We have a new user who has recently both asked and answered questions in French.
I think we should discuss the appropriateness of this practice.
As of 2023, there is a new policy on this.
I would significantly prefer
I agree with all other responses here that it's fine to add a translation of the question into English, even without asking the OP, and that the OP has to be willing to take answers back in English. Anyone who posts answers in other languages has to expect that most members here can't read the answer to vote it up.
Upon request, here is a summary of my opinions on the matter.
For questions: I say go ahead and ask a question in any language you want, and take what you get as a response. Also be prepared for someone to edit an English translation into the question. (I think this should be regarded as a public service, and that one need not solicit the OP's permission in order to do so.)
For answers: unless the question specifically invites a non English language, I think answering in another language should be avoided. In particular, I worry about the following possibility: someone posts an answer in a foreign language (like French) that a large percentage of professional mathematicians can read but for which a much smaller percentage of anglophone students can read. Posting such an answer could actually make it less likely that the OP will receive an answer s/he can read and understand.
If I may make a small request: I would appreciate it if, when a question or answer is posted in a language other than English, someone with the requisite multilingual ability could add a translation in English to the content of the post, because:
There would probably be many people here who do not know the other language, but would be very interested in the content of the question or answer if only they could read it.
If a similar or related question gets posted in English, it would not help to direct the asker to a previous question that he or she cannot even read. In particular, closing as exact duplicate would be unfortunate.
Certainly one can always resort to Google Translate, but a translation by machine is not necessarily accurate, and is often taxing to read.
(Right now, someone has helpfully provided a translation of the question into English in the comments, but it would be nice if it were added to the question itself, as comments do not show up in search.)
I, for one, would prefer if we did stick to English...
The recent appearance of French consisted in the best written French I've read online in quite a while. But I can but note that just as other users managed to get the point of what was being asked by using, say, google translation service, the OP could have proceeded similarly...
In the admittedly short time I've been here, I have got the impression that the purpose of Stack Exchange is not only answering people's questions, but also gradually building up a "knowledge base" in the process. In my opinion, permitting questions or answers in other languages runs counter to this idea. The value of such a "knowledge base" obviously decreases with the number of languages. Also, there is no real need to permit questions in other languages. The vocabulary needed for English mathematics is ridiculously small. People who find out about this site and can understand what it is about should be able to get their message through. In this particular case, it is clear that C.R. speaks English well enough, but chooses to write in French as a matter of principle.
A little practical problem about questions in other languages: What if somebody asks a question that has already been asked and answered in French? Will it be closed as a duplicate?
The user C.R. posted a detailed commentary on the main site. Following a request, I've moved it here. The translation is due to Derek Jennings.
Ceci devrait être un commentaire à la dernière réponse, mais je ne peux plus l'ajouter en tant que commentaire. Je m'en excuse.
J'ai précisé cela dans ma question car je ne voulais pas qu'il y ait de malentendu. Mais en réalité je trouve que cela allait de soi que les gens devaient pouvoir répondre dans une autre langue que la mienne. En effet, si j'avais posé la question sur un site où tout le monde ne devait écrire qu'en français, je n'aurais pas pu recevoir de réponse de ceux qui comprennent le français mais s'expriment normalement dans une autre langue, et qui sont très nombreux.
Ce que je trouve souhaitable, c'est que sur un site comme celui-ci, qui est unique sur internet à mon avis, les gens parlant différentes langues puissent interagir, plutôt que ce que chaque communauté reste cloisonnée sur des sites différents. Évidemment, j'ai conscience de faire quelque chose qui n'a pas été fait souvent - ou du tout - jusqu'ici.
Dans le cas présent, je n'avais aucun moyen de savoir à l'avance si celui qui a commencé le fil comprenait ou non le français, et je ne crois pas que cela aurait été commode, ni pour lui ni pour moi, de poser la question au préalable et d'écrire la solution seulement après avoir reçu sa réponse. Alors j'ai tenté ma chance: une réponse qui a 50% de chances d'être comprise vaut mieux qu'aucune réponse.
Ceci dit, et évidemment ce n'était pas le cas ici, le problème pourrait être résolu entièrement à l'avenir en incluant dans le profil une case pour que les gens indiquent en quelles langues ils souhaitent recevoir des réponses.
D'ailleurs, dans d'autres circonstances, il arrive fréquemment que les gens s'expriment dans leur langue - ou une langue seconde qu'ils maîtrisent - sans savoir s'ils seront compris, mais en même temps sans que cela soit une preuve d'arrogance. J'ai déjà rencontré des touristes qui se sont exprimés spontanément en anglais, en espagnol, en allemand, et en italien, sans savoir si je pouvais les comprendre, et sans que cela soit le moindrement arrogant.
Here's a translation of the above.
This should be a comment to the last answer, but I cannot add it as a comment. Please accept my apologies.
I made that clear in my question because I did not want there to be any misunderstanding. But in reality, I believe it's inevitable that people should be able to reply in a language other than mine. In effect, if I had posed the question on a site where everybody had to write in French I would not have been able to receive a reply from those who understand French but normally speak another language, and there are a lot of them.
What I would like, is that on a site like this one, which is unique on the internet in my opinion, is that people speaking different languages can interact, rather than each community remaining fenced-in on different sites. Obviously, I'm aware of doing something that has not been done often, if at all, until now.
In the present case, I have no way of knowing in advance if the person who began the thread understands French, and I don't think it would have been practical, neither for him nor for me, to pose that question beforehand and write a solution only after having received his reply. So I decided to risk it: a reply that has a 50% chance of being understood is better than no reply at all.
That said, and evidently it's not the case here, the problem could be resolved entirely in advance by allowing one to specify in their profile in which languages they wish to receive answers.
Besides, under other circumstances, it happens frequently that people express themselves in their language, or in another language they speak, without knowing if they will be understood but, at the same time, not wanting to be arrogant. I have met tourists who have spoken freely in English, Spanish, German and Italian without knowing if I was able to understand them and who did not appear in the least arrogant.
As has been pointed out by Pete Clark, it may be useful to think of the analogy that somebody asks a high school question and you phrase your answer in terms of Galois cohomology. If you don't use the language that the OP speaks, it's just not very helpful. Most people speak less than 5 languages, and there are more than hundred out there. What use is an answer in a random language that the OP doesn't understand? – Alex Bartel 11 hours ago edit
Malheureusement, je ne peux répondre qu'ici, car je perds mes points à chaque fois que je me déconnecte. J'estimais raisonnables les chances que ma réponse soit comprise. – C. R. 11 hours ago
1 up vote
You should register, then you will keep your reputation. – Alex Bartel 11 hours ago
I have no problem with reading a question in Spanish and answering in English, but answering in Spanish would be a considerable challenge for me, and I'd guess that someone posting in Spanish would have no problem reading the answer in English, but might not be able to post the question in English. (The guy who did this yesterday included in his posting an explicit request for translation.)
Facebook and Wikipedia have taken different approaches to this question. Wikipedia is segregated by language: there's English Wikipedia, French Wikipeda, Arabic Wikipedia, etc. etc. On Facebook, if I set my language preference to French instead of English, then I read "X a partagé une photo de Y" instead of "X shared Y's photo", and "J'aime" instead of "Like", and "Aficher les 13 commentaires" instead of "Show all 13 comments", and "Accueil" instead of "Home", etc. etc. You can choose any of quite a large number of languages. But reading and writing posts is done in whichever language it's done in, at the discretion of the user every time; there's no segregation of languages at all. Users in Brazil who post in Portuguese and read their friends' postings in Portuguese are on the same facebook as those in France who post in French and read their friends postings in French, etc.
I think questions can be posed in another language, but they should be properly translated so that the community can understand them. I believe it is fair to allow people to do so, since this site is dedicated to mathematical questions, and if they need any question on mathematics to be answered, so be it.
I can translate any question asked in Spanish, for example, though it will have to wait for me to spot it or be referenced to it. Another option is to form a small team for the most common languages that is able to give a little extra voluntary work to translate such questions with a proper notification system (10k+ users can see the "translate please" flag, but other users won't. (Maybe French, Spanish, German, which I know there are many users which speak it)
Adding another data point: I am fluently bilingual in English and French, can read Spanish, and can pick my way through a certain amount of German. I did a couple of years of grad school math work at Universite de Sherbrooke and UQAM here in Quebec, where all lectures, assignments, presentations, and exams were in French. It adds a nice variety to life and the professors at those schools are excellent.
At the present time, English schools and books and research and websites far outweigh the number in any other language. Most people learn English as a second language, at least enough to get along in their field of study. However they may not express themselves as well in English, especially in writing.
One exception to my first paragraph comes to mind: a class at a French-language university. Two students from Colombia, Spanish as a first language, English as a second but not fluent, learning French for the first time while full time in grad school; two Bulgarian students, also better in English than French although able to cope in each, or Bulgarian; two or three English-speaking Canadians, able to cope in French but not fluent; one French-speaking Quebecois, quite fluent in English; myself also used to both; and a Chinese professor who would of course find it easiest to speak Chinese but can manage both English and French, a little easier in English. Technically we were supposed to be 100 percent French but, mostly as a kindness to the new arrivals as well as easier on himself, the professor taught that course in English. This is the modern world and hey, it's fun! Meet interesting people from all around the world and get to know them.
I would like to propose the following policy:
(1) People who really are not confident in writing English may post questions and comment in another language. There should be some way they can flag what language they are using, if not English. They have to agree to accept a translation of their question to English.
(2) Other people have mentioned being willing to translate. I am ready to volunteer as well. Somebody computer-savvy can figure a way to send requests to volunteers. Presumably common foreign languages such as French or Chinese will have lots of translators as well and rarer ones like Finnish will have fewer translators, so the workload should even out. (3) Considering the number of people using this site and the speed of replies, there would be no problem of questions or comments sitting around too long. There would also be little or no problem of people not understanding the questions or comments, if translator volunteers dropped off an English version a short time after posting.
Advantages: Just think of all the new mathematics we could discover and new people we could meet if we got input from all the people who use Chinese or Japanese or Russian or Arabic or Hindi or Urdu! Surely opening up to the other half of the world outweighs the minor annoyance of having to wait a short time for a translation.
The official policy is that sites are English only at the moment.
There are only three (3) viable options on the language issue:
continue to enforce the English-only policy, in which case you come off as insensitive
allow any language, in which case you look silly, like a polygot boarding house
make the site fully bilingual, Esperanto being the other language