Will Facebook Own Crowdsourced Translation?

On Tuesday, the Baltimore Sun noted that Facebook has applied for a patent for its crowdsourced translation application. The app, which has been in use since early last year, has helped Facebook quickly and efficiently translate its pages into different languages. Here’s how it works: the application presents text that needs to be translated to users who are able to translate it. Different users’ translations of the same text are then put up against each other, and other members vote on which one of the translations is the most accurate.

TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid has some concerns about Facebook’s patent application. Many other sites also use crowdsourced translations, and those sites could be in jeopardy if Facebook’s patent is approved. As Kincaid explains,

“Now it’s up to the patent office to decide if the techniques employed by these other sites will represent prior art that would nullify Facebook’s patent. And you can be sure that’s what many people are hoping for — it would be highly frustrating for social networks down the line if they can’t leverage their own communities the way Facebook has.”

Of course, crowdsourced translations may be quick and efficient, but as some bilingual commenters on TechCrunch noted, the quality of the translations is often inconsistent. For example, commenter Viclava wrote that it took about a year before the Spanish version of Facebook was “readable” and relatively free of grammatical errors.

Hopefully, Facebook doesn’t end up owning the patent on crowdsourced translations for social networks. Crowdsourced translations can be a powerful tool to quickly and cheaply translate content into another language, and this is definitely valuable. However, in many cases it’s important that the content be translated flawlessly the first time. If your brand or image depends on a perfect translation, it’s best to go ahead and spring for a professional translation company.

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Cash Machines in London go all Cockney

According to the BBC five cash machines in east London will be talking in cockney for the next three months. The cash machines belong to Bank Machine’s ATM’s. Customers will be able to choose Cockney as a language option.

They can expect to see phrases such as ‘please enter you huckleberry Finn’ rather than ‘pin’ and they will have to select how much ‘sausage and mash’ (cash) they want.

Ron Delnevo, the managing director of Bank Machine is quoted as saying, “We wanted to introduce something fun and of local interest to our London machines.”

It’s certainly a novelty and it will be of interest not only to tourists but to residence as well. You can be sure they will have a butcher’s (look) when they are taking out a speckled hen (£10), any trouble and they will have to contact their rattle and tank (bank).

President Obama

President Obama in Controversy over Healthcare Translation Policy

Accoring to various news reports there is controversy in the USA this week over ‘ObamaCare’ policies which state proposed healthcare reform plans which include providing on site interpreters for patients who have limited English. The healthcare reform legislation is currently pending in Congress.

English language advocates are up in arms as this could add a significant increase to the cost of healthcare in the USA and they believe it will discourage foreign immigrants from learning English. Surely, in today’s multicultural society the provision of translation services to medical institutions is essential.

America needs to look at itself and its history to see that America was made what it is today by foreign settlers who didn’t all speak English and certainly not American English!

Have some respect for your history and accept the fact that not everyone speaks English. The Spanish for example were one of the first European settlers in the US in 1513. Surely they have a right to speak Spanish if they wish to do so. America is meant to be the ‘Land of the Free’ after all.

Yes it seems logical that if you move to an English speaking country you should learn the lingo but even if you do, when your child is dying in A&E (sorry America suppose that’s ER to you) you may not be able to express what is wrong in your second language. To be sure the patient or their guardian fully understands what is happening it is essential that adequate language translation services are provided.

Confusion over Nazi Slogan Translations

The federal court of justice has overturned the conviction of a man who was fined 4,200 euros for possessing and transporting 100 t-shirts which were to be sold with the words ‘Blood and Honour’ printed on the front.

‘Blood and Honour’ is a translation of the German ‘Blut und Ehre’ which was a Hitler Youth slogan.

The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organisation of the Nazi party, which existed from 1922 until 1945. Young boys were recruited both voluntarily and under duress and trained to be soldiers and ‘true believers’. By the Second World War the Hitler Youth had over eight million members.

In the latter years of the Second World War the Hitler Youth held a large recruitment drive calling up boys as young as ten years old which meant that most young males in Germany became members. As part of their uniform the young boys aged 10 – 18 wore daggers which had the swastika symbol on the handle and early examples had the words ‘Blut und Ehre’ inscribed on the blade. ‘Blut und Ehre’ or in English ‘Blood and Honour had become their motto.

Today the display of Nazi symbols or slogans is forbidden in Germany, but the court ruled that the ban only applied to slogans or text written in German. The court said the context of the original phrase had been sufficiently distorted to render its usage legal. It also said, “By translating it into another language, the Nazi slogan, which is characterized not just by its meaning but also by the German language, is fundamentally transformed.”

The defendant however has not been released. He may now be charged with supplying goods with Nazi imagery on and there is a possibility he could still be convicted of using the English phrase “Blood & Honour” because it was also the name of a far-right organization that is banned in Germany, the original verdict had not taken this into account. The man has not been named at this time.

Surely that is the slogan no matter what language it is in. It has been printed for maximum effect, to offend and upset others.

Facial Expressions Don't Always Translate

Facial expressions and body language are often thought of as a universal language. However, researchers from The University of Glasgow have now discovered that the way people perceive facial expressions varies across different cultures. The research focused on the ways that natives of East Asia and Europe read emotion from facial expressions and found some surprising differences.

In the study, 13 European subjects and 13 East Asian subjects were shown slides of people displaying different emotions. They were asked to place the faces into different categories based on the emotion depicted in each slide. While the test subjects classified the pictures, researchers observed their eye movements to see what parts of the face they spent the most time looking at.

The European group did significantly better at choosing the correct emotion for each facial expression because they observed both the eyes and the mouths of the people in the pictures. The East Asian group looked primarily at the eyes. According to the researchers, this is because Asian cultures tend to use the eyes to express emotion more than the mouth.

In a press release, here’s how the researchers summed up their findings:

“In sum,” the researchers wrote:

“our data demonstrates genuine perceptual differences between Western Caucasian and East Asian observers and show that FACS-coded facial expressions are not universal signals of human emotion. From here on, examining how the different facets of cultural ideologies and concepts have diversified these basic social skills will elevate knowledge of human emotion processing from a reductionist to a more authentic representation. Otherwise, when it comes to communicating emotions across cultures, Easterners and Westerners will find themselves lost in translation.”

As an interesting footnote, the press release also notes that Asian emoticons focus on the eyes. For example, Westerners indicate happiness by typing :). Asians type ^.^.

This study underscores the importance of learning at least a little bit of the local language when you travel. You can’t expect people to understand English everywhere. Depending on where you travel, you might have some difficulties communicating without words, as well.

Google adds Hawaiian Language

Web giant Google have added a Hawaiian language version of its search engine.

It was done by Keola Donaghy of the Ka Haka Ula Oke’elikolani college of Hawaiian Language. Keola Donaghy campaigned for 3 years to get Google to produce a Hawaiian version of its search engine. He estimates that it took him 100 hours to complete the translation…. Perhaps he should have used a professional translation company.

The Hawaiian version provides instructions in Hawaiian on Google’s search engine, although you will still find that the results still come back in English.

In order to complete the translation Keola Donaghy provided translations of 2,500 strings, words, sentences and paragraphs used by the search engine.

It’s great to see Google expanding its language options and it’s important they don’t ignore other important languages (such as Welsh).

The Hawaiian version of Google’s search engine is now available on Apples safari browser; it can be accessed by selecting Olelo Hawaii or Hawaiian language inside the system preferences on Apple.

It should be available on all other browsers next week.

Rosetta Stone

Unlocking the Meaning of an Ancient Hieroglyphic Script

Translating ancient scripts is difficult, especially when the civilization they belonged to is long gone.

We lucked out with the ancient Egyptians when we found the Rosetta Stone, which had the same passage translated into three different scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic Egyptian and classical Greek. Since linguists could read classical Greek, they were able to use this knowledge to understand the hieroglyphic script on the stone.

However, there is no similar artefact available for ancient scripts such as the hieroglyphics used by the Indus Valley civilization. These people lived approximately 4,000 years ago, along what it now the Indian-Pakistani border. They were very technologically advanced for that time, living in cities equipped with the first known urban sanitation systems in the world.

They were also excellent traders who developed an extremely accurate, standardized system of weights and measures. But could they write? Many of their artefacts are decorated with symbols, but nobody knows what these symbols mean. In fact, some researchers doubt that they even represent a written language at all.

So, researchers at the University of Washington have teamed up with researchers from India to try to translate the script using computers. The computer program looks at existing examples of the script and tries to perceive patterns in the order of the symbols.

Using a statistical method called the Markov model; the program has been able to demonstrate that the placement of symbols follows a logical pattern, supporting the theory that they represent a language. As one of the researchers noted in the article referenced above, “The finding that the Indus script may have been versatile enough to represent different subject matter in West Asia is provocative. This finding is hard to reconcile with the claim that the script merely represents religious or political symbols.”

5,000 New German Words

According to the BBC around 5,000 new words have been added to the German language in the latest edition of the well respected German dictionary, Duden. Most of the new words have come from the English speaking world.

New terms have been added such as ‘After show party’, ‘No-go area’, ‘It girl’ and ‘Babyblues’.

Twitter fans also gained a new word ‘Twittern’, which means to Twitter (or to Tweet, which ever you prefer).

New words have also come from the current global financial Crisis. ‘Kreditklemme’, meaning credit crunch has appeared for the first time. Other new words include ‘Konjunkturpaket’ which means ‘stimulus package’ and ‘Abwrackpraemie’ this translates as ‘car scrappage bonus’.

The German language is well known for its use and creation of extremely long compound nouns, for example the new edition of the dictionary includes a fantastic 23 letter example ‘vorratsdatenspeicherung’ which translates as ‘telecommunications data retention’.

The Duden was first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. New editions of the dictionary are released every four or five years.

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