Inform and Non-English Natural Language

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Graham Nelson

Nov 4, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/4/96

On Inform and natural languages: Consultation paper

An overhaul of the Inform parser is now under way. One of the major internal
changes is that the new parser (in library 6/3) will make very few assumptions
about the language being used by the player.

Indeed, library 6/3 will come as a set of 8 files, not 7 as in library 6/2:
the new file is called "English.h" and is a definition of the English language.
A new ICL path variable called "language_name" allows this to be changed:

inform +language_name=French voliere

compiles "voliere" using "French.h" in place of "English.h".

Files like "French.h" and "English.h" are called "language definitions".
This paper [see below] is an advance look at the specification for language

I have implemented everything here already, and have a test version of French
up and running, so it isn't idle speculation.

As a sample of European languages I've drawn up the present structure to be
able to cope with French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian and Norwegian,
plus of course English. I only speak the latter, so please correct any
schoolboy mistakes I've made.

What I am asking is this:

If you speak a language other than English, do you think that language
could be expressed with this system?

Would other features be required, and if so, what?

I am not asking people to volunteer to actually make a translation -- though
please feel free! -- just to see if it looks possible. The kind of problem
I anticipate is "such-and-such is more complicated than that -- you assume
the word is always the same, but it varies with the case of the noun".

Note that in addition to writing a language definition, one also needs to
translate "Grammar.h".

My ambition is for a stock of language definitions to be built up and
publically archived. The author of an Inform game will probably still have
to speak English (after all, the manuals are in English, and so is text
produced by the special debugging verbs) but players will not. In any case,
there have been fringe benefits to this project -- the English Inform library
is becoming more sensitive to number and "a" becoming "an" before a vowel,
for instance.

I wish to thank Jose Luis Diaz, whose translation of the Inform 5/12 library
into Spanish first introduced me to the complexities of the problem.

Graham Nelson
4th November 1996

[In the next couple of days I intend to upload the paper to, at


for the moment; it may move somewhere within


in the near future.

Today's server seems to be down. In the mean time, I've already
emailed the paper to some people I think might be interested. If you'd
like a copy too and you can't find it in, please email me for
one. -- GN.]

Joe Barlow

Nov 5, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/5/96
to (Graham Nelson) wrote:

>An overhaul of the Inform parser is now under way. One of the major internal
>changes is that the new parser (in library 6/3) will make very few assumptions
>about the language being used by the player.


I hereby nominate Graham Nelson to be the patron saint of Interactive
Fiction. Wow! I've been wondering about the possibility of just this
very thing for a while now, and I hope it will encourage some folks to
write games in other languages. I used to be fairly proficient in
French back in high school, but since I haven't had much practice, I
fear that a lot of my former vocabulary has been lost. Playing some
I-F written in French would be a wonderful refresher course!

Thanks, Graham, on behalf of I-F players everywhere!


P.S. Say, have you ever thought of translating (or allowing someone
else to translate) Curses or Jigsaw into another language?

Joe Barlow (
"Zorkers do it under the rug..."

Rhodri James

Nov 5, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/5/96

Colour me interested; still seems to be not responding to
anything sensible.

Rhodri (RMJ10 as was)

Rhodri James *-* Wildebeeste herder to the masses
If you don't know who I work for, you can't misattribute my words to them

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