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Tantor and user interface language enforcement

Before I start, I'm as well to deal with the elephant that's after walking into the room.

It is possible that some readers are now rocking helplessly in silent, apoplectic, incandescent rage at the mention of the word 'enforcement', with their eyes popped-out on stalks, steam coming out of their ears and blasts of nouns and adjectives that all start with the voiceless labiodental fricative sublimating in their mouths.

The underlying logic of their profound agitation is that this kind of enforcement amounts to ramming <insert-language-as-applicable> down people's throats. Even some lesser-used language speakers — especially the all-modern forward-forward-forward brigade — will be nodding their heads vigorously in agreement with this notion, on the basis that you won't do a language any good by forcing it on people, no matter how gently, and that whenever this was tried in the past it failed.

There's some truth in this of course — despite the undeniable fact that historical barbarities like the bata scóir, which surely constitute linguistic rammage at its least gentle, don't seem to have done English any harm (ref). The bata scóir, also called the signum and probably a share of other things, was used in Irish and Scottish schools to encourage native Irish- and Gaelic-speaking children to abandon their language in favour of English. It was part of a formalised system of daily beatings, with optional eavesdropping and informing. See Ó Súilleabháin (1995, pp.551–566) (ref). This invaluable pedagogical resource was used well into the twentieth century in some places; possibly as recently as the swinging sixties. It was also used in Wales, where it was known as the cwstom (ref).

But some truth isn't the whole truth so it might be worth considering a few other truths:

  1. Enforcing things is one of the very jobs that Active Directory and Group Policy were created to do in the first place. The word 'enforce' is a basic entry in AD's working vocabulary — as is its cousin 'restrict', which we'll see shortly in a baked-in Group Policy setting to limit users to specific UI languages. A very common example of AD enforcement is the locking down of desktop settings on corporate and institutional workstations. As a tool of the trade, desktop lockdown is kept on the same often-used shelf as centralised object management and software deployment. Lockdown rules, ideally at least, are a reasoned coming together of IT best-practice and corporate / institutional business requirements. Nevertheless, users invariably complain, or mutter darkly to each other, whenever they realise they can't install their favourite illegal file-sharing client, or reset their password to 'password', or change their wallpaper to a picture of some decorative celebrity or their pet cat. UI language enforcement is really just another aspect of desktop lockdown, which always makes someone unhappy.
  2. Enforcement is a basic part of life: food hygene regulations, double yellow lines, taxes, closing time, having to actually be a doctor before you're allowed to become a senior consultant neurologist... We don't always like enforcement but we accept it, in part, because it's justified. Corporate and institutional entities whose formal working language is a lesser-used one were often created specifically for the good of that language. And often enough they also depend entirely or partly on funding that was set aside specifically for the good of that language. This funding keeps the corporate / institutional entity alive and it pays the staff's wages. You can see where this is going can't you? It might justifiably be argued (not least by the taxpayer, when the funding comes from the State) that anyone who takes the pennies should live the gospel.
  3. Yes, of course things are sometimes rammed down people's throats. But enforcement is not always the same thing as rammage and this phrase all too easily becomes a blunt instrument mantra for beating opposing, or just alternative, views into oblivion rather than engaging with them positively and rationally. Sadly, glib mantras pop-up a lot around lesser-used languages, as in Stowell (2011, p.170) (ref), and they're often swung into action when efforts to keep these languages alive go beyond tokenism and become a bit too real-world and practical for comfort. When it is being a mantra, 'ramming it down people's throats' hits positive, rational engagement over the head with a shovel, chloroforms it, takes it twelve miles out to sea under cover of darkness, ties an anvil round it's ankles and throws it overboard.
  4. Bottom line: we're only talking about enforcing UI languages to users who can speak and read them, and who are working in places where those languages are the working languages — in just the same way that English UIs are, effectively, enforced in most English-speaking workplace environments.

All these points notwithstanding, it might be remembered that that my first use of the word 'enforcement' followed directly on from the words 'in corporate and institutional environments where business policy specifies the'. This article is just a source of information. It provides tools to enforce UI language localisations but only as decided by management. It rams nothing and it rams it nowhere. Back to work then.

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