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We’ve had a question about Norwegian recently and apparently it’s been asked on Meta whether other Germanic languages like Swedish were on topic. They’re not, but Yiddish has been accepted under certain conditions.

I visited Area 51 today and wondered why there was an active proposal for a Constructed Language site, but also specific ones for Lojban and Esperanto, thinking the former would suffice. Then I had a look at German SE’s beta status page – we get asked too few questions. I figured a site for all Germanic languages (except English which has two dedicated and vital sites on its own) would be less likely to suffer from this problem.

Should we broaden the scope of this site?

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I do not consider this to be a good idea for two reasons:

  • There is little overlap between the users interested in Scandinavian Languages and German. It’s probably not more than any arbitrary topics you can conceive for Stack Exchange sites. Dutch may be a little bit better, but still far from “good”. Thus there is no synergy in merging these user groups. Stack Exchange is grouped by communities, not by topics.

  • Everybody participating in moderation will soon be annoyed by content they cannot review due to not understanding the language it’s in. Moreover, we would at least need one moderator to cover every language on the scope. This could theoretically work on a beta where moderators are appointed but not on graduated sites with moderator elections. The only alternative is requiring all content to be in English.

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I browsed Area51 looking for a quotation I seem to remember existed but cannot find, unfortunately. However, I came across this blog post, which nicely states the problem, and this later one in which the SE team’s proposed solution is described.

Scandinavian languages have been proposed at least once. If we consider the four relevant criteria, we find that we already fail at the first one: No question on Scandinavian is on-topic on German.SE as of now. We also fail at 2 (no tag for Danish/Swedish/Norwegian/Faroese/Icelandic/Old Norse). I assume number 3 to also fail (I believe the critical mass of speakers of Scandinavian languages to be high enough on the long run), and finally we fail absymally at 4 — hardly any German speaker would enjoy seeing the occasional question of or in, say, Swedish.

It can be argued whether we fail 1 and 2 due to our narrow choice or due to other, more generic reasons. However, the points raised by Wrzlprmft are pretty much spot on. Swedish and Danish are pretty well understandable by speakers of the corresponding language but neither of them is understandable by German natives per se. Contrary to that, quite a few people say that they are able to understand Dutch if spoken slowly, and I have had the occasional Flemish Belgian tell me that they understood my Southern German well enough. This actually can be explained by the languages’ histories: Proto-Germanic split into North Sea Germanic and continental Germanic before today’s subset of languages developped. North Sea Germanic would later diverge into the Scandinavian languages, while continental Germanic was the predecessor of German and Dutch. Until 1648, the Netherlands belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and thus to the construct that would most likely be labelled Germany, and if I am not mistaken, throughout the middle ages the difference between the language spoken in Antwerpen and that spoken in Vienna would have been, by modern standards, considered a single dialect continuum. All of this means that defining Scandinavian languages as off-topic is rather well-based.

(Note, by the way, that English is closer to the Scandinavian branch, possibly due to the Viking conquests, although this is most likely debated — and I am not a linguist, I can only repeat what I read in the paper.)

Now let’s turn our attention back to Linux/Ubuntu (the first link). We need to ask ourselves:

  1. Whether German speakers would be happy to be classified as Germanic language speakers, like to be lumped together with those and happy to accept questions about Danish, Norwegian, etc. and

  2. whether speakers of Scandinavian languages would be happy to be classified as Germanic language speakers, like to be lumped together with those and happy to accept questions about German.

I suspect neither. As outlined above, there is no mutual intellegibility between the Scandinavian group and German. Thus, we would effectively create two hardly intermangling niches on a single site. Furthermore, it would be a lot easier to gain ‘German’ reputation than ‘Scandinavian’ reputation, since the overwhelming proportion of questions would still be about German (approximately 100 million speakers worldwide compared to 10 million Swedish, 5 million Danish, 5 million Norwegian, 300.000 Icelandic and less than 100.000 Faroese speakers. Dutch omitted on purpose — it would only make matters worse for the Scandinavians.) which would lead to a lot of frustration by the Scandinavians. Community-voted Scandinavian question closure would be a big problem. Also, German speakers may well misinterpret Germanic and wonder why the occasional Scandinavian question is there (and probably be irritated by it).

As a final point, I remember a discussion on Area51 that seems to have been deleted along with the Polish language proposal, about how good an idea it is to mix Polish and/or Russian with the Slavic languages proposal. There was unanimous agreement that Russian should not be included since it would give a huge bias of Russian speakers meaning all other languages would be lost. But there was also a rather general agreement that even Polish should probably be excluded since Polish is the language with the largest group of speakers. (Polish: 40 million, Ukranian: 32 million, Czech: 13 million, Bulgarian: 10 million — why the argument did not extend to Ukranian I cannot tell you.)

  • Thanks for the links. If I understand you correctly, you could see Dutch (and Yiddish or Frisian) being incorporated. I think we could pass points 3. and 4. and we fail on 1. and 2. by the very choices I’m questioning. What if we look at 4. the other way, though, would enough Scandinavians be interested in questions on German? Regarding 3., it seems no language site (except the English ones) has left beta state yet, mostly because of a lack of questions. I’m suggesting that a broader scope may help with that, although I understand the concerns about German dominance. – Crissov Mar 3 '16 at 8:57
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    @Crissov: it seems no language site (except the English ones) has left beta state yet, mostly because of a lack of questions.Japanese Language has graduated but doesn’t have its own design yet. Also, the point of the questions-per-day criterion for graduation is that you have to have one sufficiently big community. Lumping communities together wouldn’t help this. – Wrzlprmft Mar 4 '16 at 8:18

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