Non-English UI conventions
April 22, 2009 5:04 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about UI conventions in a language you speak (and read) fluently that isn't English.

I'm looking for native-speaker, or at least highly-fluent-speaker, opinion on UI conventions in languages other than English.

For example, take the UI command "Open". To me it feels like a command to the computer: "Open (a file) (for me)!" And in some languages it seems to be translated that way too, e.g. in Italian OS X at least it seems to be "Apri", which is, I believe, intended as the imperative form of "aprire" (to open).

But in French it is "Ouvrir", which is the infinitive and not an imperative, and Japanese it is 開く ("Hiraku"), which is not imperative. The Japanese seems to be oriented like an action from the user's point of view: "(I shall) open (a file)". I don't know what the feeling behind the French is.

That's where you come in! I am interested in literally anything and everything you have to say on UI translations in your language. What's common? What's awkward? Why does UI take the form it does in your language -- what is the implication of the forms used? Are there differences between Windows and OS X?

Note that I'm not just talking about single-verb UI. For example, still on the "Open" example, you can imagine various kinds of explanatory text: "Open a file", or maybe "Opens a file", depending on what style guide the original author was using. How would these be translated? And so on.

Note that while I welcome specific examples, I'm not really interested in "Here's a link to a 10-language glossary for GNU so-and-so, knock yourself out." I can access the raw information myself pretty easily. What I want is to learn more about the why. Thanks in advance!
posted by No-sword to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In some languages, the infinitive is used as an imperative in certain contexts, usually impersonal situations like public commands (road signs, etc). I'd always interpreted the usage you refer to in that way, though I'm a native English speaker. I thought I'd once heard that this was called the mandato público but didn't have much luck googling that, public imperative, or public mandate. The searches did turn up a few things, though.
posted by ecsh at 6:57 AM on April 22, 2009

Best answer: In Icelandic it is like in English, many verbs are the same in the infinitive and the imperative singular. For instance open in Icelandic is opna and is the same in the infinitive and the imperative. However, in cases where there is a difference the imperative form is always used. Shut down is slökkva, which in the imperative would be slökk. Partly this may be because in Icelandic the imperative singular almost always takes with it the 2nd person singular pronoun þú as a suffix, so that opna, for instance, becomes opnaðu (opna þú becomes opnaðu) in the singular and slökkva become slökktu (slökk þú becomes slökktu). To me it would be weird, as if I were addressing the computer.
posted by Kattullus at 8:13 AM on April 22, 2009

Best answer: The Spanish version of Office used to use "Salvar" for "Save", which is the translation in the "Jesus saves" sense of the word, not in the "Save for a rainy day" sense, which is "Guardar".
Interestingly, this lead to the use of "Salvar" in the second sense in spoken Spanish, at least here in Chile.

An issue which annoys me in the Spanish version of Windows is lists of things, such as the control panel o services, is noun-modifier order. In English, you use Modifier-Noun, such as "Print Manager", "Network Services", etc., whereas in Spanish this would be "Administrador de Impresión", "Servicios de red", etc.

This makes it harder to scan , as you might have 15 different "Administrador de X", 20 "Servicios de X", and no clue of where to start looking, where in English you'd look for "Print [whatever]", "Network [whatever]".
posted by signal at 8:42 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not a native Norwegian speaker, but I noticed this example and my Norwegian fiance agreed it was weird - on Facebook, when you go to post something on someone's wall, there's that area below with the options for link, picture, or video. While the English word "link" clearly refers to a URL, the Norwegian translation of the site uses the word "kobling", which has more the sense of "connection" and sounds weird when used to refer to URLs. Much more common are "link" or "lenke".

I guess this isn't just limited to Facebook though, since I found this post talking about Google's use of the term:

Is it "lenke", "peker" or "kobling"? Kjartan, who is also a member here on, tweets that Norway's most-trafficed site Google uses the word "kobling" for links. I have heard many strange terms for links, but never "kobling". Most common are probably "link", "lenke" and "peker".

In the olden days of the internet we consistently used "link". Now I myself always use "lenke". But "kobling"? Google isn't completely alone. A search also shows that, Wikipedia, and Sony Ericsson use the term. The latter for links in cell phones.

The metaphor indeed is seemingly correct, but does it work?

posted by flod logic at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2009

Best answer: As far as verbs go, I wonder what the relationship is between recipes (as in a cookbook) and UIs. In English, French, and German, they're pretty much identical (infinitives in the last two).
posted by oaf at 7:43 PM on April 22, 2009

Response by poster: Hmm, I guess this question is harder to answer than I thought (although judging by all the favorites, one of keen interest to a lot of people)... thanks for the help, folks who did comment.

Kattullus, when you say "However, in cases where there is a difference the imperative form is always used," you mean "... the infinitive form is always used," right?

Oaf, recipes are an excellent related field to look into, thanks for the idea!
posted by No-sword at 5:45 AM on April 23, 2009

That is, indeed, exactly what I meant.
posted by Kattullus at 7:11 AM on April 23, 2009

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