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Language strings: differentiating 2nd and 3rd person


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I love the pluralization feature in IPS. It's easy to work with and does the job very well.

There is one area that it doesn't currently capture owing to the fact that English doesn't make a visible distinction for whether a person is part of a group or not outside of the pronouns. If pronouns aren't used because the names themselves are presented, then English is easy and the system works. This isn't the case for other languages, however.

Visualising with pronouns

Consider reactions and what they would look like if pronouns rather than usernames were used. The language string react_blurb is currently %s {!# [?:reacted]} to this. If the only person who reacted is the user, they would expect to see the message You reacted to this. Which pronoun would be used if the user and somebody else had reacted? In English, it's still you because we don't formally differentiate the second person singular and second person plural: You are a very naughty boy and You are very naughty children use the same pronoun. That's not usually the case in other languages,

Now remove the user from the equation altogether. If only one person reacted and this person isn't the user, we would expect to see a third person singular pronoun: he, she, it. (Ignore the fact that it isn't currently programatically solvable about which one to use, since in practice we're not using pronouns.) What if more than one person reacted, other than the user? We need to jump to third person plural: they: They reacted to this.

Changing forms depending on whether the user is included

The problem is that the current set-up doesn't allow for these distinctions. In English, they don't matter: I reacted, you (singular) reacted, he reacted, she reacted, it reacted, we reacted, you (plural) reacted, they reacted. The string %s can take any form ("You and 1 other", "One person", "You and several others", "Several people but not you") and we can capture that. In other languages we can adjust our language strings for singular or plural but not for inclusivity, the question of whether the user is included in the statement.

This is important because the form changes depending on the circumstance. The verb with the second person singular is not the same as with the plural and so on. Here's how it looks in Italian:

  • Second person singular (only the user has reacted): Tu hai reagito qui
  • Second person plural (the user plus at least one other person have reacted): Voi avete reagito qui (or, as it could appear, Tu, Meddysong, Ilya Hoilik, opentype e 3 altri avete reagito qui)
  • Third person singular (only one person, not the user): Lui ha reagito qui
  • Third person plural (several people, not the user): Loro hanno reagito qui (Meddysong, Ilya Hoilik, opentype e 3 altri hanno reagito qui)

It might be easier to visualise if we switch the English from reacted to have reacted:

  • If the user is the only person or there are several people, irrespective of whether the user is one of them: %s have reacted
  • If there is only one person but this isn't the user: %s has reacted

We can get away with working around this problem in English by using the simple past form. (We perhaps shouldn't in this instance but complaining would be nitpicking!) In other languages, however, we don't have this option. It's not just a question of capturing number but also inclusivity.

I don't know how you'd go about resolving this but I'm not one of the devs -- I bet you've solved trickier conundrums than this one 🙂

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