Big Sur’s Tower of Babel

Macs have always supported an exceptionally wide range of languages. When I was reminded the other day that these include Klingon, the fictional language invented by Marc Okrand to match the gibberish spoken by this species in Star Trek, I couldn’t resist looking at it in Big Sur. What I found first confused, then helped me solve an irritating bug.

To play along with me, simply open the Language & Region pane, click on the + tool at the foot of the list of languages, locate Klingon there (the Search box may help), and Add it to your list of languages.

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You’ll then be prompted to use Klingon as your primary language, at which point most users don’t push the joke any further, for fear of having to negotiate a Klingon interface to return to their primary language.

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It actually makes very little difference: as far as I can see, Apple hasn’t gone to the lengths of translating Big Sur into Klingon.

What is dangerous about playing with language settings is that, if you’re not very careful, Big Sur dissolves into a tower of Babel, with odd mixtures being used. This is what happened when I set Latin as my primary language, followed by Klingon and English.

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I ended up with parts of the interface, such as the names of panes in Danish, currently only fourth in the list, and the rest in UK English, third on the list. You should be able to remedy that by setting your normal language as the primary, and restarting.

Unfortunately, there’s a more serious bug which can be unmasked by playing around with your Mac’s supported languages: when you use the Help command in Apple apps, you risk being served up Help pages in a randomly chosen language. It must be a couple of months since I last set Dutch as my primary language on that Mac, but when I use Apple Configurator 2, its Help comes up in Dutch, and there seemed no way to alter that.

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My production iMac Pro has somehow decided that I want all my Help pages in French.

If you’re troubled by something similar, then I now have a solution for you, which will restore all Apple’s apps to using the correct primary language for their Help pages: all you have to do is remove all languages other than your primary from the list in the Language & Region pane. You don’t even have to log out and back in, or restart.

The moral of the story is, unless you really really need to, don’t have any more languages in your Language & Region pane other than your primary. Otherwise, the effects can become an unpredictable Babel.