When I say they vary, I do mean that.
As I just said, there's a site to contain all the languages question, whether they are grammar or translation questions, under one unique roof:
Proposed Q&A site for anyone learning a new language or wanting to have a quick translation of a sentence/idea. This site is focused on people looking for resources to learn new languages, translating phrases or questions, as well as grammar related questions.
Needless to say, this site would completely swallow the existing and successful English Language & Usage site since all questions on EL&U would be on-topic on this site as well.
Of course, there's also a generic translation site:
Proposed Q&A site for people trying to translate difficult words or expressions.
It's limited to expression and phrases though, no grammar questions, though. All questions on this site would be on-topic on the generic Languages site, though.
Then, we users who believe languages would benefit from being divided into smaller, more specific sites. However, aside from reaching that conclusion, many of those sites' creators have nothing in common. Their approach and strategy vary greatly.
First, there are proposals who want to copy the model used by English Language & Usage. The Russian Language & Usage proposal, for example, will only accept questions in Russian and excludes translation questions in their definition:
Proposed Q&A site for everyone who wants to improve their Russian: grammar, spelling, pronunciation. Linguists and students are welcome.
Even if this is the model used by an already-launched site, some users disagree with that approach and think that questions asked in English should be allowed:
According to the definition of this proposal, the questions and answers must be in Russian. I believe that is a completely unnecessary rule, which would greatly reduce the number of people who could use this site. It is quite likely that a person learning Russian may not have sufficient vocabulary to formulate his or her question in Russian.
Users who agree with the above user also got to create their own proposals, such as the Le bon usage du français proposal, permitting question in English:
Proposed Q&A site for people who have questions regarding the correct use of the French language, whether spoken or written. It is not about translating. Questions can be submitted in English or in French.
Obviously, there are people who disagree, preferring the approach used by English Language & Usage or believing that it should be merged with the English/French Translation proposal since it allows questions asked in English.
Then, there are users who believe in another approach: they want to allow questions about the language and all translation to that language, such as the French language proposal:
Proposed Q&A site for students having questions about French, expert speakers of French wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation questions from any language to French.
Finally, there are sites whose description is simply unclear.
The Chinese Language proposal is so unclear that it prompted an user to ask whether questions written in Chinese would be allowed! It's hard to blame him, really. None of the questions with on-topic votes are written in Chinese! It's impossible to tell, from the description, which languages are allowed.
See for yourself:
Proposed Q&A site for native speakers and learners alike about the Chinese language, written and spoken
The Chinese Language proposal isn't the only proposal suffering from this problem. The Japanese proposal has an equally confusing and unclear description:
Proposed Q&A site for speakers, students, learners and teachers of the Japanese language
I've been an active poster on an anime torrent site's forums for the past two years. As a result, I have many friends and acquaintances who speak Japanese. Some are still learning the basics; others speak it at fluent or conversational levels. However, I can't tell from the description nor from the questions what the proposal is about, and who it is meant to appeal to.
In other words, I don't know how to pitch the proposal!
Similarly, Portuguese Language proposal which is cutely contradictory:
Proposed Q&A site for teachers and students of the Portuguese language, and those looking for translations between English and Portuguese. A Portuguese-language version of http://english.stackexchange.com.
Meanwhile, the users who prefer the English Language & Usage model want to translate stuff too! As such, they create language-to-language proposals such as English/Russian Exchange and English/French Translation. However, even that space isn't without its debates: should we only allow translation of phrases and expressions, or should be also allow questions about grammar?
As should be obvious, this has been discussed many times on Area 51 Discussion:
- Should the Translation proposal be merged with the Languages proposal?
- Should the Translation proposal be closed for being too broad?
- Translation proposals - one-on-one, or free-for-all?
However, nothing that even remotely resemble a consensus has been reached.
I bring the discussion over here because, with German language and Japanese both far in the commitment phase, it's becoming increasingly important to make a decision. If we allow sites to grow any way we want them, we'll end up with huge overlaps between language sites or with people who committed to sites that are different than the one they'll get by private beta. Moreover, sites with different approaches, but on the same topic are being opened for reasonable reasons.
So, how does the SOIS team want us to sort this out?
- Reach a consensus on MSO/Area 51 Discussion?
- Create competing sites and the first one to private beta wins?
- "I like Frankenstein's monster. Let the madness begin!"?
TL;DR version: The language proposals on Area 51 are a mess. What does the SOIS team believe is the right approach to clean that mess and avoid the birth of Frankenstein's monster?