Opened 6 years ago

Closed 6 years ago

#5175 closed defect (wontfix)

Inappropriate translation of names in Nominatim search results

Reported by: stanton Owned by: geocoding@…
Priority: minor Milestone:
Component: nominatim Version:
Keywords: i18n, l10n Cc:


When using the search function on the main OSM page, names in search results appear to use foreign names.

In my case, I was searching for "supermarket, Colmar" (located in Alsace, France). My locale and browser language settings are both English/US but I was accessing it from an IP which reverse geocoding probably resolves to Germany.

I got several results, all from Colmar and surroundings. All of them consistently used German toponyms for a number of places (Colmar itself, the département and the région). Examples:

  • Supermarket Intermarché, Route d'Ingersheim, Kolmar, Oberelsass, Elsass, Metropolitan France, 68000, France
  • Supermarket Monoprix, Passage Monoprix, Kolmar, Oberelsass, Elsass, Metropolitan France, 68000, France
  • Supermarket Aldi, Avenue Joseph Rey, Kolmar, Oberelsass, Elsass, Metropolitan France, 68000, France

In my opinion, this behavior should be altered for a number of reasons:

  • Avoiding confusion: Toponyms can vary greatly between languages. While Colmar/Kolmar? is a fairly easy one, nearby Sélestat/Schlettstadt? is less obvious, and with cases like Rijeka/Fiume? or Klaipėda/Memel? it is nearly impossible to guess without sound background knowledge that both names refer to the same place. Even I don't know all the exonyms which my native language has for places outside its borders, and am more likely to know (and use) the local name – the exonym is more likely to confuse me than to help me.
  • Politics: Toponyms can be a politically sensitive matter, and we have seen numerous discussions in the OSM community on the content of the name tag in bilingual regions. Especially in territories that have changed hands multiple times over the course of the centuries, usage of exonyms can be perceived as a territorial claim – and OSM is certainly not the place to do that.
  • User choice: Users have only limited choice regarding their public IP address on the Internet. Furthermore, the location of a user does not necessarily reflect their language preference – think of expats, travelers, multilingual areas or people who are fluent in multiple languages. Thus, there are better options than IP-based reverse geocoding for guessing the user's language preference. (Granted, that's what Google does as well, but if Google were without flaws, we might as well use their maps and would have no need for OSM.) One is the browser language preference, transferred in the Accept-Language HTTP header. Browsers typically set it to the UI language, unless the user overrides it (which is a decision made by the user and thus should be honored) – so this is usually a fairly good indicator of the language the user wishes to communicate in. Another option is a language selector on the web site itself, which a lot of websites do.

Change History (1)

comment:1 Changed 6 years ago by Sarah Hoffmann

Resolution: wontfix
Status: newclosed

There is no name localization happening based on your IP. Nominatim only offers localization your browser explicitly said it would accept. You probably have German as a secondary choice in your browser language list.

As for German names in the Alsace. There is not much Nominatim can do about that. You will have to discuss this matter with the mappers who keep adding name:de in inappropriate places where alt_name:de or old_name:de would be much more correct.

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