This question here was recently closed:

The close reason given was:

  • Questions seeking help with translation and localization are off-topic here unless specifically concerning the linguistic reasons for different translations.

Unless localization is meant to refer to the identification of scripts, I don't see why the question falls under this close reason.

However, more importantly, I don't understand why such questions - solid questions which will have definitive answers, are not beneficial to the site.

Why are such questions not welcome here?


Well, I think the biggest reason is that this question and its answers wouldn't help any further visitors.

The bottom line is that SE is designed as a storage for quality questions and answers. Quality, obviously, means usefulness (quantified by persons). Being answered, it is definitely useful for the asker, but nobody else would learn from this.

Compare, for example, a question on step-by-step methodology of identifying a language/script, which would be, most certainly, useful for many. Look at this diagram. It is not very scientific, but, for sure, is useful at the beginner's level. (Gujarati is at the right-bottom here)

Identifying Language diagram

The same logic, BTW, applies questions on drawing syntax diagrams and language-to-language translations.

  • 4
    I think your answer is not very helpful or accurate. If the question wasn't closed a good answer could easily explain how and why the script could be identified as whatever script that is. And the descriptors and the name of the language would show up in general searches on the internet and help a host of people and help future users here. However, closing the question has prevented this from being the case, reduced the benefit for readers, made the site less likely to be helpful for future users, it seems to me. May 12 '16 at 20:40
  • It's also a matter of keeping the floodgates closed. A question about a concrete and unique individual problem might elicit useful answers which attempt to generalize a method, but permitting anyone and everyone with a question of this type will inevitably lead to a degradation of overall quality and usefulness of this site. On the other hand, a question specifically about solving this type of problem would unequivocally invite answers which will be broadly applicable to others with this problem, and also touch on actual linguistic matters.
    – tripleee
    Mar 17 '18 at 19:04

The problem is that this site is named "Linguistics" and not "Language Fans". If this were Language Fans, then such questions plus ones of the form "What does vittu mean?" or "What's the plural of ugali?" would be on topic. Instead, it was set up for linguists and others with an interest in linguistic research and theory. So there's a fundamental divide between scientific questions about language, and fun-facts questions about language. Simply asking "what script is this" is a fun-fact question with no scientific value. It doesn't even lead to describing a property of a script. A question like "how do you determine what the script is" is a method question.

That particular question at least could be answered. Most script questions that we get here have the additional defect of being unanswerable because the pictures are of degenerate examples, so that even if the text is in Russian, the writing is so bad that you can't tell that it's Russian, or writing for that matter.

  • 1
    Yes, but all your saying is the same thing that applies to all questions, that when they need turning into a proper question you prompt the OP to do so, not rob future readers of the opportunity of gleaning other linguists' knowledge. May 16 '16 at 21:27
  • 5
    No, that is not what I'm saying. I'm saying that given the purpose of LSE, such questions are off-topic, and should not be asked at all. All you are saying is that you don't care about the purpose of LSE, you just want it to be a place for Language Fans, where any question even vaguely about language is appropriate. In other words, we disagree on whether LSE has a specific purpose.
    – user6726
    May 16 '16 at 22:21

I am comparatively new here, so I would like to re-open the debate on the language identification (henceforth LI) related questions. Some random thoughts.

  • LI obviously falls among a linguist's tasks. Who else would do that, otherwise? Imagine a government that needs to know the origin and identity of a written document. Whom would they ask for an expertise? No one but a linguist or a philologist. History and identification of writing systems is something that a historical linguist is supposed to know. People who submit most of the proposals to the Unicode consortium for the standardization of certain scripts or glyphs are either script freaks or linguists (often both).

  • Sometimes LI is indeed tough. Not because the picture is blurred but because the inscription is too ancient, non-standard or badly written. Or, there could be two different languages using the same writing system and only a specialist could be able to tell the difference between them. To sum up, I can imagine many situations when a LI would be a tough task to accomplish even for a linguist.

  • Questions concerning LI might seem naïf and useless, but, let me say this: a good percentage of questions submitted to Linguistics Stack Exchange are naïf and totally unscientific. What non specialists know, presume to know, or ask about language is always naïf and wrong, from the viewpoint of a linguist. Are we here for helping people or just for telling them to shut up because they cannot formulate meaningful questions on linguistics?

  • However stupid a question might be, there is always something intelligent and useful that a specialist can say as an answer. And indeed this is what usually happens: the answers take the inspiration form questions to teach something of general interest. Including the cases of LI questions.

  • I used to agree with your first point, but my new post explains why I've changed my mind. I not against naïve questions either, as shown by my answer here, and I can provide many more examples.
    – prash Mod
    Jul 17 '17 at 15:55
  • But this is not a forum like Reddit or Quora. People are expected to go through previous answers and get used to the Stackexchange format. What was happening with LI was that new users would login, make no effort to see if their question may have been answered already, post a question, and disappear forever. If a question were more abstract, let's say, like how to tell European languages apart on sight when most use a latin-based script, it would be more appropriate for this site.
    – prash Mod
    Jul 17 '17 at 16:31

The main reason would be as bytebuster said: there is no reuse value.

But identifying random scraps of written language does not really have anything to do with linguistics. If you disagree, then please tell me which field you think would it fall under? Phonology, semantics, syntax, socio-, language change, computational, translation, pragmatics, discourse...?

However I have been meaning to write up a question and answer for how to use Google Translate to identify languages. If I did that then all these questions could perhaps be closed as duplicates rather than just closed.

  • 1
    There's loads of reuse value if the answers are good (an impossibility if the question has been swiftly closed). Describing languages, including their writing systems, is an inherently linguistic thing to do, it seems to me. Or am I missing something? What fields might it fall under? Well you seem to have already mentioned computational linguistics, but there's also anthropological linguistics, forensic linguistics, relevance theory and so on and so forth. There are, of course linguistic texts about writing systems. May 15 '16 at 7:44
  • @Araucaria Language description is of course on-topic, but simply identifying languages is not language description. Orthography is on-topic, but I see no reason for identifying an orthography to be on-topic.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    May 16 '16 at 22:53
  • 1
    « But identifying random scraps of written language does not really have anything to do with linguistics. » — So you wouldn't consider the longstanding philological work of, say, deciphering Linear B or the Rosetta Stone counts as linguistic work? I would definitely call philology an aspect of linguistics. Jun 15 '16 at 20:44
  • 2
    @Janus If Linear A is deciphered it won't be announced first on this site ;) I think there's a difference between a linguist deciphering a script, with all of the work, hypotheses, logic and arguments that would take, and a person recognising by sight what a language is. By all means lets have the first category of question, but the second category do not belong.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Jun 16 '16 at 1:04

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