Historically, there are several major groups of offtopic questions appear on this site.
Out of those, I'm thinking about four groups:

  1. Language identification;
  2. Translation;
  3. Language acquisition;
  4. Software libraries for NLP;

I don't challenge the idea that these questions are, indeed, offtopic here. It is clear for me that the questions are not about linguistics and even if they were somehow allowed, there simply would be no people familiar with the topic who can provide with good answers.

OTOH, it also seems that there are no SE sites for such questions, and people find Linguistics.SE as the "closest match" and come here to ask.

I would like to know, if any of these topics can be good for:

  • If here, then what conditions and limitations may apply;
  • If on a new SE site, then if there can be a big enough group of followers at Area51.

Most of all, I would like to know how to delimit too-localized questions, just as we have limitation about syntax trees.

  • 1
    4. is on-topic here.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 22:12
  • 1
    @prash Only the use of libraries, as long as they're not arguing how to program them (for NLTK for example) or for recommendations
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 22:15
  • 1
    And the study of language acquisition is on-topic, but not the practice of it.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 22:16
  • @curiousdannii Arguing about how to program them is off-topic anyway, that's best done on the mailinglists of the respective libraries. I'm OK with recommendations of NLP software and libraries.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 0:14
  • @prash Thank you for for correction, let me expand a bit: this NLP Q looks good for me, since the OP is trying to understand some key principles, while this one is not, since it invites for opinionated answers, and we can't tell which one is good. Is this correct? Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 2:12

1 Answer 1


If you go by the official on-topic list, language identification is not off topic. The explicitly-excluded list covers language-learning tips, translation requests, and trees, plus the hard-to-interpret "Anything not related to/treated by Linguistics and their subcategories". My opinion is that computer programming techniques about language as opposed to numbers are not related to or treated by linguistics (which includes subcategories), but I observe that there are many such questions here that survive, so I guess I don't understand what is treated by linguistics. My assumption is that if a person has a programming question that deals with language / speech data, then that question is on-topic for here. If that is not the case, I would suggest that some refinements of the help center be made, to distinguish things that are in vs. things that are out. For another example, theoretical questions about language pedagogy would be on-topic, but not questions like "What's the best way to learn irregular verbs in German?". If you think that language pedagogy is off-topic too, then the characterization of off-topic should be modified. I don't understand what a "too-localized" question is, and I don't see any indication that a "localized" question is off topic.

As I understand it, the three moderators are the ones who usually decide whether to close (rarely if ever are there enough close votes to reach the threshhold which I think is 5). From a practical POV, being clearer may not change what gets closed, but it may change what gets asked.

  • I can't speak for the other mods, but I close questions by myself if the question is definitely off-topic, from a near-literal interpretation of our rules. In most cases, I close questions only after they have been flagged by others. So, I would say that most of these decisions come from the community, and the mods just speed up the closing process.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 0:19
  • "Too-localized" is when any answer is only useful to the OP, and there will hardly be someone else who faces the same problem. This is why, in my understanding, building syntax trees is offtopic: if Alice asks to build a tree of "Alice eats an apple", and Bob asks for a tree for "Bob plants a tree", the diagrams would be equivalent, but any Bob's search attempts (prior to asking) would fail. If such questions weren't prohibited, we would end up with an infinity of equal Q's, each of which would be useless for any future visitors. Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 2:27

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