I have already more than once faced a situation when the answer to the question would differ depending on my knowledge of whether the OP was a curious Russian native speaker or a foreigner learning Russian and stumbling over some difficulty.

I understand, that SE's are supposed to be the FAQ sites, however in general they are not really. Most questions are welcome, even if they are not very probable to be faced by many people (especially in programming-related sites). So SE's are not the frequently asked questions web-sites.

From this point of view, it does not make sense, in my opinion, to provide a detailed, dictionary-like answer to each question. Besides, long answers easily get too complicated even to read, not just to understand.

A solution I see would be to specify in the user's profile the native language of the user. It would also allow providing examples which are more probable to be clear for this particular user.

As an example, consider the opposite situation, with an English.SE site. If I (a native Russian speaker) would be interested in the use of articles, the responder would have to struggle to explain them to me. If I were a German, the answer could refer to the German equivalents.

3 Answers 3


I like your suggestion. I have myself asked several question and got answers that were addressed to a potential language learner, which I am not. Putting in the profile that I'm native Russian didn't help much.

Therefore, I have a counterproposal. We could ask them to say in the question itself, whether they have difficulties learning the language or whether they are curious native speakers.

As for the profiles. There is a reason why it may be important to write down whether you are a native speaker or not, a professional linguist or not, and so on. It tells people how reliable your own answer is and what is the background of the person who is responding. Because Surgut and Moscow people often employ different words for the same things, and someone who grew up in Astrakhan' will answer a question about phonetics differently than someone from Petrozavodsk.

  • This is also an option, I thought of it. But adding some info into your profile once is easy, while remembering to always post it is more tedious. Besides, many people will probably feel stupid to again and again write the same info.
    – texnic
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 17:02
  • Yes, true. Maybe we need a feature that will ask every new user if he is a language learner or not and then will show this information next to his or her avatar in every post?
    – Olga
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 18:33
  • @Olga That has been rejected before. I mean the info next to your avatar. Besides, additional info in questions is just noise. By the way, the reliability of an answer is seen by the upvotes, not just a profile. Without counting that a profile doesn't mean anything. I could write "Professional Linguist with PhD": how do you know if I'm speaking the truth?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 23:37
  • It is possible to give a very nice answer that follows the intuition of a native speaker, but is just wrong. However, you have a point when you say that people may provide a fairy tale instead of some true background.
    – Olga
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 7:12

Since the working language of the site is English, I always try to write my answers so that an English-speaking person (with the Russian language background enough to ask questions here) would understand them. Not that I always succeed, still :)

As for the equivalents in any non-English language, it's always OK to provide them, even if the user you're answering does not necessarily speak them, as long as you explain them in detail in English. This also concerns Russian equivalents.

For isntance, if someone would ask:

What does дать на лапу mean?

, an answer I would give would be something like

It means to bribe someone.

Literally, it means "to give (a bribe) upon a paw", the word взятка (bribe) being omitted here (a such called euphemistic ellipsis). It's similar to Sicilian fari vagnari a pizzu ("to wet someone's beak") made famous in English by Mario Puzo, author of "The Godfather".

In my opinion, it should not be necessary to have a deep knowledge of either Russian or Sicilian to understand this answer.

In other words, the answer should require no deeper knowledge or Russian (or any other language except English) to understand it than it was required to ask it.

  • This does not really answer the original question but touches yet another matter. I should admit, your command of English is much better than mine. Now, imagine that the person who asks a question is a native Russian speaker with very poor English knowledge. An advanced answer in English may be useful for other users, but not for the OP. So I still think it might make sense to have information to "tune" the answer.
    – texnic
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 18:20
  • @texnic: they could always ask for a translation (in the body or in a comment). If they have not, we assume that they are able to read English (even if they ask in Russian). Again, the working language of the site is English, and its goal (as I understand it) is to answer Russian-related questions so that the rest of the world understands them (and so can comment and improve the answers). I personally have a very basic knowledge of German and Italian so if I were ever to improve these subjects I would prefer seeing the answers in English on German.SE or Italian.SE
    – Quassnoi Mod
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 18:29
  • @texnic If the OP has poor English they might ask using Russian, and therefore you can answer in Russian.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 23:35
  • Guys, I'd just like to comment that in the very beginning there was a short discussion about for whom this site is. I thought (basing on its English form) that it was mainly for the foreigners, since for a Russian-speaker it is usually easier to find an answer in the many Russian sites we are citing. Someone then answered, I think justified, that often an answer can be found faster here. Then there is also a question of actually finding and answer here (one has to first translate the question into English). This thread is yet another aspect of this discussion.
    – texnic
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 6:11

Are you asking people to add it to their personal profile or to actually add a particular field like "age" or that stuff?

In the second case, the answer is no I think. I can't find a MSO question but I think it's been asked there before. In the first case, well, you can ask people, but don't expect them to comply.

About your doubts... Answer questions the best way you can. So yes, you should give (theoretically) long, detailed and well-structured answers. Answers that analyze the problem in depth and possibly provide examples.

It's not true that long = hard to read. That depends on the language. Certainly, an answer long 2 km is not nice to read, but the kind of long answers I saw on this site are perfect and I hope that the users will keep doing so.

  • Just about the last point: I've seen answers (here), which I failed to read because they were very long. There is also an additional problem that I don't know most of the grammar terms in English, which means that, having asked a question about my own language (like "what is more correct"), I have to struggle through a text in a foreign one. This is probably educative but not very helpful for many people. This is of course a different matter (not directly related to the OP), but it would help to have short answers when they can be short.
    – texnic
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 17:01

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