ERCIM News No.26 - July 1996

Multilinguality in Information Systems

by Aarno Lehtola

We briefly describe a software construction framework provided to help development of multilingual, internationalised software. We illustrate the use of the framework in designing the multilingual user interface of the OsiCon EDIFACT programme. The work was done by VTT in the GLOSSASOFT project (LRE 61003) of the Telematics Applications Programme of the European Commission.

In order to reach a large international user base it is necessary that the globalisation of a software system is done properly. The culturally and linguistically dependent parts of the software must be isolated, a process referred to as internationalisation. These parts include eg text manipulation and display, character-encoding methods, collation sequences, hyphenation and morphological rules, formats used for numbers and dates, as well as more subtle cultural conventions such as the use of icons1, symbols and colour. The local market requirements for these items are encapsulated in the term locale.

Localisation is the opposite of internationalisation, taking an internationalised system and adding features to match it to the language and culture of the target market. It does not just consist of translating menus, commands and messages into the required language, but includes adaptations for the culture and business practices of the target country. The term globalisation means the whole process starting from feasibility studies, producing an internationalised base version of a software system and then deriving multiple localised versions or a multilingual version from it.

An idealised model of a multilingual information system consists of a locale independent kernel software using locale specific services provided by locale specific program modules. Multi-linguality is introduced into this architecture by providing versions of each locale specific service module to each supported language. The kernel software itself is constructed so that it can dynamically keep track and solve the right locales for each service call. The Framework for Global Software (FGS) proposes a service architecture with international application programming interfaces (IAPI) suitable for constructing multilingual software (Figure 1). In the FGS, application functionality has been clustered into six groups of interrelated services. A new concept, LocaleContext, addresses the problems of parameterizing locale specific behaviour of services and realising locale conscious data structures. A LocaleContext is an object which can be defined from scratch or by overriding some properties of an already existing LocaleContext. Hyphenation, spelling, and grammar checking of multilingual documents with varying script systems are examples of internationalised service calls.

Figure 1. The structure of the FGS

Multilingual Form Interface to EDIFACT

The user interface of the OsiCon EDIFACT program was made multilingual following the principles of the FGS. OsiCon provides a graphical user interface for presenting and editing contents of EDIFACT messages, which are widely used in various interorganisational business or administrative transactions. OsiCon is a multi-platform application. It was made multilingual in three respects:

We also designed facilities to dynamically change the locale of the form. An active application is able to have simultaneously different locales in different windows with respect to the locales of the forms. The internationalisation solutions are transportable across multiple platforms. Figure 2 illustrates the result that satisfied the requirements.

Figure 2: The output of the multilingual OsiCon. The same form opened for Swedish, Finnish, and English locale

The case study with OsiCon proved the soundness of the four central design principles of the Framework for Global Software:

We are continuing our work with multilingual user interfaces. The next step will be integrating this technology in the area of international electronic commerce in order to support multilingual trade processes.

Please contact:
Aarno Lehtola - VTT Information Technology
Tel: +358 0 4566032

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