Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Large numbers and East Asian languages

A large number is usually written with commas separating every 3 digits (e.g. 123,456,789). The system is established this way only because many western languages have a decimal superbase of 1000. That is to say there are no new names for powers of 10 between one thousand (103) and one million (106). 105 is constructed with 102×103. This is not the case for Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. These languages have a decimal superbase of 10000. So a large number like 123456789 should be written as 1,2345,6789. Different languages have different standards. The following table is a simplified illustration of the major standards in the world.
France, much of Latin Europe123 456 789,00
Germany, the Netherlands123.456.789,00
the U.K., the U.S.123,456,789.00

(more details at here)

In the past, financial and accounting industries in the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese speaking countries have employed the U.K./U.S. standard. It is understandable when computer systems had little resources for such customization. But now Windows and Mac OS have been completely translated. Windows even supports various decimal separating schemes described above, including the Indian numeral system (see screenshot). I have to wonder why isn't the East Asian scheme supported. I am disappointed in two groups of people because of this.

  • Microsoft.
    They're supposed to be the leader of software localization. They have failed to do it.

  • Speakers of these three East Asian languages.
    Just because some people who work in the financial industry or some of the bilingual people are accustomed to the U.K./U.S. format does not justify its usage in these three language. There is not enough root-grass demand for a change.

By the way, Vietnamese has a superbase of 1000.

See also 數字多位分節之我見.

This has been debated on the style guide discussion on the Chinese Wikipedia. I will counter some of the arguments against the "a-comma-per-4-digit" scheme.

Hindu-Arabic numeral isn't a Chinese thing to begin with
No, it is not. But it isn't a European thing in the beginning either. The Europeans adopted it and eventually the thousand separator evolved out of need and natural linguistic construction. And the Indians use a system different from the Europeans'? Why? Because it's how they say it!

A comma for every three digit is an established world standard
Wrong! As the table above shows, there are several standards.

Chinese pride has blinded your judgment
If there were any blind pride, I would argue not to use any Hindu-Arabic numeral at all in the first place.

Chinese speakers are accustomed to read and write the U.K/U.S. system
It is so only because there has not been any alternative. Trust me, if you're a native Chinese speaker and you start reading and writing like 1,2345,6789, you will get used to 4-digit-per-comma very soon. Imagine this:

ItemNumeral, U.K/U.S.Numeral, ChineseChinese
Population of Taipei260,0000260,0000260 萬
Population of Taiwan23,000,0002300,00002300 萬
Population of China1,300,000,00013,0000,000013 億

Now, which one is more natural?

Safari for Windows

Safari for Windows was released on 2007-06-11. It has some serious problem with internationalization. It doesn't display Indic scripts.



In addition, when a page contains mixture of traditional and simplified Chinese characters, two different fonts are used. For the example on the right, the simplified characters 维 and 历 are rendered in Ming font, while the traditional characters (or characters common to both systems) are rendered in sans-serif. Apple can probably get away with internationalization because their website says so.

Usability issue: Hotkey Ctrl-+, Ctrl--, and Ctrl-0 for enlarging or shrinking font size don't work. Pressing enter after clicking on a radio button doesn't submit the form. It crashed within 5 minutes I started using, and continue to crash later.

Google Maps

Try searching for the driving direction from Boston to Paris on Google Maps.

Blue Screen of Death

Seoul Subway

New York Subway

Blue Screen of Death