least basic info about the site's subject. (The info is being translated by individual volunteers, which means this list will slowly grow as I find more volunteers.)

At the moment, the list includes 18 languages. I'm thinking about listing them in the order below -- roughly by logical/geographic region. The names in brackets will also be there in the list (i.e., I didn't just add those to clarify our discussion here). What do you think? If you think they should be strictly alphabetical, where would you include the Asian languages?

Purposes of the list are:
Primarily, for people who prefer a non-English language to easily see if their language is included, so they can click on it; and
Secondarily, for interested people to get a quick idea of how many languages the site offers by eyeballing the list.


----------
Español [Spanish]
Português [Portuguese]

Dansk [Danish]
Deutsch [German]
Ελληνικά [Greek]
Italiano [Italian]
Nederlands [Dutch]
Suomi [Finnish]
Svenska [Swedish]

Eesti [Estonian]
Hrvatski [Croatian]
Latviešu [Latvian]
Pyccĸий [Russian]
Tϋrkçe [Turkish]

Afrikaans

中文 [Chinese]
日本語 [Japanese]
한국어 [Korean]
posted by kalapierson to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
(There could be some further division -- if I get more Scandinavian languages, for example, I could separate those from the western-European ones.)
posted by kalapierson at 3:04 PM on November 2, 2011


Couldn't you do them by language family instead of geographical area? That way, people might be able to see the links between different languages they might not have otherwise seen.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 3:09 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or rather, since it's not a language teaching website, alphabetical order would usually be fine.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 3:09 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


if the primary goal is for people to quickly discover if a specific language is there, then alphabetical (by English name) makes the most sense. Otherwise they have to understand how you're grouping things, look at each group to see if it's the right one, and then look through the group for their language... If they're alphabetical, they just need to do the last part.
posted by brainmouse at 3:13 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


For your purposes, I would put them in alphabetical order. Trying to come up with a conceptual organization will just be counterintuitive to most visitors to the site.
posted by scody at 3:14 PM on November 2, 2011


So if pure alphabetical, where does each Asian language go -- ordered by first western letter of the language name's transliteration? And will that let people who speak those languages easily find them in the list?
posted by kalapierson at 3:16 PM on November 2, 2011


Ordered according to their RFC-3066 code.
posted by novalis_dt at 3:16 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it's typical to order by the romanized/transliterated name of the language, e.g. Zhongguo for Chinese, Nihongo for Japanese, and Hangugeo for Korean.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:17 PM on November 2, 2011


(I should clarify I definitely don't want to order them by English name. That seems counter to the spirit of welcoming people with the real names of their own languages.)
posted by kalapierson at 3:17 PM on November 2, 2011


Wikipedia is surely the biggest site to have to deal with this and their solution is ordering alphabetically by language name using each language's name for itself. For languages in different scripts they place them according to what their transliterated name is, so Chinese is written 中文 but comes as the end of the list as Zhongwen.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 3:17 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or you could order them by their Romanised version of the name, then put the name of the language in brackets in the original script (or the other way round, but then you have the problem of languages which don't use roman script).
posted by Scottie_Bob at 3:50 PM on November 2, 2011


I don't understand the point of listing languages transliterated in their own name, ie Zhongwen for Chinese or Nihongo for Japanese. If the list is for English readers, they won't understand this unless you say Nihongo (Japanese) etc., in which case there is no reason for including the transliteration, is there?
posted by zachawry at 3:58 PM on November 2, 2011


Part of making people feel welcome is making it easy for them to find what they're looking for. Wikipedia order, or alternately languages with the Roman character set in alphabetical order, and non-Roman languages (potentially Greek and Russian, certainly the Asian languages) at the bottom. The latter is what British Airways does on their splash page.

I'm not sure that the English name of the language in brackets is all that essential; anyone who actually needs Croatian will know it's called Hrvatski, as will anyone familiar with the language. Other than showing off to people who are unfamiliar with Croatian, I don't know who [Croatian] helps. The exception may be if you wind up with 100 esoteric languages.

Consider adding small flags, instead/in addition. It can help someone scan the list visually.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:18 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd group by script family, and alphabetize the Roman script languages. Like so:

中文 [Chinese]
日本語 [Japanese]
한국어 [Korean]
------------------
Pyccĸий [Russian]
------------------
Ελληνικά [Greek]
------------------
Afrikaans
Dansk [Danish]
Deutsch [German]
Eesti [Estonian]
Español [Spanish]
Hrvatski [Croatian]
Italiano [Italian]
Latviešu [Latvian]
Nederlands [Dutch]
Português [Portuguese]
Suomi [Finnish]
Svenska [Swedish]
Tϋrkçe [Turkish]

If you group by region, or sort by language code or romanized name, you're forcing people to think in order to figure out what the pattern is. Eventually, sure, they'll be like "Oh, I get it, that's the rule they're following!" (Or they'll just give up and scan the whole list line-by-line. Or maybe a few will be hardcore Wikipedians and they'll be accustomed to that ordering, but they'll be in the minority.) In any case it'll still take most people at least a little time and at least a little mental effort just to figure out what's going on.

This way, though, there's no thinking involved. A user can tell the difference between CJK, Cyrillic, Greek and Roman scripts at a glance — and whichever script he uses, he'll have trained his eyes to gravitate towards it and gloss over the other three. Within the Roman group, people are used to dealing with alphabetized lists and they'll see the pattern right away, so again, the effort involved is minimized.

On preview, small flags are also a great idea.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:23 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


With flag icons you're going to immediately run into the problem that languages do not map easily onto countries and you risk offending a great many people.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 4:30 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fair point. I'd suggest multiple icons for the multinational languages, but that would get way unwieldy for Spanish....
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:34 PM on November 2, 2011


An additional justification for alphabetizing in some manner: Note that Estonian and Finnish are closely related; Estonian and Russian are not. What you see as the natural break in geography may not be where others think it is. The political side of this can be fraught with potential to offend. Better to go with something value-neutral like some alphabetization scheme, despite whatever difficulties.
posted by Pseudonaut at 8:21 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with nebulawindphone: order by script first, then alphabetically by name. Simple and easy.

The Wikipedia idea is pedantic and requires people to know the romanization of their language's name. Region is tricky (is Turkish listed with Europe? What if you're a French-speaking African? What continent gets Arabic?) and non-linguists don't know language families.
posted by zompist at 9:16 PM on November 2, 2011


Thanks, everybody! I'm starting to agree with most commenters that regional categorization is inherently too messy (not as messy as country flags, but still not ideal :)).

Given that, the question simplifies: alpha order within script family? Or purely alpha order overall?

Purely-alpha-overall poses the Asian script family challenges.

Within-script-family looks odd to me but might be the best choice for accessibility (and it would look less odd with more languages -- Greek might always be by itself, but once I had Serbian or Bulgarian [my two biggest Cyrillic priorities], Russian wouldn't look so lonely).
posted by kalapierson at 9:47 PM on November 2, 2011


I would just go for alpha overall with ordering as Monsieur Caution suggests. If they are all going to be in a list on the side of the page (as opposed to a drop-down) and you have them in their respective scripts, it will be easy enough to pick out the non-Latin alphabet options.
posted by that girl at 4:30 AM on November 3, 2011


Order alphabetically, by the name of the language in that language, transliterated to the Roman alphabet. FWIW, the EU's rotating presidency is ordered on this basis.

Order by region? Seriously? What region does English belong to? Spanish? And if you really want to start a fight, what region does Turkish belong to?
posted by adamrice at 6:32 AM on November 3, 2011


I think nebulawindphone's list is ideal. (Flags are a bad idea.)
posted by languagehat at 9:55 AM on November 3, 2011


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