Thinking Ubiquity in Italian

Since I read this post about “Thinking Ubiquity in Portoguese” and Mitcho’s blog, I started asking to myself: what are the challenges of localizing Ubiquity in Italian?

Quoting from the same post (bolds are mine)

Since Ubiquity provides a natural language interface between the user and the computer, the way that the user interacts with the commands should feel natural at his language, conforming (although not strictly necessary) with the language’s grammar, and specially conforming with how the user thinks and expects to give commands in his own language.

Consider the verbs in this Jono’s post.

23 are verbs: bookmark, calculate, close, convert, define, delete, email, exit, help, hilight, map, print, redo, refresh, restart, save, search, tag, translate, undelete, underline, undo, zoom

Since you’re giving a direct order to the browser, verbs should be in imperative form (at least, in my mind there’s no doubt about this). For example: underline should be sottolinea (imperative form of sottolineare).

First problem: for some of those verbs there’s no Italian equivalent. Take for example bookmark or email: we don’t have a single verb to define this kind of actions, in most cases we use the form verb+noun (“add bookmark”->”aggiungi segnalibro”, “write email”->”scrivi email”).
Some English verbs are adapted to Italian using the first conjugation (“to schedule”->”schedulare”), but these forms are simply awful 😉

Second problem: some verbs are not easy to understand out of their typical context. Think about undo and redo: as menu items these two actions are universally translated as annulla and ripeti,  but to be really “natural” we should at least add a noun (“Undo action”->”Annulla azione”, “Redo action”->”Ripeti azione”).

The first problem (the biggest one) could be solved using overlord verbs (see this proposal): “google”->”search google”->”cerca in google”.

What are the possible shortcomings of this approach? The first I can think of: what if the English overlord verb is not suitable for another language? For example, the verb “make” is quite difficult to translate (too generic): “to make” could be “fare”, but “fare grassetto” (“make bold”) doesn’t make any sense, people would use more specific verbs:

  • make bold ->  trasforma in grassetto (sounds like “change to bold”)
  • make page editable -> rendi pagina modificabile

Two different localized verbs for a single overlord English verb. Is the Ubiquity’s parser able to manage this situation?

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13 responses to “Thinking Ubiquity in Italian”

  1. sethb Avatar

    flod: you’re tapping into the complexities that the ubiquity guys are trying to solve, so please keep your ideas coming. if mitcho hasn’t read your post already, i’m going to forward it to him just to be sure.

    the use of overlord verbs seems interesting, but i don’t know how that solves issues that you highlight (like using the verb “make”). maybe there is a way to pick overlord verbs for commands that have clean translations.

  2. mitcho Avatar

    Hi flod: Thanks for the great post on what Ubiquity could look like in Italian! I’ve recently been thinking about these “mismatches” between overlord verb commands and single verb commands in different languages. There recently have been some proposals for adding “synonyms” or “macros” so you can define, for example, “tr-to-fr” to act like “translate to French”. We might be able to apply these kinds of “synonyms” on top of an overlord verb base system to get these cases working. ^^

  3. flod Avatar

    Thanks to both of you for your comments, I’ll keep posting my thoughts in the next weeks.

    I also hope to read soon more information about these “synonyms” 😉

  4. […] put up a nice blog post on thinking about Ubiquity in Italian. flod points out that what seems natural to him as a speaker is the use of the imperative form of […]

  5. Nicola D'Agostino Avatar

    I also see a problem with choosing the right prepositions.
    E.g. ‘cerca in google’ or ‘cerca su google’? 😕


  6. flod Avatar


    You “search something in a place” but you “search something on a book”. Google is a “place” or an object? Nowadays “Cerca su” is probably the most used of the two forms 😉

    By the way I still need to understand how prepositions will be managed by the parser: if a verb (“search”->”cerca”) can be matched with a verb+preposition (“search”->”cerca su”, or “cerca in”), I think it’s only a problem of finding the most appropriate form in our language (so a problem of localization, not localizability).

  7. […] Thinking Ubiquity in Italian, by Flod […]

  8. A+ Avatar

    I am against translations of any firefox addon, but in especially against a translation for ubiquity.

    See, the point is:
    Translating extensions bloats them!
    Particularly in the case of a program like ubiquity, this will bloat so much it will blow up.
    And the more bloated extensions you have, the slower your firefox gets.

    I really don’t wanna be an asshole, but in this case, I really have to say that people who are too stupid to remember 23 english imperative forms should stay away from a computer anyway.

  9. flod Avatar

    Translating extensions bloats them!

    AFAIK, there were (are?) plans to change the way extensions are localized (stripping off the locale).

    I really don’t wanna be an asshole, but in this case, I really have to say that people who are too stupid to remember 23 english imperative forms should stay away from a computer anyway.

    I don’t see why my 6x years old mother should know English at all, that’s why localized software exists.

  10. p3go83 Avatar

    It would be nice a tranlation of Ubiquity in italian, do you know if someone is working on translation?

    I think that a localized version, expecially for this extension, that was born to execute “natural language” commands, is needed.

  11. flod Avatar

    Right now there’s no localized version of Ubiquity: as soon as it’ll be possible, as Mozilla Italia we’ll provide the Italian localization 😉

  12. […] minor problem (see also this comment): do you search “on” Google, “with” Google or “in” Google? The […]

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