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User:Purodha/Edit War in the Ripuarian Wikipedia

The Ripuarian Wikipedia has currently two Admins, until recently, had precisely two admins, here referred to as (d), and (p), respectively.

There is/was an edit war between them with a peak before and at the weekend December, 1st/2nd, 2006, and another fierce clash around the weekend January, 20th/21th, 2007, and reverberations til the end of January, 2007.

Language Background Information 

The Ripuarian languages form a dialect continuum linking (roughly) the Low German (nds, nds-nl), Dutch (nl), Flemish-Dutch (vla), and Limburgish-Dutch (li), Luxemburgish (lb), Palatinian (pfl) languages; partially, there are strong ties to Standard German (de) minor ones to Wallon (wa), and French (fr). There exist separate Wikimedia projects for all those languages, or groups, with the only exception of (pfl) which had to have it's request for a WP re-evaluated after the policy change.

Naturally, with this diversity, Ripuarian languages are diverse, those far apart are often mutually hard to comprehend, both spoken and written.

Social dimension — Specific dialects are very much bound to places, often villages of only few hundred inhabitants, but also million-cities, such as Cologne. They are at times seen as constituent belonging to one's personal, social, or local identity, often of high value, but also as something possibly hard to hold in modern times.

The dispute began about a month earlier, with a discussion about spelling.

Spelling Background Information 

Though there is quite many material published/written in Ripuarian Dialects, a common spelling system, or spelling rules were never established, i.e. everyone used and uses his own. Other spelling systems, like french, dutch, german, are unable to adequately reflect Ripuarian for a bunch of reasons (e.g. Standard German has a dozen vowel pronounciations mapped to 8 letters via context rules. Ripuarians have some 40 vowel pronounciations, tonal accents, and none of the context rules)

Basically, there are three approaches to writing Ripuarian languages, listed in decreasing order of general use:

  1. Tweaking the German,
  2. Tweaking the Dutch, or Limburgish, or (historic) Low Rhenish,
  3. Building a strict phonemic notation based on the Latin Script + Extensions.

Almost all practical solutions are hybrids of some sort, and no wonder, very different.

There are goals to meet by spelling systems:

  • Be immediately understandable by those educated in spelling German, or Dutch (see education, below)
  • make it possible to document clearly the diferences between varieties of Ripuarian
  • Be understood by those who know nothing of German, or Dutch.
  • Allow various Ripuarians to read distinct other dialects, which they do not speak, and may not even comprehend when spoken.

Of course, you cannot have them all at once.

Local language spelling is in part a political theme, and thus politically laden.

Political Background Information 

Ever since and including napoleonic times, i.e. for ~210 years:

Education — there is/was no education in Ripuarian in Germany, Belgium or Nederland, and
Language Status — the use of Dialects was/is discouraged/prohibited in schools, justice, and almost all official contexts.
Demographic — Up to WWII, populations in villages and cities were, in general, pretty stable and capable to keep their local dialect, most often as the only language when talking to each other.

After WWII:

Demographic — with massive immigraton since WWII and increasing mobility, the number of those who learned to speak in the place where they live, dropped to estimated 80% in some rural communities, to 50% in larger cities, and likely to 20% in (rare) ghetto quarters.
The Ripuarian speakers become increasingly older, isolated, and likely several small variants are facing extinction, unless trends change rapidly.
Language Status — though in most states not officially prohibited except in justice and most official contexts, Ripuarian language use outside cultural events/activities is often massively impeded.
Political responsibilites and weight — Ripuarian speakers are distributed over four territories with political authority over cultural life:
German federal state Northrhine-Westphalia where Ripuarians are a minority of some 8% or 10%
German federal state Rhineland-Palatinate where Ripuarians are a minority of even less,
German Languge Community in Belgium (sorry, no figures but) itself a marginal minority in Belgium, that only recently received a political status, profiting from the Flemish/Walon controversies,
Nederlands provincie Limburg where Ripuarians are a marginal minority.
In their 'own' area they are an estimated minority around 25%
(extrapolated from Cologne, where this is a reseach figure quoted by SIL)
Kölsch Dominance 

The largest single dialect/group of Ripuarian is Kölsch (the only one currently registerd by SIL/ISO 639-3, as ksh). It accounts for estimated 1/5 or 1/4 of the Ripuarian speakers, while all other varieties have only fractions of that fraction. Cologne is geographically and linguisticaly central, i.e. many surrounding dialects are close to Kölsch, and Kölsch is pretty well understood elsewhere, no other Ripuarian variety has a comparably stong position anyhow. For the past 2000 years, Cologne has always been very influential politically, economically, and culturally in the region. Today, it hosts all broadcasting stations worth mentioning for Ripuarian broadcasts, including several nationwide German TV stations/networks, including the influential WDR. In its regional programmes, and occasionally via the ARD network, they regularly broadcast in regional languages, not only Ripuarian. Yet among all these, Kölsch has an unfair large share.

Where local dialects are not often heard, but WDR is, and Kölsch music groups are, Kölsch terms, speech patterns, and intonation are added to the common repository of everydays speech. Almost everywhere in the area of Ripuarian langues and often even far outside, one can observe that Kölsch influx to local languages, specifically in the North.

This is likely seen with feelings between sadness and grievance in many of the smaller language communities.

Local language spelling is touching a complicated psychological field as well.

Psycholigical situation in (some) Ripuarian minorities 

Exaggerating, one might say, that in their youth, people have been forced into school, were in part deprieved of their natural personal expressivity, being forced to learn German+German spelling, Dutch+Dutch spelling, French+French spelling by their respective autorities. None of the spellings is suited to their local language, at least German spelling is quite unsystematic, or illogical, from the local language perspective. I assume the same for French, less so for Dutch, but do not know for sure. So Ripuarian people likely

  • feel reliefed when they do not have to follow strange rules writing they own languages;
  • insecure as to how they should be spelt, and
  • react rather unwilling, or annoyed, when (again) someone ex cathedra or from the outside comes to tell them, how to use (write) their local languages,
  • specifically pissed off, if it's imposing Kölsch outside Colone and its close vincinity.

Thus, it is unfortunately likely easy, to drive potential new contributors of the more unusual dialects away, when they stumble over a "wrong" spelling. No matter, what dialect/spelling you choose, it will always seem wrong, bode "incorrect", or at least appear uncustomary to some. Choosing a Kölsch spelling as kind of majority spelling, is unfortunately not a solution, as inevitably cementing a contraproductive "Kölsch Dominance", and even more so, since a majority of the Kölsch population opposes at least one, or either, of the major published spellings, and does not use them. Btw. a majority simply would not even know of any such publication.

The discussion began as a reaction to several anonymous comments criticizing spelling in the Ripuarian Wikipedia. I percieved almost all of them as not constructive (too brief, no suggestions, no feed back possibily - so what can we do?), some impolite, but Ripuarians are also known for bold or gross speaking.

About three contributors suggested (with variations) the spelling of de:Adam Wrede (that is, the Kölsch dialect) for some or all parts of the Ripuarian Wikipedia, such as to make it more appealing to newcomers.

User development of the Ripuarian Wikipedia

We had hardly any new serious contributors (+2) over the last four months (from now, December 5th, 2006) but few new bots making technical enhancements and interlanguage links (+5), a constant increase of registered users who did not (yet) contribute more than once, thus likely registered so as to have preferences set, and can mainly be seen as readers of sadly unknown frequency (+36), and anonymous contributions which are mostly at a stub level, or small additions (average 1.8 anonymous contribution a day during the last month, which is likely a little increase from before).
There are currently some 122 registered user names.
More data at ksh:Wikipedia:Shtatißtik.

The contra position to the abovementioned was basically:

  1. We are entrusted with an all-Ripuarian Wikipedia, we shoud not, or cannot, specialcase any dialect, or spelling, respectively
  2. No single spelling or dialect helps or suits just everyone, so
  3. we can and should use and allow all of them everywhere, in parallel, to the broadest extent technically possible.

The contra-contra position said:

  1. There need to be some rules,
  2. Dialects and spellings should be documented somewhere/somehow in order to be acceptable,
  3. Any spelling/dialect should be accepted as article content (with some restrictions suggested only sometimes), but not as page titles, not as template names, not as template content, not as category titles, not in the MediaWiki message space, and possibly more, in variations.
An interest group?

Unfortunately, misinformation, false assumptions, and lack of technical knowlegde impaired part of the discussion which had about 5 participants. One Admin (d) invited 6 users having known similar or identical standpoints to his own into the discussion individually [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], with words suggesting, a decision had been made earlier. Noone else was expressly informed.

Separate language Wikipedia?

During the Discussion, a participant filed a request for a new language Wikipedia op Kölsch following the Adam Wrede spelling claiming that this was what some participants were in fact trying to implement. Over the time some of the arguments were repeated there in english, including, or adding, some pretence and insinuations.

Additional messages.php set

During the discussion, one participant (c) who owns these Books, started to implement the 2nd Ripuarian MediaWiki messages.php in Kölsch, following his own blend of the spellings of the Akademie för uns Kölsche Sproch, Wrede, and recent publications such as "Asterix op Kölsch", assisted by one of the Admins (p), who helped him to a testbed on Betawiki and another on a specially set up new MediaWiki installation on his own public server, explained things, answered questions, etc.

Was a voting held?

During the discussion, someone suggested a set of partially contradicive, partially bogus "solutions", to (in part) non-problems, asking participants to voice their support for, or disagreement with them. After only few days of ongoing dispute, which at least in part turned some "solutions" over again, one admin (d) published an (erroneous) count of opinions, claimed that a voting had been held in favour of his right to rewrite (some parts of) the Ripuarian Wikipedia according to Wrede's spelling of Kölsch, and began to do so.

First reverts

The other admin (p) undid, in large parts, his text rewrites, text purgings, and article renamings (between November 4, and December 5, 2006), not so much of category name changes. He claimed that not even a voting, had one truly be held, could change the language assignemt of the Ripuarian Wikipedia from general, or arbitrary, Ripuarian to Kölsch spelt according to Wrede.

Dispute turning unpleasant, uncoordinated ad-hoc changes, beginning edit war

While the dispute continued, and by the way was gradually scattered over serveral article talk pages, project pages, and project talk pages, user talk pages, and edit summary entries, some ideas were developed as to how include dialect/spelling varieties of a Lemma or page title in an infobox in articles pages, from where a bot should pick them up so as to create appropriate redirects to the page. While a template set marking entire articles, article sections, and contributions to talk/projct pages as being in a certain dialect, following a certain spelling, and put them in categries appropriately already existed for months before the test wiki was transferred into the new Wikipedia, no such System existed for page titles. Now quickly three different template systems doing (almost) that (incompletely) were set up which are incompatible which each other and the already exising one, and use their own system of categories each.

Power play, more unpleasant behaviour

When one admin (p) added variant spellings to those templates for some articles, the other (d) more often than not deleted all but Wrede's spelling again and again, from both the introductory section of the articles, and the dialectal variant infobox. Also other additions (interwiki links, image captions, link fixes, category fixes) were usually relentlessly reverted. Behaviour became increasingly childish. A proposition was raised to establish a 3rd admin, since "when we have the majority of admins on our side, we won the war, and can enforce using Kölsch (spelt according to Wrede) in the areas where we want it". A (sorry!) unimportant scarce contributor payed his visit for the quarter, commented the dispute as idiotic or so (showing imho that he had hardly understood the subject matter) turned all propositions including Kölsch-only down. The admin promoting the opposite wish, (d), at once insinuated his co-admin of sockpuppetry. Later, he reclaimed certain articles, templates, categories, a project page, as "his own", "disallowing" the other admin to modify them, and protected them (December 1st to 3rd, 2006), thereby accidentally even protecting some of their talk pages, too. He declared it vandalism, when his colleague ignored the "ban". He said it were vandalism, "When you insert a template whose name is in your spelling into my page or a page the title of which is using my spelling" claiming that had been decided so in the disputed votig mentioned above (sample). The other admin (p) kept reverting him, but preserved additions made such as interwiki links, or, finally, some added dialect/spelling variants. He also suffered several arguments targettet at his person. Latest his colleague made copies of some of the articles, he called "his own" under partially names (meanwhile removed), apparently meant as intentional misspellings, or under names that he likey believes were Wrede's spelling, with edit summaries like "give either admin his own" (translated politely), he also created a sort disambiguation page resemblances (sample) pointing to both pages of a duplicated set as "article-title (spelt according to xyz)" without telling the (more important) dialect. (Dialect was added later) The target pages were and still are 100% identical, I believe, only their titles differ. The other admin (p) reverted/deleted some of those changes, too, at least nonsentiall page names.

Is the storm over?

That was, up to now (early Decembre, 2006) the end of the edit war. It was followed by almost 4 days of moderate editing activity and some "lets get more constructive again" appeals in various directions, by the two admins, and the author of the additonal version of the MediaWiki message base.


A set of over a dozen 2 needlessly protected pages (articles, an article talk page, a project page,…) (1 2) needing cleanup, a set of incompatible templates, some basically duplicating each other, a set of uncoordinated/incompatible/questionable groups of categories (sample), some basically duplicating each other, a set of little bits and pieces, some page titles, and a set of category names rewritten to the Kölsch dialect in the Wrede spelling. A set of duplicated articles. A set of pages plastered with boxes of questionable esthetic (Samples: 1, 2, 3, 4), a bunch of as of yet unsolved questions as to how to deal with the idea of using a special (preferred) dialect, or finding ways to treat all dialects as equal as possible.

More strange things

One admin (d) still seems to be duplicating pages under various spellings, yet at a slow pace. He is also creating a new category per page, without explanation. Not much real discussion has happened, likely due to lack of time.

A time of calming

A suggestion was raised be one admin (p), and some disputants, to leave things currently under dispute as they are for a while, and develop an agreed upon code of conduct, and at least plans for technical solutions, such as templates, meanwhile. While this idea was largely followed, noone suplied any new suggestions with the exception of one newcomer (to the discussion, not the wiki) suggesting to use only standard German in page titles and some other places. Also some of the suggestions tabled previously were clarified, and better understood.

Personal attacks

Parallel to the above, before that, and later, too, some partially fierce, and personal, attacks were to be observed between the admins. A quick summary: over the time, (p) wrote over (d), he were wanting to pressure 'his' 'new' spelling preference on every editor, destroying other editors labour, acting stupidly, beeing technically incompetent, deliberately lying about (p) and some other subject matters. Meanwhile (d), plus some users likely (in part) believing his writings, wrote over (p), he were tacidly trying to promote 'his' 'uggly' spelling preference, trying to disallow or hinder every other spelling but his 'self-invented' one, pretending, playing tactical games, ignoring majority wishes and/or a voting, inhibiting a solution by procrastination, majorizing the Wikipedia (implicitly) abusing 'admin power', vandalizing it, and lying. Also some battling back occurred.

A word of caution is needed: maybe, this is a bit Kölsch-centric:
A word on language use 

When compared to German or English or French, Ripuarian speech at times appears bold, gross, drastic, outspoken, and personal. In the language community, this is valued at least as high as being diplomatic; being able to say something 'between the lines' is most accepted, and using 'double bind' in speech, usually waking a smile in your audiences faces, is art.

Much of the multiple senses of speech are assured on the prosodic level, via body language, and by instand feedback of listeners. It is easy, and often done, to use words in a really friendly or loving sense, which would be rather harsh with varied intonation. This poses a notable problem to written communication. To assume good faith reading written argument, is almost always an attempt to find a series of varying intonations, and thus interpretations, of words and senteces, so as to account for what else could have been said.

Another serious problem reading Ripuarian without hearing, for a majority having German as their 1st or 2nd language, is the considerable amount of similar words with unidentical meanings, and false friends — as it is with Dutch and German, also related Ripuarian words usually are having less gross meanings, and uses, than their Standard-German counterparts. So for non-natives, Ripuarian disputes may appear unfriendlier, and more personal, than they actually are.

War exported

Admin (p) had set up Wiki pages for several localisation files for several dialects/spellings, and explained them. Apparently not good enough, since (c), presuming to be done with his translation work of the 2nd (in time) variety of Ripuarian localisation, did not only replace the previous version. In addition he replaced an unrelated file, central to all varieties, with a copy of his work. Admin (p) found the error, reverted the change to the central file, and explained why. Admin (d) instantly reverted the revert, admin (p) reverted again, etc., several times.

Without inspection, proofreading, or testing, admin (d) also at once submitted a copy of this file, which contained several errors, with (bug #8690), demanding the same incorrect file replacement (instead of addig a new one), that (c) had made before locally, thereby also pretending a nonexisting consensus in the Ripuarian Wikipedia. He got (r) to create a patch from it. Despite warnings, see below, the patch was applied to the MediaWiki code base, still with the incorrect file replacement (revision 19464). Also (r) did not find all errors. Admin (p) found them by and by. He tried to alert others (through bug #8690, and (r)s talk page), in vain, under heavy attacks from admin (d). Thus, when the patch arrived in the Ripuarian Wikipedia, it also caused some havoc so as incorrect URLs, links disappearing (turning from blue to red), edited articles disappearing from their categories, etc., while the desired localizations strings were mainly not shown.

Also, immediately after his submission do Mediazilla, admin (d) started a move to have admin (p)'s adminship revoked. (talk, talk, talk). He used a set of ridiculous, or provably false accusations, insinuations, and "I do not like him. I do not trust him." as arguments. He also again communicated a somewhat unrealistic list of admin duties, e.g. writing localization files, supplying demanded templates, and similar. Some users reacted with posts like "If he does supply the demanded localization strings, he should remain admin" plus various personal preferences or grievances mostly related to writing style and editing behaviour. Most bought admin (d)'s claims without asking. Some, including admin (p), agree that, letting this admin war continue outside the Ripuarian Wikipedia was detrimental to the Wikipedia, and should not have happened.

(p) asks wmf for mediation from outside the Ripuarian Wikipedia. Goals: he wants the fighting with admin (d) to end. He wants the wmf to answer questions raised for the Ripuarian Wikipedia, see below, which were of broader concern than just for this project. He wants false insinuations and "assumed bad faith" against his person removed from public webpages.

Later, admin (d) made several of his presumed 'followers' admins, and, in part, bureaurocrats. He then claimed, elections had been held. Both the process itself, and the result were disputed, and (d)'s adminship challanged. Admin (d), in his 'welcome' message, threatened twice to block the new user, who initiatted the dispute, giving unacceptable reasons, misinformations, and false claims, according to (p)'s opinion. Admin (d) also called several users, who he said were not sharing his opinions, (p)'s sockpuppets. Ignoring the requirement of a community consensus for wikis having no own checkusers, he initiated a series of checkuser requests against 9 users of several wikis, none of which was in line with the checkuser policy, some were executed, proving admin (d)'s ideas wrong, as far as available data went.

Questions raised for the Ripuarian Wikipedia
  • The project was requested, and granted, for a language group — Is it possible or acceptable to reduce it to only one dialect (or spelling) when there is a multitude and none is somehow special or preferred in real life?
  • Is it acceptable, or desirable, to prefer a specific dialect or spelling over the others in certain areas or components of the website without a compelling technical necessity?
  • Is it necessary, if such preference decisions are being made (for whichever reason), to follow the idea of equal treatment?

Purodha Blissenbach