Software Internationalization and Localization

The terms internationalization ("i18n") and localization ("l10n") have special meanings in the software development community (although many people use them loosely in other meanings). Internationalization refers to "designing and producing software that can easily be adapted to local markets" (Tuthill 1993: xxi), while localization is "the process of actually adapting the potentially useful internationalized software to meet the needs of one or more users in a particular geographical area" (Madell et al. 1994:1-2). Thus, localization is basically translation of the user interface into a foreign language and setting any necessary environment variables affecting codeset, sorting order, etc. By and large software developers need concern themselves only with internationalization, that is, making it easy for localizers to adapt the software to specific locales.

"The term globalization ... is often used synonymously with internationalization. Globalization, however, usually encompasses both internationalization and localization. When we use the term globalization, we refer to the entire software development process from design through implementation and localization for sale in the intended markets." (Deitsch & Czarnecki 2001: 9).

Software localization is a hybrid skill. Obviously, it requires language skills, but it also requires knowledge of the computer system to produce a good localized product.

It is rare for people who translate foreign languages to have the necessary computer skills, and it is also rare for people who have computer skills to have the necessary language skills.

Since people knowledgeable about computers can often command higher salaries than localizers, maintaining the right balance of skills is an "unstable equillibrium": If a localizer develops really good computer skills, s/he is unlikely to stay in the field of localization.

On the other hand, translator types typically do not know where to start. Where can you get localization tools? Where can you get books about software localization? How do you find out about conferences which concern software localization. Anyone who wants to work in the field of software localization needs to have answers to these questions.

Computer applications which have a specialized purpose, for example for use in a chemical laboratory, hospital, semiconductor factory, etc., also use specialized terminology ("t9y"). Here, both computer experts and translators need help. Where can reasonably priced terminology resources be found?

For information about some of the things which programmers have to keep in mind when internationalizing their software, click here to read about internationalizing UNIX shell scripts.

The whole area of software internationalization and localization has been in a state of flux for a number of years due to the emergence of Unicode. Although some of the most important things for internationlizers to understand and deal with have been character sets ("codesets"), etc., Unicode has completely changed the picture. For example, it is now straightforward to display multiple languages which traditionally use different charactersets in the same web page at the same time.

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