Mon 8 Apr 2013 4:25AM

Language + style guide for translators

AI Alanna Irving Public Seen by 251


Loomio is part of a movement towards new forms of organisation, new social relationships, and new experiences. We don't necessarily have the language for these new forms yet.

As Marina Sitrin says in the translator's note at the start of Horizontalism "old words cannot define new things - a new language is necessary [...] We must try to listen to the experience before attempting to translate it into the language of our own experience."

"So, today we're constructing something different. And, in the process, a whole new language and new forms of expression come into being. Horizontalidad, direct democracy, sharing and effecting one another's movements, contamination, articulation, organizing in networks: these expressions are not often heard from the traditional left. There are many words from the past that could define today's situation, but since they're old words used to define new things, they create confusion."

It has been a significant challenge to translate some of these new organisational concepts into English words; I expect the challenge will deepen as we expand into other languages.

Word choices and tone/style

Overall, we aim for an informal, conversational tone throughout the app. Think about how people talk when they meet as equals in a friendly collaborative meeting. Clarity is the highest priority.

We've deliberately avoided language with strong connotations of traditional formalised majority-rules political decision-making. Rather than talking about elections or parliament or voting or quorum or any of that political jargon, we talk about people having discussions, building shared understanding and making collaborative decisions together. Loomio is motivated by the concept of everyday democracy - the idea that participating in decisions that affect you should be a part of daily life.

Here's a few key words in the app and the reasoning behind them. All these choices are up for discussion :)


A proposal is a suggested course of action, made by an individual to a group. In the codebase this is known as a 'motion', so you may see references to that word occasionally. We chose 'proposal' over 'motion' because it is slightly less formal and more flexible.


Individuals state their position on a proposal. There are times in English where 'vote' is a more convenient word (as it can function as a noun and a verb), but we've explicitly avoided using it. 'Vote' carries connotations of majority-rules adversarial decision-making, where-as a 'position' is more deliberative and collaborative.


A proposal with a collection of positions together make up a 'decision'.


A group (occasionally referred to as a 'parent group') contains all the individuals for a given organisation. A sub-group is a smaller collection of individuals. There is no hierarchy or superiority built into the group/sub-group model, it is simply a way of dividing up an organisation into smaller parts.

This concept is ugly to explain in English, so I expect a better choice will emerge eventually :) It's easy to explain in mathematics: the 'group' is a superset and the 'subgroup' is a subset


Francisco George PP-ES Mon 8 Apr 2013 9:34AM

@alannakrause Great! Lets Rock'n Roll :-)


Miguel Prados Rodriguez Tue 9 Apr 2013 6:53AM

Ready to empezar !


Alanna Irving Tue 9 Apr 2013 10:27PM

@richarddbartlett is away until tomorrow but after he gets back he's going to do a brainstorm and give me some information to start with about terms and words we have put a lot of thought into in English, and we found difficult to translate to in Spanish. I'd like to write up a language guide based on this info for translators.


Richard D. Bartlett Wed 10 Apr 2013 10:46PM

I've updated the context with a braindump of how I think about language and Loomio. It would be good to have some other English-speaking comms people expand on this outline @benjaminknight @alannakrause

@noelia were there any other words you came across that required some further explanation?

How should we expand this document to make it really useful to other translators? @mirceazachia @franciscogeorgeppes @miguelpradosrodriguez


Noelia Wed 10 Apr 2013 10:59PM

:) awesome job @richarddbartlett there were some instances were loomio says want and other times wish but i wont say that was difficult, like you explained above it has to do when people meet and talks in an equal and friendly manner, "statement" was a hard one if you translate that literally it means "declaration" or "enunciation" which for me sounds quite strict, but I'm sure when people starts using Loomio en Español it will change and we will find the perfect words. My two cents for now.


Benjamin Knight Wed 10 Apr 2013 11:22PM

This is totally awesome Richard D B! I've just elaborated a little bit on the tone/style, and bumped it up to the front to put the word choices in context - hope that's ok! Feel free to change if I've put anything you're not into :)


Alanna Irving Wed 17 Apr 2013 11:46PM

@richarddbartlett and @robertguthrie are currently working on the technical side of integrating translations with our development process. They are looking at Transifex and were helped by @zack to get going on that.

Myself and @noelia are working on how to support the translation community to provide translations and user support in their languages, starting with Spanish. We've realized we need to support a robust self-supporting language community to back up any Loomio release in another language. We want it to be easy for that community to talk to one another and help one another.

We are still sticking with the strategy of using Spanish as a test case and learning from it before moving on to other languages. We really appreciate the enthusiasm from other translators besides Spanish, and we hope you will be patient with us while we work out a good system! We are not forgetting about you. @rafaelgomes @filipesilva @laurentbassaler @franciscogeorgeppe


Richard D. Bartlett Fri 19 Apr 2013 2:21AM

Sneaky peek at progress:


It's happening!


Noelia Fri 19 Apr 2013 4:01AM

@richarddbartlett muy emocionante! :)


Rafael Gomes Fri 19 Apr 2013 2:45PM

@richarddbartlett great!


Francisco George PP-ES Fri 19 Apr 2013 9:34PM

This is looking great @richarddbartlett


Alanna Irving Tue 23 Apr 2013 4:14AM


@richarddbartlett has made good progress on the technical implementation side, and we're nearly there in terms of having the ability in the app to switch language preference. He is still looking at the process for using Transifex.

@noelia is going to set up a Spanish community subgroup in the main Loomio subgroup and work on starting up a self-supporting community there. She will be available to answer emails from Spanish speaking users who contact us, and will add more Spanish speaking users to the subgroup as they join.

We are going to start the process of incorporating self-supporting help and membership in the online community into the main sign-up process. Rich is going to start a Loomio discussion about this in the Features group. Eventually we want a system where when someone signs up they are invited to the Loomio Community group and/or a community group in their own language. This is a design challenge and will take some time to implement however.

Once we release the Spanish version and get our Spanish speaking beta testers using it and participating in the Spanish subgroup on Loomio, then we will look at doing the same for more languages.


Francisco George PP-ES Wed 24 Apr 2013 8:39AM

@alannakrause just remember to invite me to the spanish help community. Plus as we are spanish beta testers we should have an easy way to transfer translated doubts(spanish>english) that we can't answer to the Loomio coreteam and then translate your answers to us back into spanish to ease @noelia work.


Miguel Prados Rodriguez Wed 24 Apr 2013 3:50PM

Count on me for the Spanish help community as well !
Is there a document/application where you are currently doing the translations to Spanish to give it a look?


Francisco George PP-ES Wed 24 Apr 2013 11:30PM

@miguelpradosrodrig de monento puedes ver Loomio en Español agregando ?Locale=es por ejemplo este


Noelia Sun 28 Apr 2013 2:48AM

Tod@s Los que quieran ser parte de la Comunidad en Español, darle un me gusta a este mensaja para poder agregarlos, es importante recordar que la comunicacion en ese grupo es siempre en Español, abrazo!


Miguel Prados Rodriguez Sun 5 May 2013 5:42AM

He iniciado el grupo "Cooperativa de Ingenieros" y antes de empezar a invitar a usuarios, me gustaría que me dijeseis donde pueden dejar sus comentarios/contribuciones a la traducción, gracias. Por otro lado, he observado que el mensaje de bienvenida en la creación de un nuevo grupo está en inglés.


Noelia Sun 5 May 2013 7:12AM

Hola @miguelpradosrodrig todavía hay muchas cosas que no están traducidas pero estamos en eso.


Miguel Prados Rodriguez Sun 5 May 2013 7:58AM

Si puedo ayudar... solo tenéis que mandarme textos en inglés a miguelpradosrodriguez@gmail.com y los iré traduciendo...


Noelia Sun 5 May 2013 9:34AM

@miguelpradosrodrig ok te dejare saber cuando haga las notificaciones en ingles, por el momento estoy traduciendo lo mas que puedo yo por razones practicas como parte de mi pasantía con loomio pero gracias por ofrecer tu ayuda :)


Noelia Sun 5 May 2013 11:33AM

@miguelpradosrodrig @franciscogeorgeppe como traducirían "open-source collaboration" ? Colaboración de código abierto? o Colectivo de código abierto? o tmb se usa open source en español?


Miguel Prados Rodriguez Sun 5 May 2013 11:40AM

@noelia Colaboración en entornos de código abierto o colaboración en herramientas de código abierto, depende del contexto.


Noelia Sun 5 May 2013 11:42AM

@miguelpradosrodrig sal del sitio y ve a la pagina principal para que lo veas.. y me dices :)


Miguel Prados Rodriguez Sun 5 May 2013 11:45AM

@noelia Colaboración en código abierto


Francisco George PP-ES Sun 5 May 2013 12:29PM

@noelia Recientemente ha habido polemica en España sobre los usos de los terminos de "Software Libre" y de "codigo abierto" que segun algunos se usan de manera equivocada. Desde PIRATA escribimos a Richard Stallman, padre del concepto.

Su respuesta avalaba este articulo de Pablo Manchon


Asi que mejor lo volvamos a leer para no errar en los conceptos


Florian Aurich Thu 3 Apr 2014 3:05PM

Something interesting has come up in our work on the German translation concerning how we address users. You’re probably aware that German (and other languages, such as French and Spanish) have different forms for addressing people based on their relationship and the formality of the situation. Now, I’d say that “informal, conversational tone” and “how people talk when they meet as equals in a friendly collaborative meeting” favours the less formal German “Du” (=you). This is also what’s been used throughout the German translation of the main resource. But when @christianmairoll translated the subtitles for the “how it works” video (thanks for helping!), he used the more formal “Sie” (=you). If I’m not mistaken, the French translation seems to be using the more formal form “vous” while the Spanish is using the less formal “tu”.
I’m aware that the differences in formality between these words aren’t necessarily equivalent across languages, but I’d be glad to hear other people’s thoughts about this!


Christian Mairoll Fri 4 Apr 2014 8:42AM

To be honest I didn't check the existing translation before I started with the video texts. For me it was kind of natural to use the formal variant "Sie" because the very informal German "Du" might be perceived by many people as aggressive marketing (just see how many people feel heavily offended by companies like IKEA who always use "Du") in their commercials. As I understand, we're looking to build credibility for Loomio. That simply clashes if you treat your users like kids. The potential that someone feels unformfortable with informal "Du" is much higher than the potential that someone feels treated too anonymous/formal with a "Sie".

I think it depends on the situation. In a promotional video or website I'd always expect formal wording while in a chat community when talking to others I know, I will always use the informal variant. But talking to others is something different than communicating information on a 1:n website.


A. Renato Mon 7 Apr 2014 1:05PM

In fact, there are some words that seems aren't the best choice even in the original language. For example, “discussion” reminds something to do with confusion, even though it must be only a kind of “debate”. This last word calls for a moderator, what isn’t the Loomio proposal. So, “dialogue” would be better in my opinion, although people in internet are more used to the discussion word and English isn't my first language, so I better be quiet about it. The point here is do choose the right words which fits better in a fluid conversation that brings a feeling of good will and mutual understanding.

About the power of words:

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
George Orwell, 1984


Richard D. Bartlett Mon 7 Apr 2014 7:47PM

You're so right @renato, 'dialogue' is definitely closer to the meaning we're after. It could be argued that 'discussion' is a more common word though, so that could be taken into account.

It might be interesting to raise a proposal to switch discussion for dialog, and see what the group thinks? If you want to, it would probably be best to do it in the Feature Ideas group :)


Alanna Irving Tue 8 Apr 2014 2:27AM

Don't raise a new thread! Just revive this in-depth one about "Discussion Vs Dialogue"


A. Renato Thu 10 Apr 2014 2:04AM

Maybe it would be good if translators read this enlightening thread above (Discussion Vs Dialogue)… Then we would open a new proposal right here in this very thread to know how the translators prefer in their main language. Although we must keep our translation how it is in the original language, it would be nice to see the different feelings coming from distinct cultures. And then, if we opt “dialogue” for the left hand column (and “collaboration”, “meeting” or “assembly” – this last word is my favorite – for the whole page), we could revive the previous thread with the input from all translators. If it be changed in English, we do the same in our first language.


Florian Aurich Sat 12 Apr 2014 10:59AM

I don't know how to proceed with the German translation until there's some kind of decision on formal vs. informal for addressing users.


zack Sat 12 Apr 2014 8:16PM

I would say do it incrementaly. You will not know how the translation will sound until you start doing it and then using it in Loomio.


Florian Aurich Mon 14 Apr 2014 8:28AM

Ok, so the current status is that both the main resource and the updated how it works are 100% translated and pending review. For the main resource, the informal “Du” is used, while the video subtitles address (potential) users with the more formal “Sie”.

As I’ve said above, I personally think that the informal form fits Loomio better. At least regarding the context of activism - I would pretty much never address my fellow activists with the formal “Sie”.


mix irving Mon 14 Apr 2014 11:50PM

hi Florian, I've just imported the translations into Loomio. Look forward to hearing how german people feel about the formal versus informal.

It's an interesting challenge. In english we are often very unclear online what the tone is because we do familiarity with tone of voice and choice of words.


Christian Mairoll Wed 16 Apr 2014 1:05PM

I'm going to change the subtitles to informal version for consistency across all communication channels.

I agree that informal fits better for activism, but keep in mind that Loomio will one day reach a size where it will sound a bit childish and probably prevent access to a specific audience when using informal style only.

In general I'd say it's best to avoid either of them and use generic terms like "man kann xy" (engl. "one can do xy"). But that doesn't always work.