Red Hat Linux 5.1: Early i18n

Posted by Karl Levik on 2023-05-21, last modified on 2023-05-21

Tomorrow it is 25 years since Red Hat released version 5.1 (Manhattan) of their Red Hat Linux distro1 (22. May 1998) - a distro which was discontinued in 2004 but was merged with Fedora Linux to form Fedora Core. The most exciting new component in 5.1 was perhaps the Netscape browser, but interestingly it also included multiple translations of the installer.

Red Hat Linux 5.1

So, what is (or was) en_RN, you ask? The explanation is on the next screenshot:

Language options

Yes, you could choose between English, Czech, French, German, Norwegian, Romanian, Turkish and ... 'Redneck'! This is of course not a generally recognised name for any existing or former actual language or even variant of English. There is however a quite distinct Southern U.S. English dialect (or collection of dialects), although, as we shall see in the next few screenshots, Red Hat's 'Redneck' language seems a little bit more colourful than that!

Insert CD

Insert CD Yes, I suppose it could double as a coffee holder, although I wouldn't recommend it!

Choice between Disk Druid and fdisk

Disk Druid versus fdisk Let's face it, Disk Druid is prolly a better choice regardless of your hippy credentials.

Bad partition table

Bad partition table A bit of all-caps there to really drive the message home.

LILO installation

LILO installation Funny, yes! Although not exactly the phrasing I've come to expect from Red Hat, dialect or not!

What is going on?

So, why did Red Hat - of all companies - create this? After all, this is the company (now a subsidiary of IBM) behind one of the most boring/serious Linux distros of all (RHEL). How come they created this "translation" which in the worst case could - let me be the old bore and spell it out - be perceived as making fun of a disadvantaged group? Was Red Hat really that different back in the 90s?

The best answer I have found is from the Red Hat Linux 5.1 Manual itself, now gone but still available via the Internet Archive2:

The "Redneck" language entry represents a dialect of American English spoken by Red Hat Software's Donnie Barnes, and was used as a test case during the addition of internationalization support to the installation program. It is included solely for entertainment value (and to illustrate how difficult it is actually talking to Donnie).

(While Mr Barnes may have spoken that way, his written English doesn't seem to resemble that well what we see in the above screenshots. See e.g. the transcript from a 1999 chat session on CNN where he answered questions about RHL.3)

As far as I understand, the 'Redneck' language option was removed already in the next version.


Oracle VirtualBox

Oracle VirtualBox was used to run the VM.

My investigation into Red Hat Linux 5.1 was inspired by Brodie Robertson's brilliant YT video4.

For more "redneck" RHL 5.1 screenshots, have a look at the web page on the Internet Archive5.

RHL 5.1 installation disks

Installation disks - courtesy of my colleague Dr Peter Chang

DVD drive

Portable DVD drive - also by Dr Chang