# Non-English characters in TCS StackExchange

The community of TCS SE comes from many nations all over the world, and this increase the diversity of us, which is a pretty good thing.

Some of the members write their names in their own native languages, (e.g. Bjørn, Michaël and András), and I applaud them for writing names as it should be. In this recent post, @johne linked to a pdf file which is named by Mandarin Chinese, since the file may not belongs to him, so this make sense.

But should we encourage the use of non-English characters in TCS SE? Since this is a place for sharing ideas and communication, a non-unify language can cause some problems. And while I'm using browsers which can read Unicode, not all the characters can be seem in all the systems.

Furthermore, if someone is writing a post almost entirely in non-English? Say a request for translating the following paragraph for a research purpose:

Is this kind of post allowed in this site?

Do we encourage the use of non-English characters? If so, what kind of degree do we allowed?

• You may be interested in the following discussion on GIS SE Meta: Handling questions from non-english writers. Dec 7 '10 at 5:01
• There is something called Google Translate, though it might not be very good for scientific terms. :) (@Tsuyoshi, it translates your name to Ito Takeshi, is that correct?) Dec 8 '10 at 1:48
• While Google Translate is good for some languages, the one with totally different sentence structures (say Japanese or Mandarin) will have a miserably result. :( Dec 8 '10 at 1:51
• @Kaveh: No, it is not correct. :p Names in Japanese consist of pronunciation and its Chinese characters, and in general the correspondence between pronunciation and characters is many-to-many. Even if two names are written in the same way (using Chinese characters), they may have different pronunciations, and vice versa. There is no way to tell what the correct pronunciation is just by looking at the Chinese characters. (more) Dec 8 '10 at 3:04
• (cont’d) In the case of my name, there are several pronunciations which might be written as “剛志,” and Tsuyoshi and Takeshi are among them. I think that Takeshi is the most common pronunciation for a name written as “剛志” in Japanese. Therefore, Google Translate chose the most probable pronunciation, but it is incorrect in my case. Dec 8 '10 at 3:06
• In the case of Chinese names, the situation becomes much worse by the fact that the correspondence is many-to-many-many. Even a simple pronunciation (say Hsien) has about fifty different characters. General translation machinery can not tell the difference even if the characters are used with context, not to mention the names. And that's why all the Chinese names on the papers looks similar, since the exact characters are not presented. Dec 8 '10 at 5:52

I think that the way this question is phrased inadequately distinguishes between the language of a question, and the character set of the question. I think it would be reasonable to have as a policy that questions and answers be phrased primarily in English. However, it may still be useful to use non-ASCII characters (for instance to properly spell certain researchers' names) and I wouldn't want to have any rules preventing me from doing so here.

It seems like we're trying to solve a non-existent problem. How about we leave things as they are until someone posts a question/answer in a different language? Compared to MO, we have an advantage: While a decent fraction of the world's math literature is not in English, this isn't the case for TCS. Almost all TCS papers are in English. Many math grads spend time learning French or German or other mathematical languages, whereas TCS grads do not. So I don't think we're going to have too many posts in foreign languages.

As for using special characters in usernames, I think it's ok to use non-English characters if they appear in your name. If the name is hard to type on a standard English keyboard, then the user should understand that not everyone will take the effort to spell their name correctly. For example, someone called Joffré might just be referred to as "@Joffre" by some users.

It is probably in the user's best interests to use a name that can be read by most users of this site. If your user name is "個最小重量的", then most people will just remember you as "that person whose name is written in some script I can't read." This might make it very confusing if several people have such names. I don't know if that's enough reason to explicitly disallow such user names though.

• The first two sentences tempted me to post a question in Japanese right away, but then I remembered that I was for the policy of keeping posts primarily in English. :) Dec 7 '10 at 23:32
• In brief: do everything just like you would do in a research paper. Write in English. For writing systems that are extensions of the Latin alphabet, write your name "correctly", with all funny accents, ligatures, diacritics, etc. For non-Latin scripts, transliterate your name just like you do in a research paper. Dec 7 '10 at 23:53
• How about writing in English TOGETHER with the correct spelling in its native language, say "Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之"? Dec 8 '10 at 0:03
• @Hsien-Chih: Let me try. Dec 8 '10 at 0:06
• @Hsien-Chih: I guess that I am reaching a (sad) conclusion: appending my Japanese name is just out of place here. Probably I will revert the change soon…. Dec 8 '10 at 2:24
• @伊藤: (I can read your name!!) Right, I was thinking the same thing. Maybe using the transliterations is better. But I've found that the display name can only be changed once in 30 days! So, maybe we'll get used to it by that time. Dec 8 '10 at 2:38
• @Hsien-Chih: I did not know that restriction. :) It is not a big deal anyway. Dec 8 '10 at 2:49
• I like those; they are a nice reminder that this is an international community. Dec 8 '10 at 13:18
• @Hsien-Chih: FYI, I removed the Japanese notation from the user name. Jan 9 '11 at 22:07
• @Tsuyoshi: Thanks for letting me know! I gradually get used to it, and I would like to leave it there for now. :) Jan 10 '11 at 1:07

There's a long and contentious discussion over at MO on this topic, and I take the position shared by some of the commenters there that we should not create a policy of any kind until there's an actual need for it. The main fear in allowing non-English posts is balkanization, and so far that hasn't been an issue.

I see no reason to encourage posts in another language though, and I'd strongly encourage people to help with translation into English if a post in a different language does show up. We can separate the translation from the original by a rule.

• Thank you for the link, I've read the discussion on MO, and I pretty much agree on your opinion. So maybe we wait until the discussion is needed, and by that time I hope we will have a large community (in order to cause the problem), an advantage which makes the problem negligible :) Dec 7 '10 at 6:45