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8.2.1.3 Additional functions for more complicated situations

The functions of the gettext family described so far (and all the catgets functions as well) have one problem in the real world which have been neglected completely in all existing approaches. What is meant here is the handling of plural forms.

Looking through Unix source code before the time anybody thought about internationalization (and, sadly, even afterwards) one can often find code similar to the following:

        printf ("%d file%s deleted", n, n == 1 ? "" : "s");

After the first complaints from people internationalizing the code people either completely avoided formulations like this or used strings like "file(s)". Both look unnatural and should be avoided. First tries to solve the problem correctly looked like this:

        if (n == 1)
          printf ("%d file deleted", n);
        else
          printf ("%d files deleted", n);

But this does not solve the problem. It helps languages where the plural form of a noun is not simply constructed by adding an `s' but that is all. Once again people fell into the trap of believing the rules their language is using are universal. But the handling of plural forms differs widely between the language families. There are two things we can differ between (and even inside language families);

The consequence of this is that application writers should not try to solve the problem in their code. This would be localization since it is only usable for certain, hardcoded language environments. Instead the extended gettext interface should be used.

These extra functions are taking instead of the one key string two strings and a numerical argument. The idea behind this is that using the numerical argument and the first string as a key, the implementation can select using rules specified by the translator the right plural form. The two string arguments then will be used to provide a return value in case no message catalog is found (similar to the normal gettext behavior). In this case the rules for Germanic language is used and it is assumed that the first string argument is the singular form, the second the plural form.

This has the consequence that programs without language catalogs can display the correct strings only if the program itself is written using a Germanic language. This is a limitation but since the GNU C Library (as well as the GNU gettext package) are written as part of the GNU package and the coding standards for the GNU project require program being written in English, this solution nevertheless fulfills its purpose.

— Function: char * ngettext (const char *msgid1, const char *msgid2, unsigned long int n)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe env | AS-Unsafe corrupt heap lock dlopen | AC-Unsafe corrupt lock fd mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The ngettext function is similar to the gettext function as it finds the message catalogs in the same way. But it takes two extra arguments. The msgid1 parameter must contain the singular form of the string to be converted. It is also used as the key for the search in the catalog. The msgid2 parameter is the plural form. The parameter n is used to determine the plural form. If no message catalog is found msgid1 is returned if n == 1, otherwise msgid2.

An example for the us of this function is:

            printf (ngettext ("%d file removed", "%d files removed", n), n);

Please note that the numeric value n has to be passed to the printf function as well. It is not sufficient to pass it only to ngettext.

— Function: char * dngettext (const char *domain, const char *msgid1, const char *msgid2, unsigned long int n)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe env | AS-Unsafe corrupt heap lock dlopen | AC-Unsafe corrupt lock fd mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The dngettext is similar to the dgettext function in the way the message catalog is selected. The difference is that it takes two extra parameter to provide the correct plural form. These two parameters are handled in the same way ngettext handles them.

— Function: char * dcngettext (const char *domain, const char *msgid1, const char *msgid2, unsigned long int n, int category)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe env | AS-Unsafe corrupt heap lock dlopen | AC-Unsafe corrupt lock fd mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The dcngettext is similar to the dcgettext function in the way the message catalog is selected. The difference is that it takes two extra parameter to provide the correct plural form. These two parameters are handled in the same way ngettext handles them.

The problem of plural forms

A description of the problem can be found at the beginning of the last section. Now there is the question how to solve it. Without the input of linguists (which was not available) it was not possible to determine whether there are only a few different forms in which plural forms are formed or whether the number can increase with every new supported language.

Therefore the solution implemented is to allow the translator to specify the rules of how to select the plural form. Since the formula varies with every language this is the only viable solution except for hardcoding the information in the code (which still would require the possibility of extensions to not prevent the use of new languages). The details are explained in the GNU gettext manual. Here only a bit of information is provided.

The information about the plural form selection has to be stored in the header entry (the one with the empty (msgid string). It looks like this:

     Plural-Forms: nplurals=2; plural=n == 1 ? 0 : 1;

The nplurals value must be a decimal number which specifies how many different plural forms exist for this language. The string following plural is an expression which is using the C language syntax. Exceptions are that no negative number are allowed, numbers must be decimal, and the only variable allowed is n. This expression will be evaluated whenever one of the functions ngettext, dngettext, or dcngettext is called. The numeric value passed to these functions is then substituted for all uses of the variable n in the expression. The resulting value then must be greater or equal to zero and smaller than the value given as the value of nplurals.

The following rules are known at this point. The language with families are listed. But this does not necessarily mean the information can be generalized for the whole family (as can be easily seen in the table below).1

Only one form:
Some languages only require one single form. There is no distinction between the singular and plural form. An appropriate header entry would look like this:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=1; plural=0;

Languages with this property include:

Finno-Ugric family
Hungarian
Asian family
Japanese, Korean
Turkic/Altaic family
Turkish

Two forms, singular used for one only
This is the form used in most existing programs since it is what English is using. A header entry would look like this:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=2; plural=n != 1;

(Note: this uses the feature of C expressions that boolean expressions have to value zero or one.)

Languages with this property include:

Germanic family
Danish, Dutch, English, German, Norwegian, Swedish
Finno-Ugric family
Estonian, Finnish
Latin/Greek family
Greek
Semitic family
Hebrew
Romance family
Italian, Portuguese, Spanish
Artificial
Esperanto

Two forms, singular used for zero and one
Exceptional case in the language family. The header entry would be:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=2; plural=n>1;

Languages with this property include:

Romanic family
French, Brazilian Portuguese

Three forms, special case for zero
The header entry would be:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=3; plural=n%10==1 && n%100!=11 ? 0 : n != 0 ? 1 : 2;

Languages with this property include:

Baltic family
Latvian

Three forms, special cases for one and two
The header entry would be:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=3; plural=n==1 ? 0 : n==2 ? 1 : 2;

Languages with this property include:

Celtic
Gaeilge (Irish)

Three forms, special case for numbers ending in 1[2-9]
The header entry would look like this:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=3; \
              plural=n%10==1 && n%100!=11 ? 0 : \
                     n%10>=2 && (n%100<10 || n%100>=20) ? 1 : 2;

Languages with this property include:

Baltic family
Lithuanian

Three forms, special cases for numbers ending in 1 and 2, 3, 4, except those ending in 1[1-4]
The header entry would look like this:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=3; \
              plural=n%100/10==1 ? 2 : n%10==1 ? 0 : (n+9)%10>3 ? 2 : 1;

Languages with this property include:

Slavic family
Croatian, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian

Three forms, special cases for 1 and 2, 3, 4
The header entry would look like this:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=3; \
              plural=(n==1) ? 1 : (n>=2 && n<=4) ? 2 : 0;

Languages with this property include:

Slavic family
Slovak

Three forms, special case for one and some numbers ending in 2, 3, or 4
The header entry would look like this:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=3; \
              plural=n==1 ? 0 : \
                     n%10>=2 && n%10<=4 && (n%100<10 || n%100>=20) ? 1 : 2;

Languages with this property include:

Slavic family
Polish

Four forms, special case for one and all numbers ending in 02, 03, or 04
The header entry would look like this:
          Plural-Forms: nplurals=4; \
              plural=n%100==1 ? 0 : n%100==2 ? 1 : n%100==3 || n%100==4 ? 2 : 3;

Languages with this property include:

Slavic family
Slovenian

Footnotes

[1] Additions are welcome. Send appropriate information to bug-glibc-manual@gnu.org.