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Re: Use of the first person in messages from the computer

Ian Jackson <ijackson@chiark.greenend.org.uk>
> I have just received a review by a l10n team of a package of mine.
> The reviewer seems to be under the impression that there is something
> wrong with the computer speaking to the user in the first person.

I'm not active within the l10n-english reviews for some time (see
below) and while I agree with the comments about using the simplest
constructions, I think there is something wrong with personifying the
system.  It hates that.

While we can all engage in a huge discussion about what we like, that
should be a last resort.  Is there any research-based guidance about
what is best for human/computer interaction? (for some value of "best")

> Also relevant is their guide to (paper) forms[3], which contains this
> imprecation:
>    * Make it personal
>      Use `you' rather than, for instance, `the applicant' [etc.]
>      Use `we' rather than, for instance, `the council' [etc.]

This example is rather easier, because the author of the form is
presumably part of the council or whatever, so the first person
plural "we" is accurate.  So, the example:

> > - If you approve, I will edit /etc/X11/app-default/XTerm for you, and
> > - save your old file as XTerm.backup.not-trad.  (Note that this is a
> > - conffile so you may get prompts from dpkg about it in the future.)

would become something like:

If you approve, we will change /etc/X11/app-default/XTerm for you, and
save your old file as XTerm.backup.not-trad.  (Note that this is a
conffile, so you may get prompts from dpkg about it in the future.)

where "we" would be the debian project contributors.  After all, the
computer is not doing anything on its own - it is just carrying out
some instructions from the project as the user fills out a glorified
form.  It would be freaky if a council form said "I", wouldn't it?

> My reviewer also seems to think there is (sometimes?) something wrong
> with the use of the second person to refer to the user or the owner of
> the system.  [...]

I disagree with making things impersonal for the sake of it, but I'd
note that the user is not necessarily the system's owner, so I'm
not sure about using the possessive.

> Finally, the reviewer revealed in the review that they're not a native
> speaker of English.  Is it normal for l10n reviews to be conducted by
> non-native speakers of the target language ?  Are we really so short
> of native English speaking l10n reviewers ?  If so I would be happy to
> help (although you may find me too opinionated...)

Yes, we are so short of native English speakers to do the reviews.
Help would be welcome, but we probably should resolve the differences
above as a first step, else it will just inflame things.

However, personally, I feel we're short of reviewers because the
review process requires too many resources - it expects reviewers to
be online too often, sends too much email noise, has long delays and
risks collisions at various steps.  I think that's why there's only
ever been about six reviewers AFAICS (of which, I think only half were
first-language speakers), most of whom only did one review, and it's
fallen to only one second-language reviewer since last August.

Actually, I wondered what the review process is now. It's not on
and nor is the l10n-english list and it's not mentioned in mails like
but a later email
did contain a link to

It looks like there are some scripts now (one reason I dropped out,
but I've not checked their functionality), but the process still seems
no easier to track and there are still collisions, which both waste
contributor effort and are sort-of related.

I have not had time to try to bugfix the process and I don't really
know where to start: the wiki page is immutable anyway (it might be
editable if you are allowed to create an account, which some disabled
developers are not, so I do not know).  There's also an understandable
resistence to lapsed contributors who try to bugfix debian's processes
that work well enough, but maybe this one really is not working well

Thanks for your comments,
My Opinion Only: see http://people.debian.org/~mjr/
Please follow http://www.uk.debian.org/MailingLists/#codeofconduct

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