GNOME Localisation

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“English ought to be enough for everyone.”

~ Bill Gates on GNOME Localisation

GNOME is a graphical user interface for Unix and Unix-like systems. It is quite mature and popular albeit it does not have the simplicity of KDE. Since GNOME is so popular among narcissist, egomaniacs, nerds and so on, it is logical to think that these people want to bring this ground-breaking technology to every corner of the world, every culture and language. Soon people coined a beautiful term localisation for this process, which involves 3 steps:

  1. translation,
  2. translation, and
  3. translation

The goal is to make GNOME available for every language in the world, including Hieroglyphics, Linear B, Jurchen script and stone-age pictography. But before making your hands dirty, you need lots of preparation.

Learn how to use CVS[edit]

If you don't want to beg others to help you, you must learn how to use CVS yourself, until you are a certified guru. (At this point you should have been a CVS server administrator instead, not a translator.)

BEWARE: There have been some hoaxes circulating the GNOME mailing lists about an supposedly update of CVS to a new system called git. Of course, there is no such thing called git (even the names denotes that this is a hoax, gwad!), so please ignore such mails. Continue to CVS commands. You may forward this page to those spreading misinformation about the demise of CVS.

BEWARE 2: Table has been turned. Some unknown jerk decided singlehandedly that, on 2006-06-16 23:59 UTC, all translators are not allow to participate into localisation anymore, unless they sign themselves up to participate in the development of this vaporware called git. The major goal of git is to be a limited CVS emulator.

Hello World Localisation program[edit]

As you may know, Localisation can also be written as L10n. This comes from research in linguistics that only the first and last letter in words matter for a reader to comprehend what is written. We combine this scientific observation to introduce the L10n Hello World application,

#include <stdio.h> int main(void) { printf("H3o W3d!\n"); }

Learn how to use Bugzilla[edit]

GNOME Localisation Bugzilla is the focal point to name and shame those localisation teams that have bug reports pending. If your language is present, this means that someone somewhere in your neighbouring country filed some damning bug report for your language.

Bugzilla is the work of a genius; not only you make people look bad when you report bugs on them, you also gain points by doing so. You get good points for reporting bugs but also for closing (solving) them. A few points can come from comments as well. Therefore, simply pick your victim language and file a vague report against it like This does not look correct or Shoddy translation alert and then close the bug with Fixed, I blanked out those 300 offending messages.

The GNOME Foundation is sponsoring the submission of bug reports on Bugzilla with a free XBOX 390. The first person to reach 100 Bugzilla points should contact the foundation at once mentioning this page. All decisions are final and the prize cannot be exchanged with money. The console comes with two games, The attack of the gnomes and Gnome Quest VII: Journey of the little king.

Applying for a GNOME CVS Account[edit]

The slow and boring way[edit]

When starting a GNOME Localisation effort for a new language that is not already present at this page, you are required to have someone else publish your work. You have to do so, until your submitter gets bored and at this point, she begs the CVS administrator to grant you a proper CVS commit account. Simos is one such candidate to send initially your PO files; he gets bored so easily that after your second submission he begs the CVS admins to grant you a CVS account. The CVS admins know about this, so they blackmail him to look into bugs in Bugzilla first. See, it is a win-win situation, for you and GNOME.

The legendary shortcut[edit]

Alternatively you can observe developer mailing list for a while, pick one that is kind enough, and directly explain you want a CVS account. If lucky enough, you will be granted one. It is rumored someone did get CVS account this way, but since all witnesses were no more, this claim can't be verified or disproved. Anyway, even if it has existed before, this loophole was plugged long time ago.

The reverse way[edit]

The reverse way is for the translators-turned-hackers. It's actually done the other way around, and involves having your language translation coordinator sponsor you for a CVS account (making false claims about limited time etc) and then use it just for hacking purposes. While the records can not be easily verified, it is rumored that at least one GNOME maintainer has gained his CVS account this way.

Cheating in GNOME Localisation statistics[edit]

Weather locations[edit]

“The weather applet. That fucking .po file!”

~ Telsa Gwynne

The GNOME weather applet allows you to view the current weather conditions of your city. It takes the information from a nearby airport, if one is available. If you plan to build an airport, you are required to provide frequent weather reports.

Honest translators: please skip the two following paragraphs.

A well-kept secret in GNOME localisation that enables you to skyrocket your translation statistics by around 20% is going through gnome-applets-locations. This file contains the names of every city and road in the world (and citlets, huts, small villages, military bases, jerk water in the nowhere, etc.), over 4000 names, for which you have never been to, we are definetely not taking you, and you will never get to. It is used by the weather applet to show the weather conditions at your city, of which at least 1/4 of them won't show you anything except city name (because their weather stations are not configured to report back centrally the local weather conditions).

Therefore, if you do not expect to have users of GNOME for your language in North Dakota, you can ommit for now translating those city and village names. msgen comes to the rescue by automatically filling those missing strings with their default name. Allegedly quite some language teams finish the names this way.

Honest translators: roll back 2 paragraphs and read on, if you don't want yourself to be labeled as stupid.

6 ways to translate city names[edit]
  1. Buy a very expensive world map (remember, localized ones!) and start looking.
  2. Zoom in on each airport with Google maps.
  3. Visit each country to ask personally, record your trail.
  4. Call up each airport and ask how they pronounce the name.
  5. Fly to the airport with FlightGear to get a feel of it. Invent pronunciation.
  6. Join IRC at #gnome-love and ask repeatedly: CAN I ASK A QUESTION??? IS ANYONE FROM ARGENTINA???. Upper case is always used to get attention.

Occasionally you will notice the same location name exists for two different locations. This is impossible as airplanes may crash and should be marked as a bug in GNOME Bugzilla. The following attachment must be included in your bug report:

  • Official documents issued by governments of related countries, proving that the airport is present or not;
  • A photograph of aforementioned area, in form of PNG format graphics file (jpeg or gif are disallowed because of either loss of data or limitation on color depth), with resolution no less than 2048x1536.
  • The surronding map area of aforementioned area, also in form of PNG file with same restriction on resolution. Additionally, this map must be published after latest stable GNOME release, otherwise this map area is just old data and your bug report will not be processed.
  • You should also make sure that the licensing of your package matches that of the GNOME requirement, in case a GNOME maintainer decides to release the photographs as a sample with his library. You can always make it public domain, but you may be able to add a sophisticated twist by licensing it under Creative Commons. Make sure your maintainer doesn't use Debian first.

Speedy transliteration[edit]

Although filling in those village names gives one 20% of satisfaction, it is still too much work. For those who want to spend their effort and time wisely, there is another way, which needs two kinds of resources:

To achieve the goal of 100% translation, one just need to translate original english sentence, word by word, into mother tongue. There is no need to take care of meaning, sentence structure or grammar, since that is too tedious. In case of non-existant words, making up a random word that sound like the original english one is enough. In this way anybody can achieve 100% satisfaction (with lots of 100's arranged neatly inside a table); don't be so softhearted to consider whether user can understand the translation or not—in front of such personal fulfillment, whether anybody can use it means nothing.

GNOME Foundation and Localisation[edit]

It is well known that the power in GNOME is exercised in the GNOME Foundation. Before the voting period, candidates send their candidancy manifestos to win support. There is at least one person that comes from the Localisation League every year. Due to regulations they cannot claim directly the support of translators. You will have to identify them by their manifesto, as it ends with Hint: I am a translator :wink. While no such candidate has ever won the election, they still try anyway.


Translators must not be confused with lots of technical details. The following are provided on a need-to-know basis.


CVS is a thing where translators get their translation files from. See section above on how to get access here. Ignore any messages on using the subversive git.


SSH is security. All translators need to use it. Otherwise CVS is in pain.

Translation statistics pages[edit]

The translation statistics pages allow you to see how well you are doing with your translations. The first column was not like that long time ago. It was just the two-letter ISO 639 language code and translators would mix it up. A group of translators were really bad at this and end-users would complain: - What does it say here? This looks Greek to me?!?!. Thankfully, now we have descriptions of the languages.

A translator treasures the translation statistics pages. Please make it your home page. Click now on Tools/Options/General and type in the URL. Then click OK.

Every month the GNOME Foundation gives away a free iPod nano to the team that visits the most times their translation statistics page. Please refer to this page when claiming your gift.

Airport spotting[edit]

This is a task that each translator must do to increase the number of locations in the gnome-applets-locations file for his or her country. You have to visit the information desk of each airport at your area and ask the lady what their ICAO code is. They are used to this question, so simply say ICAO (pronounced: Aee Kau). Adding military airports to your list gives you 200 bonus points.

String freeze[edit]

This is the short time period between which translators can crucify developers when they change translation strings that affect the translation statistics pages. Also known as the duck hunting season.

Next string freeze will be in Fall 2006. Be there.

Translator comments[edit]

Unlike GNOME translators, GNOME developers are very shy people with no social life. Sometimes in their loneliness they write some incomprehensible comments, the "translator comments", that appear with translation messages when you translate. Please ignore them at all cost. The developers try to establish contact with you, and you should not encourage them.

Such shameless comments include hi, m/19/s, see changelog for my number and PUT EITHER 12 OR 24, ELSE PANEL WILL CRASH!.

Dangers of GNOME Localisation[edit]

It has been long known that being part of GNOME Localisation brings so much pleasure and excitement to the translators, so WebSense has categorised it under the Sex category.


Localisation Police[edit]

The GNOME Localisation Police is a disciplined and well-trained body that detects and enforces sanctions on developers when they bypass localisation policies. More often than not, developers make changes to the source code that increase the translatable messages, during string freeze. During string freeze, developers MUST NOT add new translatable messages, otherwise what's the point in trying to have a perfect score in the translation stat pages?

When you detect a string freeze violation, send an e-mail to the culprit with subject line "String FREEEEEZEEEEE!?!?!" and refer to the exact commit transaction for irrefutable evidence. You are advised to cc: the localisation mailing list as well for support.


Occasionally translators may encounter difficulty during localisation process, and don't know how to handle. Here are the most common ones for reference:

1. Of[edit]

Of is one of the most difficult word to be translated. It appears like this in translation file:

msgid "of"
msgstr ""

This is such a difficult puzzle that, reportedly somebody committed suicide after dealing with it for years without result. The problem is finally solved after a whole century of vigorous debate; the award goes to GNOME's chief linguist, Telsa Gwynne. This is a great discovery, and all dictionary included this word ever since. The translated text, if listed as english, should look like (in blue):

msgid "of"
msgstr ""
"1.  used as a function word to indicate a point of reckoning\n"
"2a. used as a function word to indicate origin or derivation\n"
"2b. used as a function word to indicate the cause, motive, or reason\n"
"2c. BY\n"
"2d. on the part of\n"
"3.  used as a function word to indicate the component material,\n"
"    parts, or elements or the contents\n"
"4a. used as a function word to indicate the whole that includes\n"
"    the part denoted by the preceding word\n"
"4b. used as a function word to indicate a whole or quantity from\n"
"which a part is removed or expended\n"
"5a. relating to : ABOUT\n"
"5b. in respect to\n"
"6a. used as a function word to indicate belonging or a\n"
"    possessive relationship\n"
"6b. used as a function word to indicate relationship between\n"
"    a result determined by a function or operation and a basic\n"
"    entity (as an independent variable)\n"
"7.  used as a function word to indicate something from which\n"
"    a person or thing is delivered or with respect to which\n"
"    someone or something is made destitute\n"
"8a. used as a function word to indicate a particular example\n"
"    belonging to the class denoted by the preceding noun\n"
"8b. used as a function word to indicate apposition\n"
"9a. used as a function word to indicate the object of an action\n"
"    denoted or implied by the preceding noun\n"
"9b. used as a function word to indicate the application of\n"
"    a verb or of an adjective\n"
"10. used as a function word to indicate a characteristic\n"
"    or distinctive quality or possession\n"
"11a. used as a function word to indicate the position in time of\n"
"     an action or occurrence\n"
"11b. BEFORE\n"
"12.  archaic : ON"  

See also[edit]