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The world’s most popular languages that the Mac documentation hasn’t been translated into

I was updating my Mac and noticed the following:

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 9.56.31 PM

Lots of obscure European languages there. That got me wondering: what’s the least obscure language not on the above list? Igbo? Swahili? Or maybe Tagalog?

I did a quick google and found this list of languages by number of native speakers. Once you see the list, the answer is obvious: Hindi, first language of 295 million people, is not on Apple’s list. The next most popular languages not included: Bengali, Punjabi, Javanese, Wu, Telegu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu. Wow: most of these are Indian! Then comes Persian and a bunch of others.

It turns out that Tagalog, Igbo, and Swahili, are way down on this list with 28 million, 24 million, and 26 million native speakers, respectively.

Only 26 million for Swahili? This made me want to check the list of languages by total number of speakers. The ranking of most of the languages isn’t much different, but Swahili is now #10, at 140 million. Hindi and Bengali are still the biggest languages not on the list.

11 Comments

  1. Kaiser says:

    Would be great if someone can figure out the distribution of Mac users by language spoken (or approximately, by country)

  2. Apple might sell specific versions of the OS that are for south asian or african markets?? Often it’s the fonts for the specialized character sets that are actually what they’re selling separately, so they don’t include the docs in Hindi because the regular version of the OS doesn’t have the fonts needed or something like that. Just a thought.

  3. chuck says:

    I understand English is quite widely used in India. Hence, less economic pressure for documentation in Hindi or Urdu. See the relevant wikipedia article.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_with_official_status_in_India

    A quote:

    In contrast, the constitution requires the authoritative text of all laws, including Parliamentary enactments and statutory instruments, to be in English, until Parliament decides otherwise.[29] Parliament has not exercised its power to so decide, instead merely requiring that all such laws and instruments, and all bills brought before it, also be translated into Hindi, though the English text remains authoritative.[30]

  4. bill says:

    Popular or populous :) ?

    >Would be great if someone can figure out the distribution of Mac users by language spoken (or approximately, by country)

    This would be interesting, although it’d be helpful to distinguish between languages spoken vs languages read (since some widely spoken languages don’t have an unambiguous written form, and for these it would be difficult to provide documentation). Also it might be more interesting to see the distributions of Windows users, since MS did such a good job of introducing support for non-English languages, and for Arabic and Chinese in particular.

  5. Gregor says:

    Swahili is spoken throughout Tanzania, but for many people a tribal language is the native language.

    This page mentions some, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Tanzania, but there’s many many more.

  6. turtle of doom says:

    “Lots of obscure European languages there.”

    Surely you’re joking, Mr. Gelman.

  7. ceolaf says:

    English is one of the official languages of India, and is taught universally (?) in schools there.

    Thus, a lack of Hindi language documentation is not likely to be a problem for computer users in India.

    In fact, there are many many more languages spoked in India. It easiest to think of India as being like Europe culturally, in that there are many languages and cultures but all kinds of political, economic and cultural connections between different regions. Hindi in India is NOT like Italian in Italy or French in France. It is a national language, but not a local ethnical or cultural language. Instead, Hindi is generally a shared language across a vast range of ethnicities and cultures.

    So, offering documentation in Hindi would not help as many people as you might think. You would need to find people likely to use a computer who read Hindi but do NOT read English. That is NOT a huge group.

    • Jake says:

      w/r/t/ ceolaf’s “You would need to find people likely to use a computer who read Hindi but do NOT read English.”, how many people speak Finnish but not Swedish? How many Czechs speak Slovak, and how many Slovaks speak English?

      And w/r/t/ Daniel Lakeland’s “Often it’s the fonts for the specialized character sets that are actually what they’re selling separately”, I just checked my laptop, which is a default OSX 10.9 install, and I appear to have roughly one metric ton worth of different fonts and keyboard input modes, including six of Andrew’s top 8 (Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Persian) and a bunch more Indic scripts. (Javanese, Wu, and Marathi are missing; I do not have a Javanese font but wikipedia’s Marathi article shows up fine, and it’s unclear from wiki how written Wu differs from other written Chinese topolects).

    • This comment has kernels of truth in it, but is highly misleading in some respects. I feel like I have to correct this. Maybe there are some experts on the state of English education in India reading this blog that will give a more authoritative comment.

      Is English universally taught in Indian schools? I would doubt that, especially in rural setting (which is still the majority of the population). Even if it is taught universally, I doubt that the teaching happens in any meaningful way.

      I attended an “elite” private Catholic school in Delhi (St. Columba’s) 1970-83, run by Irish brothers, and everything was in English (Hindi was just a subject). My family and I spoke English, Hindi, and Punjabi, at home (a lot of code-mixing) and this is a typical situation in educated families. But this segment of the population that counts as native speakers of English is a tiny, tiny minority (3% when I last looked, in the 1980s).

      But I had a lot of friends who went to what are called “Hindi-medium schools”. Their English was shaky at best (one could not spell London, for example). Importantly, they were most comfortable reading Hindi. When I was in my teens I used to spend a lot of time in villages in Himachal Pradesh, up in the mountains in the north; they had schools there but nobody I ever met there spoke any English. I am sure they have computers there now.

      I am pretty sure there are a *lot* of people in India who would not be able to read a computer help page in English easily, and would be much happier to see it in Hindi or some other major Indian language. There’s also the unpleasant cultural memory of imperial control under the British that drives some people to stay with their local language. For a fascinating (maybe horrifying or embarrassing is a better descriptor) look into how English was used to exert imperial supremacy, it is worth reading Macaulay’s Minute:

      http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/txt_minute_education_1835.html

      I am guessing that the reason why Apple doesn’t provide Hindi and other major languages has, as usual, to do with revenue. The top purchasers of Apple products in India must be people with money who also speak English; the poorer population in rural areas probably has cheap machines to work with. I just bought my 7 year old son a Raspberry Pi, it cost only 30 Euros, and it’s a fully functional Ubuntu box. If I were a villager in rural India, that would be my machine of choice (assuming I know how to get one!).

      Finally, we are taking literacy for granted here. Wikipedia says India’s literacy rate is 74%, but I don’t believe it, it must be much higher. Even if it were true, we are talking about 317 million people who cannot even read and write, in any language. That is the entire population of the United States.

  8. Eli Rabett says:

    Swahili is a trade language, or more properly a language used by speakers of many different African languages to speak to one another much as latin did in Europe in the distant past and then French. English serves the same purpose in India, many other places and scientific conferences.

  9. Abhi says:

    Im my opinion it is a question of profitability for Apple, since the people who buy Mac in India are equally proficient in English as they are in their mother toungue. However, I’d like to add that the availability of Mac in Hindi or other India languages would definitely be a economically good move for Apple since the percentage of the population which can afford Mac will continue to increase. In a typical Indian middle class family today a 20-something with an engineering degree might speak sufficiently good English but a lot of people in his extended family (Parents, siblings, cousins etc.) can not do even that. But because of that one or multiple individual those people can afford a Mac.

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