One of the arguments for why terminals / consoles are ubiquitous as a basic system interface for routers and operating systems is that it is easier to learn vs a graphical interface. I have to ask if it is really easier to learn for people who are not native English speakers.

For example, most unix commands are based on English shorthand. cat - "concatenate", grep - "global regular expression print"

So how does this work for a Russian programmer, or a Chinese programmer? Do they use Cyrillic or Mandarin command name equivalents to these English abbreviations? Or are they stuck with typing out meaningless strings of English characters even if they don't themselves read/speak English?

If it is the second case then terminal use and command memorization is in no way "intuitive" or "natural" for a non-native English speaker, and all those usability arguments are invalid.

I do not read/speak any language other than English so I can't answer this myself.

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    This is the first time I've heard of "grep" standing for "global regular expression print" and I've been using grep for over a decade, even using the term in spoken language. So, many of the names of the programs have always been meaningless strings of English characters, even for primarily English speakers. (It does not affect usability (much), because even with GUIs you remember that "Notepad" or "Photoshop" are the names of programs, exactly.) Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 9:51
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    @ShreevatsaR, didn’t you at least suspect that the "re" part had something to do with RegEx? Until today, I would have told you grep stood for "something regular expression something."
    – Tim Grant
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 13:07
  • Interesting question. Could you rephrase this into a UX question?
    – Mayo
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 13:29
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic. User ought to rephrase the question.
    – Mayo
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


No, syntax is not translated to other languages. A more common example than terminals is programming languages - which are also English-based. This is actually a major factor in programmers knowing English relatively well all around the world, unrelated to the level of English in the general population of their countries. Another similar factor is that most of the literature and discussion of programming-related subjects online takes place in English.

  • You are correct but English was the main language in the business and financial world all over the world first.
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 14:33
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    I don't understand the "but" part :). Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 6:47
  • I missed the "programmers knowing English" part. My point was that English being used around the world started in the business and financial world.
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 13:19
  • Historically it has more to do with colonialism and politics, although trade was also a major factor. The main difference, however, is that in all of these cases English is used primarily as a means of communicating internationally, not locally - so two Dutch businessman would be using Dutch terminology for conducting business with each other. With programming, English terminology is used even between speakers of the same language, because that's the language of the domain. A bit like Latin for medicine or Italian for music, but to a much larger extent. Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 17:56

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