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I read (again) the "tour" page and came across this rule:

[Don't ask about] anything not directly related to the German language.

Now, while i can understand (and actually appreciate) the gist of this rule i'd like to mention (and discuss) some fringe cases with the intention of maybe find a better prasing for this rule.

For instance, here is an example i answered today. It asks about a made-up word ("Effenbergisierung"). On the outside it is a request for a direct translation and per the rules (see also this discussion) it should be closed. On the other hand one would indeed have a hard time finding this word and what it means in a dictionary or by googling around.

Which brings me to my main point: having a certain language as ones native language not only means being familiar with all the words, structures, etc., but (fringe cases aside) also means being familiar with certain (local) cultural concepts and "common knowledge" within a certain culture.

Some i.e. US citizen most probably will not know at all who Mr. Effenberg is and hence wouldn't have a chance to understand the phrase, whereas I (even though I am not in the least interested in soccer) know the name. On the other hand the same citizen might use a (made up) term like "Kaepernicking" and the average german will be at an equal loss because american football and its players is little known in Germany as soccer is the US.

The same applies to this thread asking about a word (or, actually, band name) "heimatdamisch". On the outside it is a direct translation request (and it attracted "just look it up in a dictionary"-comments), but to really understand it correctly one not only needs to know a certain language (dialect in this case) but also have some "cultural background" to know the connotations the word comes with.

Background knowledge, though, is "not directly related to the german language" itself and hence should NOT be necessary to answer any question. On the other hand understanding colloquials, proverbs, often need a certain cultural background to be understood at all. "

My suggestion is: it might be useful to find a wording for that rule that doesn't rule out cultural knowledge as a possible prerequisite to answering questions like the one currently in place. It might be a nuance, but if nuances don't matter in a forum dealing with language (and its nuances!), then i don't know where else they would.

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  • Do you have a suggestion for a re-wording?
    – Jonathan Herrera Mod
    Jun 13, 2022 at 20:34
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    In my opinion, the examples do not support the case very much: To me, Effenbergisierung ist just a German word, and the question is just on topic. Same for heimatdamisch. If these words are not easily to be found in a dictionary (which would be my guess), the questions are just on topic. The fact that some people might think otherwise is unfortunate, but can be clarified in communication.
    – Jonathan Herrera Mod
    Jun 13, 2022 at 20:34
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    If the question were about Stefan Effenberg, then it would be off-topic in fact, and I don't think we should change that.
    – Jonathan Herrera Mod
    Jun 13, 2022 at 20:41
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    I don’t exactly understand where you see a problem (or if you see a problem at all): Did anybody summon that line to argue that the questions in question were off-topic (because I cannot find anything)? Would you argue that the questions in question are off-topic based on that line?
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Jun 14, 2022 at 7:42
  • @Wrzlprmft: knowledge of the language alone should be necessary to answer a problem per the rules. But to understand what "Effenbergisierung" means not only knowledge of the language mechanism that makes "Effenbergisierung" from "Effenberg" is necessary but one also has to have the cultural (and hence unrelated to the language) background of knowing who Mr. Effenberg is/was and therefore what he stands for. This somewhat counters the "not directly related to language", no?
    – bakunin
    Jun 14, 2022 at 11:51
  • @Wrzlprmft: and, btw.: in the second linked thread promptly came: "Heimatdamisch is a compound consisting of Heimat and damisch, both of which can be found in dictionaries". Furthermore, also this question could not have been answered by mere language knowledge, because "damisch" is indeed the dialect form of "dämlich", but has a much broader range of meaning than its standard German equivalent. One needs to know how the word "feels" to a native speaker to be able to explain it. Feelings, though, you won't find in a dictionary.
    – bakunin
    Jun 14, 2022 at 11:57
  • @bakunin: I generally see that you can interpret the rules that way (like you can conversely argue that the Effenbergisierung example demonstrates that culture and language are related). But that’s not what I was asking for in my previous comment, whose questions are quite literal and without subtext. Almost every instruction can be misinterpreted, but the problem only arises when it is misinterpreted.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Jun 14, 2022 at 13:12
  • @Wrzlprmft: fair enough, so let me phrase my point a bit different: as you yourself (correctly) stated culture and language are related (I'd even say closely intertwined). The rule text can of course be interpreted in the correct/intended/sensible way but it also can be misinterpreted. Because the "problem only arises when it is misinterpreted" as you yourself said, wouldn't it be a good thing to rephrase it in a way so that this possible misinterpretation is less likely to occur?
    – bakunin
    Jun 14, 2022 at 13:22
  • @bakunin: Please make a proposal. It is easier to compare two statements then one statement against a potential. Any other statement will have ways to be misinterpreted, too. So, we will have to trade off different possibilities of misunderstanding against each other.
    – Jonathan Herrera Mod
    Jun 15, 2022 at 9:20
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    Just wanted to say, that regardless of how this decisions goes, I appreciate your contribution to improve this site! I think, we disagree in the question at hand (I am inclined to not consider the damage done high enough to justify a change), but please keep contributing your thoughts how we can make this site better!
    – Jonathan Herrera Mod
    Jun 15, 2022 at 9:36

4 Answers 4

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Rule: Don't ask about anything not directly related to the German language.

My suggestion is: it might be useful to find a wording for that rule that doesn't rule out cultural knowledge as a possible prerequisite to answering questions like the one currently in place.

This is a misinterpretation: The rule is about what type of questions can be asked, not about what knowledge people are allowed to draw on to answer it.

The wording correctly rules out questions not regarding the German language. As long as questions do concern the language, the rule does not preclude them to touch on other aspects; let alone the answers.

An example for a question that would be rightly excluded by the current rule:

Why is Gerhard Schröder so unpopular right now?

An example for a question that would be rightly admissible:

What does Schröderisierung mean?

Note that the answer to the second question may include lots of aspects that an answer to the first question would have included as well; but that doesn't change anything.

Therefore, I suggest keeping the rule as is.

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  • Do you have any recommendations what to do with that line. Would you keep it as it is?
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Jun 23, 2022 at 9:02
  • I support the rule's intent and don't think it is liable to be misinterpreted. However, I don't know whether that rule is even necessary, or whether it stops more people from asking legitimate questions than it prevents them from asking illegitimate ones.
    – David Vogt
    Jun 25, 2022 at 10:24
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The sentence in question is in the tour. The goal of the tour is to provide a “quick overview of the site” for new users, not a complete set of rules covering every corner case¹. Therefore, it is okay if that page is not super-precise on this aspect.

I don’t think anybody will refrain from asking an on-topic question because of that line. Askers of such questions cannot know that their question might fail this criterion (if overinterpreted) because if they did, they would already know the answer to their question. Also, going by all the off-topic questions we get, many people ignore the guidance we throw at them anyway.

If anything, there is a risk of users overinterpreting that line when it comes to community moderation.

With all that being said, I would suggest to remove that point completely because it is unnecessary. I don’t think anybody who made it past the first paragraph of the tour will ask blatantly off-topic questions (e.g., about programming). Many other SE sites don’t have such a rule in their tour and they are not suffering from blatantly off-topic question any more than we do. Rather the line is disengaging on account of stating the obvious. Any complex formulation of that rule to avoid overinterpretation by community moderators would be equally off-putting and possibly misunderstood by new users.


¹ If any page is a reference on our scope, it’s this one. Interestingly, it doesn’t have any comparable rule at all and just assumes it as given – which I think is fine. Admittedly, it is quite heavy on “don’t”s and could provide some examples of things that are okay to ask, but that’s another issue.

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Proposal of Change

As suggested by @JonathanScholbach in a comment above here is my propsal for a change of the rules text.

I am not sure if the comments are deleted after a while or not (see i.e. here or here) so bear with me when i consolidate some (IMHO important) parts of the discussion going on in the comments above and address the arguments raised there. If you think i have misrepresented your argument: most of you have the right to edit this answer anyways, you are welcome to do so. Otherwise leave a comment and i will gladly edit this myself.

Pro and Contra

@guidot raises the point that the brevity of the checklist would be compromised.

This is a valid point and i tried to keep the change as short as possible. See below.

@Wrzlprmft sees the possibility to misunderstand the rule in a way to exclude matters of culture or cultural/common knowledge and also admits that culture and language are closely related. He thinks, though, this possible misunderstanding is rare enough not to warrant the change of the rules text.

My opinion is that this misunderstanding happens more often than you think. In any case, perhaps an effort to minimise the potential of misunderstanding should be a good thing.

@JonathanScholbach thinks the cited examples don't support my case very well and in fact is of the opinion that asking for any word not easily found in a dictionary is a legitimate question.

It is in fact possible to see it that way (and i agree with your opinion, btw.), but obviously others see that differently - as shown by the "look it up in a dictionary"-comment i quoted. My effort doesn't so much try to change the application of the rules but the phrasing of them to make them more explicit and reduce the risk of misapplication.

It is one thing to ignore misplaced comments. But a comment being misplaced under a question already means the person asking the question had to get over the hurdle of interpreting the rules in the way they are intended. We simply don't know how many questions which would havbe been legitimate have not been asked because the one (potentially) asking misinterpreted the rules himself and did not ask.

@ccprog raises the point that non-native speakers are capable of being as well-versed in an acquired language as native speakers and cites more-or-less famous authors with non-german native languages who write in german.

To be honest, i don't know how to answer this. I will forego citing other authors (i.e. Mark Twain and his famous stance towards the german language). My main point was that to answer some questions not only the knowledge of the german language alone is sufficient but also being exposed to cultural conventions and common knowledge in the german-speaking countries. For instance, a (made-up) term "Kaepernicking" might be undecipherable by even a native English speaker from, say, India, where american football is not the thing it is in the US. On the other hand, every native speaker from the US will know the name even if not in the least interested in football at all, just because being exposed to news and a public discussion where the name came up regularly. The same is true for "Effenbergisierung". The language proficiency would acknowledge the mechanism of affixing "-(i)sierung", but if one hasn't heard the name "Effenberg" before one would be none the wiser.

Proposal

After this long introduction here is my proposal:

Don't ask about ...

current version: anything not directly related to the German language
proposal: anything not directly related to German language or the common cultural background of german-speaking countries

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  • "common cultural background of german-speaking countries" Being from Austria, I had no idea who Mr. Effenberg is.
    – idmean
    Jun 15, 2022 at 14:24
  • [Wrzlprmft] thinks, though, this possible misunderstanding is rare enough not to warrant the change of the rules text. – I did not write that. I only said that almost any “rule” can be misunderstood and asked you whether you were fearing that this is the case here or even have evidence for this in this particular case.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Jun 16, 2022 at 6:49
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I agree with your viewpoint; I can imagine to supplement the tour page bullet point with something like

... or at least requiring native speaker background

and would like to find some reactions here. (The brevity of the check list would be somewhat compromised.) The category handwriting seems to contradict the strict interpretation of meaning anyway: it is mostly the background of a native speaker, that helps to make educated guesses concerning indecipherable writing.

Of course having this meta question can already be considered to be that supplement of our understanding.

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    So you think renown writers like Sharon Dodua Otoo, Wladimir Kaminer or Yōko Tawada would not be qualified to answer questions about the cultural background of the language they write in?
    – ccprog
    Jun 13, 2022 at 14:38
  • @ccprog: if you want to suggest, that I should replace requiring by more likely encountered in, I consider your comment as a strange way to state that. If the purpose was something else, I did not get it.
    – guidot Mod
    Jun 13, 2022 at 15:27
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    None of the above are "native speakers", having learned German only as adults. For me, "more likely encountered in" is still a form of saying they are inferior speakers of German.
    – ccprog
    Jun 13, 2022 at 19:58

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