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Localization and the Confirmation Dialog


Active member
This is a little elaboration on one of the many hurdles I've been trying to jump as I translate the user UI into Japanese. Please think of it as more like a blog post than a request for support. Comments are welcome, of course; I'd especially value any input from the XenForo team, since how I handle the issues described below could end up influencing how their product is viewed by at least some users.

One of my goals in any localization project is to make sure my translation is both internally consistent (meaning I always translate the same sort of thing in the same sort of way) and consistent with the conventions that prevail in the world of Japanese UI design. While localizing XenForo I've found that the reuse of certain phrases is forcing me to choose only one of these goals; achieving them both will entail splitting the reused phrase into two (or more) phrases.

Such reuse of phrases often occurs in connection with confirmation dialogs, so I'd like to illustrate what I'm talking about with a hypothetical confirmation dialog that would appear if the user were to click a link saying "Destroy This Thread."


As you can see, clicking on this link would cause XF to display a dialog asking the user to confirm his decision to destroy the thread. This example posits a single phrase, "destroy_this_thread", being used in three places:
  1. The link displayed above the thread.
  2. The title of the confirmation dialog.
  3. The button that confirms the operation.
This works well enough in English. But when I try to translate it into Japanese, I run into a couple of problems. To explain why, I need to pause here for a brief Japanese lesson.


This is how I would translate the phrase "Destroy This Thread". Here it is, broken down:
  • この (pronounced kono) is the Japanese word meaning "this".
  • トピック (topikku) is a transliteration of "topic", which is how we're saying "thread".
  • を (pronounced o) marks the preceding word as the object of the verb.
  • 破壊 (pronounced hakai) is the Japanese word meaning "destruction".
  • する (pronounced suru) turns the preceding noun into a verb.
The most obvious difficulty posed by using this same phrase in all three places is the fact that it's an awfully long phrase to put in a button. Of course the same can be said of the English. But because much of the English phrase is written in lower-case letters, there's enough white space around the letters that the button remains easily readable. Japanese doesn't have lower-case letters, so when you crowd a long phrase into a button, it becomes difficult to read at a glance. You generally don't want to put more than four or five Japanese characters in a button.

The typical way to deal with this problem is to put only the verb into the button, like so:


This is the same as if the English button were shortened to simply "Destroy", which is a common enough way of doing things. But whereas such abbreviation may seem optional in the English, it is more or less mandatory in the Japanese version of this dialog.

Thus we'll need a new phrase for the button. Call it "destroy_this_thread_button".

So much for the button. I'd like to talk about the title as well, but it's lunchtime. Please stand by. :)

Luke F

Well-known member
It would be nice if phrases could have a two level heirarchy, for example a separate phrase for the Destroy button which defaults to the same as the dialog title phrase (i.e. has the dialog title as its parent) but can be overridden if necessary.

Perhaps my Japanese isn't so bad after all, I actually understood most of that :P


Active member
I don't think it's necessary to go that far, since at present it's merely a matter of creating two or three phrases where before there was only one. Those two or three can remain identical in English, as there's may not be any real need to change the English just because another language does it differently.

Your idea would require not only a field for the alternative wording, but another field to condition its application. And it would need to handle multiple alternative/condition pairs, for cases where just one alternative is not enough (such as the one I'm about to describe).
Perhaps my Japanese isn't so bad after all, I actually understood most of that :P
I almost didn't notice that. :D Glad you're enjoying my little dissertation.


Active member
Getting back to our hypothetical thread-nuking function...

Before I start talking about the dialog box title, perhaps I should say a few words about the link that opens the dialog box. There the phrase is fine as-is, even in Japanese. Certainly it would be possible to shorten it as we did for the button, and thereby avoid splitting the phrase into two; but there are cases where this should be avoided. My example is a case in point: a "Destroy This Thread" link makes sense, but one that simply says "Destroy" may cause users to panic:

:eek: "Ohmigod, should I click this? What exactly will I destroy? The whole forum, maybe?!"

So we want to leave the phrase intact for the link, but abbreviate it for the button. That leaves us with the dialog box title. And this is where it gets a bit hairy.

The first time I came across a phrase used for both the link and the dialog box title, I tried translating it much as I've done for "Destroy This Thread." The linked looked great! But then I clicked it and saw the title of the dialog box and thought, "That's wrong!" I couldn't put my finger on it; I just got the sense that dialog box titles aren't done that way in Japanese.

So I looked around for examples. First I looked at a couple Windows 7 applications. It turns out that the Windows practice is to put the application name in the title bar of the confirmation dialog box. Hmm, no help there. :p

Next I looked at Mac applications. These days the Mac OS doesn't do confirmation dialogs with title bars. Instead the dialog gets extruded from the window's toolbar. There's no title bar, but each dialog generally has a boldfaced heading that's phrased as a question. I suppose I could do something like that:

The Mac-like Way

To make this dialog fit that current UI convention, the title would need to look like this:


It's the same up to the end, which becomes しますか (shimasu-ka), the formal interrogative form of する.

Why the formal interrogative form? you may ask. Well, the title is now a question that the program is asking the user. Any communication from the program to the user needs to be formal in order to be polite. (By contrast, the link and the button must use the informal form, because they are communications from the user to the program. Making them formal would force politeness upon the user, which is considered a somewhat degrading thing to do to someone.)

The Title-like Way

Then I remembered some Japanese-to-English localization I did a long time ago. The author of the original program had followed an older convention of phrasing dialog box titles so they looked like, well, titles. Following that convention would mean doing something like this:


This can be literally translated as "Destruction of Thread". It is different from my original translation of the phrase in three ways:
  1. The この is gone because it's the title is now more general.
  2. The を has changed to の (pronounced no), which corresponds to "of".
  3. The verb is no longer necessary, since a title should be noun-like.
It looks a bit stuffy and standoffish, but it's certainly another way of handling a dialog title.

Which to Choose?

One thing is certain: ending the dialog title as a verb just doesn't work, unless it's a question. I also can't change the link to match the Mac-like way (because the link has to be informal, and it would be too long to boot). It might be possible to use the title-like translation for both link and title, but then I would have to phrase all the command links in a similar way, which would make XF look like a very stuffy program indeed.

So we really need a new phrase for the title. Let's call it "destroy_this_thread_title".

Which to choose? I'm leaning toward the Mac-like way, as I think a more user-friendly mode fits best with the image XF projects. That approach is also easier to mesh with things like the title of the "Delete Post" confirmation dialog, which includes the name of the post's author and is therefore much more difficult to phrase as a title-like title.


So there you have it. I hope this will serve as adequate justification for the many bug reports I'm likely to file asking for phrases to be split two or three ways. (It's easy to explain why a phrase needs to be split when it's being used with different meanings in each case. When a phrase means the same but is being used in different places, on the other hand, the need for multiple phrases may not seem as clear-cut.)

To all who've happened across this, I hope you've found it to be an interesting and educational diversion. I now return you to your regularly scheduled browsing.