Languages - How to add or change phrases used by the forum software

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This page explains how to work with language files and strings in SMF

Defining Language Files and Strings

Language files are simple groupings of language strings, the words, phrases, and sentences, which are meant to make it easier to link templates, sub templates, and language strings together. For performance and scope reasons not every string is available to every template, instead they are only available through the "loaded" language files.

Generally speaking, language files are loaded with the same names as the templates in which they are used. There are exceptions to this, such as Login being used by Register, but the majority follows the general rule.

There is one special language file which is called "Modifications". This language file is meant mainly for packages and modifications, but it can also be used to specify more strings in many cases.

The language strings themselves are the "cream filling"; for example, a phrase such as "Send this Topic to a friend" could be a language string. Every language string has an identifier, and for ease of use these are, for the most part, short English strings explaining the purpose of the string.

The format is, for the most part, prefix_string_name. The above example might have the identifier 'sendtopic_to_friend'. This serves the purpose of grouping it (it is part of the sendtopic functionality) and labelling it.

How to Use Language Strings

SMF's language strings allows translation into other languages without modifying templates or source files. but if the string is not translated into another language it will default to showing the English version. If you want a string to be translated you need to use the $txt variable. This is similar to how you would use $context, with the only difference being that it stores your language string instead.

Using the previous example, you might use something like $txt['sendtopic_to_friend']. In your template, it would look a bit like this:

<b>', $txt['sendtopic_to_friend'], '</b>

As you can see, the identifier is placed between single quotes and inside square brackets after $txt, just as you would with contextual data, but you also have to use the ', ... , ' format to separate the string from regular text.

How to use a Language String Not in the Default Set

Themes which significantly alter SMF will often introduce new language strings. It is for this reason that language files are tied directly to themes rather than to the entire forum.

If a custom theme is being used, SMF will check that theme's language folder to see if the file exists. If the file does not exist, SMF will fall back on the default theme. Similarly, SMF will also check the user's language file. If that file is not found, SMF will default to English. For example, if file x.spanish.php is not found in the custom themes folder, SMF will check for x.english.php. If both of these are not found, SMF will search for x.spanish.php in the default themes language folder. If this is not found, SMF will use x.english.php, which should always be found.

When writing a theme, it is sometimes necessary to add new language files. To do this, you need to find the following code in index.template.php and change it to true:

<?php
//Set the following variable to true if this theme requires the optional theme strings file to be loaded.
$settings['require_theme_strings'] = false;?>

The file, Theme.somelang.php might look like this:

<?php
// Version: 1.0 ; Theme
$txt['mytheme_hello'] = 'How are you today?';
?>

Some Notes to Remember

  1. If you want to use a contraction like "don't" in a language string, you need to use \ to avoid the '. If you were to write 'don't', it would be confusing because it could mean 'don' + t', or 'don't'? To prevent this problem from occurring you use 'don\'t'.
  2. When translating, you may need to use a special character, such as Å. However, owing to html validity and issues with PHP, it is best to use entities instead of these special characters. Note that some strings should not have entities in them and they should be noted as such.
  3. Whenever possible, try not to force word order. This means avoiding putting two strings together. An example would be 'How are ' . 'you'. Having a string like this would make it harder to translate.
  4. Remember that some words have more than one meaning in English, but not in other languages.
  5. Try to avoid using a word as a verb and a noun in different places.
  6. Be aware that some languages may have very different rules for dates and pluralisation than your native language.

Hopefully this will help you on your way to making themes that are different, wonderfully unique, and above all translatable - our non-English users thank you!