Translation Technology Replicates Your Voice

Microsoft has been experimenting with some very interesting translation technology. For example, the company’s chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, recently appeared on a computer screen in Beijing, speaking perfectly fluent Mandarin. Nothing unusual about that, except for the fact that the real Craig Mundie doesn’t speak Mandarin at all.

Instead, Microsoft has created a virtual clone of him that speak whatever language they want it to. Plus, as he explained to PCWorld, his avatar’s similarity to the real Craig Mundie is more than skin deep:

“What was spoken in Mandarin today I never recorded. But it is my voice. They have a computer model of my voice box.”  Read more

The Bard in Translation

Shakespeare fans,  mark your calendars: next spring, the Globe Theatre will truly live up to its name when it hosts the “Globe to Globe” Shakespeare festival starting April 23rd. During the festival, the theater will present all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, in 37 different languages or dialects.

The plays will be performed by theater companies from 36 different countries around the world, many performing brand-new adaptations of familiar stories. Festival director Tom Bird told CNN that the theater tried to select performers from countries with strong immigrant communities in London, though that wasn’t the only consideration:

“The tricky thing is we can’t get everyone in, so we thought a little bit about the languages that are spoken in London, like Urdu, Yoruba and Polish. We also looked at countries that have a great long history of performing Shakespeare, like Georgia and Armenia, and finally if there was a very good show, we could take that anyway.”

The lineup also includes several theater groups with amazing, against-the-odds stories. For example, Afghanistan’s  Roy-e-Sabs theater company, who will performing “A Comedy of Errors” in Dari, were using the British Council building in Kabul as a rehearsal space before it was attacked in August. Bird told CNN, “Luckily they weren’t there on that day, but it was really a very, very lucky miss.” Read more

Buy the World a Coke

Coca-Cola may have gotten its start in America, but it’s clearly an international brand. As such, it markets to people in many different languages. On Facebook, Coca-Cola uses the social media site’s “geotagging” feature to localize the content it presents to viewers around the world. So, viewers logging in from America are presented content in English, while viewers logging in from Mexico see content in Spanish.

Unfortunately, back in August, something went amiss with the geotagging filters, and posts intended for the page’s Brazilian and Romanian-speaking fans were shown to American fans as well, according to Ad Age.

The result, especially for the post written in Portuguese (which many American readers confused with Spanish), was basically an eruption of online idiocy. Many American readers were apparently unhappy about being made to read a language other than English, and they used varying degrees of incivility to express their displeasure. Read more

Wild Australian Parrots Learn to Squawk in English

Walking around a park in Australia these days, you might be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stumbled into a Disney movie, as wild birds fly down and greet you with a perfectly intelligible “Hello.”

Don’t worry…you haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole! There’s actually a perfectly reasonable explanation. It seems that escaped pet parrots have been teaching their wild cousins scraps of English they picked up while in captivity. Read more

Need a Menu Translated? There's An App for That!

There’s no denying that automatic language translation has its problems, but in some instances it’s a godsend. For example, take eating out in a restaurant where nobody speaks your language.  You’re not going to hire someone to translate for you, so unless you’re traveling with a local who speaks the language or there’s someone working at the restaurant who speaks English, you’re stuck making educated guesses about what to order.

Unless, of course, you have the new smart phone app from Purdue University. This app is designed to accurately translate menus, alerting you of possible risky ingredients like raw meat and of potential allergens like shellfish and peanuts. Read more

The Berenstain Bears Now Speak Lakota

Just about everyone under the age of 50 has fond childhood memories of the Berenstain Bears. For decades, they have dominated children’s story hours in schools, libraries and homes. Over 260 of the books have been published in 20 different languages, and the Bear family has also made the leap from print to TV multiple times.

Now, the Bears are adding yet another language to their repertoire: the  Native American dialect of Lakota.  Spoken by the Lakota Sioux Nation, there are about 6,000 native speakers.  While it’s stronger than many Native American languages, UNESCO still lists the Sioux language as a whole as “vulnerable.” As with other Native American groups, there is a generation of Lakota who were forcibly discouraged from speaking their own language as children.  As tribe member Kenny Little Thunder told the Associated Press , “You couldn’t speak your language _ you were hit. They beat the language out of you.”

Read more

Talk Like a Pirate

Monday, September 19th was a very special day: International Talk Like a Pirate Day! If you weren’t aware of this occasion, you might have been under the impression that people celebrating it were either drunk or mad. However, the holiday actually has a long and distinguished history, going all the way back to 1995.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day is a great excuse to run around exclaiming “Arrrr!” (try it, it’s surprisingly therapeutic!)  and referring to your coworkers as “scurvy bilge rats!” This is dialog ripped straight from cheesy adventure movies, but is it at all historically accurate? How did pirates really talk?
Read more

Language Change Driven by Men‎

We’re all familiar with the term “mother tongue,” but as it turns out, the phrase may be something of a misnomer. Scientists from the University of Cambridge have found that at least historically speaking, it is actually men who most strongly influence language change.

The scientists analyzed both mitochondrial DNA (passed down only by women) and DNA from the Y-chromosome (passed down only by males). They found that there was a definite correlation between DNA markers on the Y-chromosome and the language spoken in a given region. There was no such correlation between mitochondrial DNA and language.  This pattern held true for different cultures across the world. Read more

Translating Honeybees

By now, many scientists are willing to accept that intelligent animals like dolphins may have languages of their own. But what about honeybees? They couldn’t possibly have their own language, could they? After all, they’re just bugs!

Not so fast, say scientists from the University of Dundee in Scotland. They believe that honeybees may, in fact, have a language of their own, and have installed sound monitoring systems in 100 Scottish beehives to see if they can decode and translate it. Read more

Facebook Translates Comments

Facebook already connects hundreds of millions of users around the globe, and the site itself has been translated into more than 70 different languages. Now, it looks like the popular website may take its efforts to break down language barriers between users to another level by offering automatic translations for comments.

At the moment, the feature is only available to some users. When it’s active, it allows users to see translated versions of comments written in an unfamiliar language, as well to switch back and forth between the translation and the original comment. The translation program doesn’t work all the time, but when it does work it is apparently even able to translate some slang terms. So far, it’s been spotted translating Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Chinese. Read more

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