Date: Tue, 31 Jan 1995 23:49:52 EST
Sender: The African Global Experience <AGE-L@uga.cc.uga.edu>
From: Erisa Ojimba <EOJIMBA@uga.cc.uga.edu>
Subject: Cultural questionnaire -- result (fwd)
To: Multiple recipients of list AGE-L <AGE-L@uga.cc.uga.edu>
Subject: Cultural questionnaire -- result
Date: 30 Jan 1995 11:15:10 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki
Cultural Questionnaire: Result
By Krista Lagus
30 Jannuary 1995
A few months ago, I posted a questionnaire about cultural issues to
this groups. 15 people contributed, and partly based on insight gained
from those answers the following article was produced, to be a part of
the Glossasoft project deliverables.
To get more info on the project which deals with software
localisation and internationalisation, see the URL
At some point we may publish some of the results also there.
Currently, there are no actual results there yet, just general info.
Thank you for the interest,
Krista Lagus, VTT
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND LOCALISATION
There is an unlimited number of potential traps for a localiser when
cultural issues are considered. The more diverse the set of cultures
the software is expected to be used in, the more analysis and
comparative work is needed. An attempt to provide an analysis which
would aim at any kind of completeness is beoynd the scope of this
In the following, a couple of examples of culturally dependent issues
related to software development are presented. The peculiarities of
colours and icons are discussed, and some examples are presented on
the variety of interpretation that may exist in regards to them.
Many of the interpretation of colours are common across cultures and
nationalities. However, there may be a lot of local variation due to
the local traditions and environment of the culture.
Some of the aspects that partially define what a colour may signify,
are listed below. These should be considered when localising a product
into a specific culture:
skin colour of people,
colours of the national flag, and
colours that political parties or movements have chosen as
While using colours in specialised applications such as for maps,
there may be local conventions for representing something. As an
example, in European geological maps for petroleum reserves the color
symbolising oil is red, and for gas it is green. In the USA it is the
When designing an icon (or using colours), there are two dangers: that
the main message, the denotation of the icon may not be understood or
is understood wrong, or that some connotation, 'side meaning' of the
icon is insulting or in some other way inappropriate.
In a software, icons usually refer to an operation. Since software
operations are rather abstract, they cannot be pictured directly.
Therefore, icons in software often refer to some every-day task or
depict an object that is associated with the operation. Also, icons
may use some metaphors present in the language that connect an image
with an operation. A software localiser must become aware of what
referrals are based on metaphors or local habits.
2.1. NOT INSULTING THE USER
Below some sensitive areas of life or specific types of icons that
could be avoided are presented . With these there is somewhat a danger
of insulting someone:
Signs of political parties, religious signs.
Finger signs. There are a lot of offensive finger signs, and
these vary somewhat according to culture. For example, in
Australia, holding up the middle and index fingers, outside of
hand towards the looker is a very offensive sign. An anecdote:
On his trip to the Australia, Bill Clinton used the victory
sign (the same, but outside of hand towards himself), without
realising that the people behind him saw the offensive
sign. Pretty soon he quit using the sign.
Which race, colour, ethnic background or gender do the people
you are picturing, represent. In some areas race is the hot
issue, in others the gender etc.
Clothing and visible parts of the body: Showing bare shoulders
or knees in the Muslim countries, or downside of the foot in
some Asian countries is not a good idea. Beware of
exxaggerated sex characteristics, even if clothed.
2.2. GETTING YOUR MESSAGE UNDERSTOOD
When you want to signify an operation, you need to find out what kind
of mental images are associated with that operation in the culture you
are localising for. An example is given in the following.
In some wide-spread American programs announcing for newly arrived
mail, there is a figure of a post box with a flag. When mail arrives,
the icon changes colour and the flag goes up. However, in many other
cultures there are no post boxes where mail arrives. Instead, it may
be dropped through a hole in your door, or you may have to collect it
from the post office, and therefore many find the post box sign
counterintuitive. Some alternative signs could be:
Sign of a letter. This is rather internationally intuitive,
since letters appear in most places. However, it may depend
on the locale which side of the letter is more intuitively
- A postman handing a letter. This is intuitive, where the role
of a postman delivering the mail is important, but not where
you collect your mail by yourself from a post office.
A pigeon with a letter in its peak. This may be intuitive and
considered as charming in some locales, but definitely not all.
A letter being dropped by a hand into a prototype of the local
For the "please wait" sign, or "operation in progress" there may
An hour glass. Since this is an ancient symbol of "time flowing",
it may be widely known. But again, since hour glass is not
used in almost anywhere in actual life, it may be totally
unintuitive in some cultures.
A watch. Consider, whether the digital or analog version
should be used. The insides of a watch (wheels turning etc)
might also be possible.
A percentage sign telling how much of the operation has been
A person running, doing gymnastics, or climbing a mountain
might also work in some areas.
The different phases of the moon changing. This might be
preferred in some Arab or Muslim countries.
In general, the rich cultural variation is a challenge for the
software internationalisation and localisation task especially when
multimedia systems are considered. For the software developer the
requirement of knowing all the local features is not feasible. It is
more important to be aware of the categories of software components
and issues which are subject to change.