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What is Math SE's policy on questions, answers, and comments which are posted in languages other than English? What should I do if I see something written in another language?

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Network Policy

The network policy, outlined on the main meta site, is that all questions, answers, and comments must be in English, with a small number of exceptions made for bilingual sites (e.g. language learning sites like Chinese Language) and non-English sites (e.g. Stack Overflow на русском).

This policy is now almost 15 years old and a one-sized-fits-all approach to a diverse network of sites.

The moderation team at Math SE does not believe that this policy is necessary here, because the culture of this site is distinct from the cultures of many other sites in the SE network, because the content of this site is somewhat more universal (mathematics is, itself, a kind of language which translates pretty well), and because advances in technology have vastly improved the quality of machine translations.

Local Policy

Math SE is, de facto, an English language site. Nearly everything posted on the site is in English, and (empirically) the vast majority of non-English posts on this site are either abusive or spam. The preference of the community, the SE network, and the local moderation team is that everything here be posted in English. We strongly discourage the posting of questions, comments, and (especially) answers in other languages. Please, use English.

However, the moderation team does not want to enforce an English-only policy. Mathematics is relatively universal, and we want this site to be welcoming and inclusive to people who are learning mathematics, wherever they come from, and whatever language they speak natively.

Therefore, the official moderation policy is that English is very much preferred and encouraged here (again, this is an English-language site), and posts in other languages are likely to receive extra scrutiny, but this is not a matter which requires moderator intervention. It is up to the community to moderate non-English content.

What should I do about non-English posts?

Questions

First and foremost, questions on this site must meet the quality standards of the site, as outlined in the meta question "How to ask a good question". Any question—regardless of language—which does not meet these standards should be closed and, if it is not improved after a day or two, deleted. So if you see a question in a language other than English which does not meet the quality standards, please flag it or vote to close it for lacking context. Or, if the question is spammy or abusive, flag it as such.

Anecdotally, the majority of non-English questions do not meet the quality standards of the site, and a fair number of the remaining "questions" are not actually questions at all, but either spam or abuse. As such, existing policies are generally sufficient.

For the small number of non-English questions which do meet the standards of the site:

  1. It is entirely fair to politely ask the original poster to provide a translation to their question.

  2. It is also reasonable to translate the question yourself, if you happen to speak the language and are confident of your ability to translate.

  3. It would not be unreasonable to paste a properly-cited machine translation into the question, while preserving the original non-English post.

  4. Until and unless a question is translated, it is entirely appropriate to vote to close that question (this is the "correct" action). However, please use standard flags (the "needs clarity" flag is appropriate in this context). This is a matter of community moderation and does not require moderator intervention.

Ultimately, the question should be either translated or closed/deleted.

Answers

Answers are a little more delicate, as a good answer will actually respond to the original question. If a user asks a question in English, they are probably expecting an answer in English. But we also expect answers to be useful to people other than the original asker, and the vast majority of Math SE users are English-speaking. Thus the community here has a very strong preference for English-only answers.

As above, most non-English answers are likely to be of low-quality, spam, or abusive, and can be flagged as such.

For the cases which are not easily handled by normal flags:

  1. Politely ask that the user provide a translation.

  2. If a user does not provide a translation after a day or two, feel free to edit the answer to provide a translation yourself. If you use a machine translation, ensure that it is properly cited, and check to make sure that you have not changed the mathematical meaning of the post.

  3. If you provide such a translation, consider flagging the post so that a moderator can mark the answer "Community Wiki".[1]

  4. Ultimately, untranslated answers should be deleted. If it looks like an answer is "dead" (i.e. the answerer has not responded to requests for translation, and no one has stepped up to provide a translation), "very low quality" or "not an answer" flags are appropriate. For those with sufficient reputation to engage with the review queues, votes to delete (or recommendations to delete) are encouraged.

Ultimately, answers should be in English but, again, this is a matter of community moderation, and should rarely require the intervention of elected moderators.

Comments

Comments are intended to be temporary, hence they are much more likely to be deleted. However, the same general standards apply: a comment will not be deleted simply because it is not in English.

If a foreign-language comment is relevant (i.e. it suggests edits or asks for clarification), there is no need to flag it. On the other hand, if any comment is no longer relevant, or if it is abusive or spammy, please flag it for the appropriate reason ("no longer needed", "rude / abusive", or "spam", as appropriate). Also note that, as a matter of practical policy, non-English comments will almost certainly be deleted when flagged as "no longer needed". The moderation team is unlikely to spend any time trying to determine whether or not a foreign language comment is still relevant to the question.


[1] When a question or answer is marked as "Community Wiki" (CW), it indicates that the post is the result of collaboration between multiple people, and that anyone in the community may make edits to the post. Note that CW is not meant as a mechanism for depriving people of reputation, though it does have that effect.

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    $\begingroup$ So, basically, non-english text anywhere is only tolerated until it's translated to english, which should happen as quickly as possible. (contrary to other SE sites where non-english is simply deleted). I find this rule quite reasonable: kind to the asker, the respondent, as well as the long-term reader. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2023 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ I assume there is an exception for questions/answers related to historical mathematics, where parts of the text may be non-english (for instance greek). In such cases, keeping the original as well as a translation seems better (here in french). Such questions may be better suited to HSM though. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2023 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut Yes. Questions about texts in other languages are not the same as questions in a non-English language. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Apr 17, 2023 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ If a question is initially in a non-English language X, is it reasonable to add X translations to the answers, since that would likely help the original asker? $\endgroup$
    – ronno
    Apr 19, 2023 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @ronno No. The end goal is to have question and answer(s) in English. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Apr 19, 2023 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ If a non-English untranslated question X is a duplicate of question Y, or vice versa, what should we do? Closing it as a duplicate may direct the OP into a post they don't read. $\endgroup$
    – fantasie
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I am surprised that MSE policy can override network policy. $\endgroup$
    – fantasie
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ What I understood is that if a person asks a question in Arabic, for example, he will be asked to translate it into English. The reason for his question in Arabic may be that he is not fluent in English at all, and he wants to get an answer in Arabic. Shouldn't he prefer to leave the question in Arabic as it is and wait until the questioner gets the answer in Arabic from someone? Arabic speaking users? Of course, this will take a long time at first, but it will make the site more useful for non-English speakers. If this is not possible here, is there an Arabic version of the site? $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2023 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ @زكرياحسناوي The network wide policy is that this is an English language site, and anything in a language other than English should be deleted immediately. We are somewhat more lax here than on many other network sites, but we do expect that everything will, eventually, be written in English. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 5, 2023 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ A few months ago, in response to this post, I edited the global meta FAQ to add in the text Note that some sites may have different, possibly overriding guidance on moderating wrong-language posts. That same paragraph also has some text surrounding the Mathematics site. Can you please review that text and confirm it's appropriate? $\endgroup$
    – gparyani
    Nov 22, 2023 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ As a native English speaker, I object to the spirit of what is recommended here. Yes it is desirable that $\endgroup$
    – Rob Arthan
    Jan 5 at 21:17

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