Before you downvote this, hear me out. What I'm proposing is a system of language-specific tags that will allow users of our site to sort questions by the language the literature being discussed is written in. Since the vast majority of the literature in questions on our site is written in English, I'd say that we don't need an English tag; essentially, if there's no language-specific tag, it's assumed the literature being discussed is written in English. However, for questions about literature in more niche languages like Japanese that I've seen already, I'd consider adding a tag or a tag or a plain tag. (Obviously, the naming format for these formats isn't set in stone; what I have there is just a basic idea that will be changed.) As I said, these tags will ease sorting for users who, say, want to answer specifically questions about Japanese literature because that's their specialty.

What are your thoughts?

  • 1
    Just have it all. This will be a huge SE.
    – Penguin9
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 9:40
  • Only written-in-japanese has the chance to not be misused all the time.
    – Helmar
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 18:28
  • No, for the same reasons we shouldn't require author tags.
    – DForck42
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 22:55
  • fi12: you may want to post an answer to this question that says we need language tags, so that people can upvote or downvote it to show agreement or disagreement easily.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 22:07

4 Answers 4


There are two answers to this.

Based on general SE tagging guidelines, such a tag should only be applied to questions about XYZ-literature as a whole (not questions about works that fit into XYZ-literature category). HDE's answer elaborates on that.

However, specifically on Literature.SE site, this is not the case.

On Literature.SE, such tags are a good idea as applied to individual works, due to the nature of the site.

Specifically, we need to consider two angles:

  1. Subject matter expertise.

    With exception of a tenured professor, very few experts or enthusiasts specialize in one specific author or work.

    Instead, someone would get a graduate degree in French literature (possibly more narrow like French post-modernism, but that doesn't detract from the argument). Example 1, Example 2.

  2. Site use to find interesting questions to answer for such an expert

    As such, such an expert would likely want to be able to narrow their browsing of the site from 100% of site questions; to just the questions they are expert in - to wit, questions concerning French literature, which hopefully would constitute no more than 5-10% of the site, making the browsing much more feasible.

    • There's no humanly way to do this by browsing all site questions (which, hopefully, would number in high thousands within a year).

    • There's no way to do this via search (the word "french" would not reliably - or even often - appear in the question).

    • Ideal way to do it would be to have a meaningful tag hierarchy, wherein all tags for French authors would automatically roll up to a generic "french-literature" tag. However, so far, SE was uninterested in a Meta proposal to implement partial tag hierarchy, despite it being designed expressly to solve just this problem.

    As such, our notional graduate level expert in French literature is left with only two other options:

    • Mark as "interesting" every tag for every author that fits "French" literature.

      This is obviously a bad solution: it requires dozens of tags to be subscribed, AND constant monitoring of ALL tags to spot new French author tags.

    • Have a dedicated and subscribe to that.

      This approach has the following benefits:

      • Doesn't require expert user to monitor 100% of site questions all the time

      • Doesn't require expert user to monitor 100% of new tags


Now, there are obvious downsides and critiques of this approach (I'll summarize them below) but they are all overcome-able and do not outweigh the benefits.

  1. People (especially new users) would not naturally add such tags

    Remediation: there's enough volunteer experienced users to retag things consistently on the sustained basis. This has been done on other sites, including SO - just last week someone retagged my Perl 6 question correctly.

  2. As such, it requires ongoing maintenance.

    Remediation: there's enough volunteer experienced users to retag things consistently on the sustained basis. They could be helped by well designed Data.SE queries to find what needs retagging.

    In my experience, SE gamification features drive people to keep things nice and tidy.

  3. There's minor quibbles over how to use localized tags

    Some people like tags based on language, some based on author's country.

    Remediation: There's likely at least 95+% overlap between the two, so I consider it a minor quibble that can be resolved any which way via a Meta question. It would affect a small enough minority of posts that it's not a good reason to reject BOTH methods.

    There's another choice to be made - is it literally language based, or culture based? That's a separate topic to discuss if we decide we want ONE of these in the first place (e.g. do we have English language tag, or American vs British vs. Australian literature; and Spanish language vs. Spanish+Mexican+...)

  4. 5 tag limit.

    Ordinarily, not an issue (language+work+author makes 3, 2 left).

    But if a question is about 2 different works, we may run out of space.

    This can be resolved by, say, sacrificing work-based tags from such questions. Or author-based tags if the question is less relevant to specific authors and more to broad categories.

  • Issues 1-2: non-issues IMO. Sure, it's ideal for tagging to be totally intuitive to everyone, but that ideal is hardly ever 100% attained. As long as we have a system which is a) clear and b) understood by all the most active users, it's OK for those users to frequently need to edit newbies' questions. Issue 3: probably the most important criterion is that language-based tags are easier to define than country-based (e.g. what if an author from one country living in another writes in the language of a third?) OTOH, it would be nice not to have to lump e.g. Borges and Cervantes together.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:14
  • Also, please can you edit this answer to deal with my proposed Issue 4: the 5-tag limit. By current consensus, we already need at least 2 tags (author and work/series) for pretty much every question about a specific work. Adding language-based tags to such questions puts us one closer to the tag limit. What if the question is also about symbolism and poetry, say? What if the question is about two specific works in different languages by different authors?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:16
  • @Randal'Thor - to be honest, I'd be content to resolve that in expert based way. Which graduate program studies Borges? That's the correct tag. (and more importantly - who cares? Borges is just one author. Among dozens of normal Spanish authors who have a decency not to be outliers and violate my OCD preferences for neatness)
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:17
  • "Borges is just one author" - no, my point is that Latin American literature is quite a different kettle of fish from Spain-originating literature, despite both being written in Spanish.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:18
  • @Randal'Thor - I would address it, if assorted pedants would stop editing the question from under me while I try to edit in the answer :( :)
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:21
  • @Randal'Thor - that's a whole different kettle of fish as far as Meta question. assuming we want locale based tags at all, do we want language based or culture based? In the latter case, English and American (or Spanish and Latin American-spanish) literature would be different tags, and frankly I might prefer that though it's a weak preference.
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:22

I suspect that any question tagged as such will likely be a question that is directly related to the specific language. For instance, a question about a work of Dostoevsky's likely would not need a tag called or , simply because the fact that the work was written in Russian has no bearing on the plot of, say, The Idiot.

The exceptions would be questions along the lines of the tag, where the language of the work is often important (example of such a question). My proposal, therefore, is to indeed have such language-specific tags, but to only use them in cases where the specific language is directly relevant to the question itself. In many of those, the tag could arguably be useful, but it wouldn't cover all of that set.

  • Would this be a good example of the sort of question you mean?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:43
  • @Randal'Thor Yes, I think so.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 16:52

Yes, absolutely! The primary purpose of tags is to convey areas of expertise, to allow experts to quickly filter questions that are within their area of expertise. Thus Stack Overflow uses programming languages as its primary set of tags, Super User uses operating systems and applications, , History uses geographical areas and historical periods, etc.

The experts in literature are professors of literature. So how are university departments organized? Let's look at a few examples:

  • Harvard splits literature among the following departments: Classics, Comparative literature, English, Celtic languages and literatures, Germanic languages and literatures, Romance languages and literatures, etc.
  • Oxford has a Faculty of Classics, a Faculty of English Language and Literature, a Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages which itself is subdivided in sub-faculties by languages and groups of languages.
  • Paris-Sorbonne has “French and comparative literature” and a number of faculties for language and literature of linguistic groups (English, Arabic and Hebrew, Germanic and Nordic, Iberic and Latin American, Italian, Slavic).

Clearly “my language” is an important category, and “not my language” gets subdivided into language families. A given professor is usually an expert in the literature of a specific language. So languages are a primary classification for experts. (Time periods are another.)

The bulk of the participants on this site are readers. Many books aren't even translated, and most people are best read in the language that they are most fluent in. So for readers, too, language tags are important.

So absolutely, yes, we should use a language tag on almost every question. This is, in fact, very similar to the use of programming language tags on Stack Overflow. on this site means any question about French literature, i.e. any question about a book that is part of French literature, just like java on Stack Overflow means a question about a program in Java and not “a question that is directly related to the specific language”.

  • This is what I originally thought as well, so +1. However, it seems like the community disagrees.
    – fi12
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 23:03
  • Realistically, how many professors of literature are ever likely to visit this site? I would guess that literature professors generally have better things to do with their spare time than hang out on Stack Exchange.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 0:12
  • @Randal'Thor I'm not sure whether professors who hang out on SE or professors who don't hang out on SE are supposed to feel the most insulted here. But either way, what's the point of having a site about literature if literature professors are not welcome? Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 0:16
  • @Gilles I'm not saying they shouldn't be welcome (nor am I trying to insult anyone). Just that "how do we make things easiest for literature professors?" may not be the best criterion to use for deciding on the entire structure and organisation of our site.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 0:22
  • For the record, I've come to agree with the conclusion of this answer. I'm just doubtful about the reasoning you used to get there.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 0:23

My thoughts are that we should concentrate on English (and English translations of foreign language texts). That will very likely give us more than we can cope with.

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