The Alligator Song: Resurrecting the Houma Language

The Houma are a Native American tribe who originally lived in what is now Mississippi and spoke a language closely related to Choctaw. After European colonists arrived, they allied themselves with the French and began to migrate further south, into what is now Louisiana.

Today, many Houma still live a somewhat traditional lifestyle, fishing and hunting in the Louisiana swamps.  Their language, however, has been lost since the beginning of the 19th century. They now speak English and Louisiana (Cajun) French.

Now, some members of the tribe are trying to resurrect it, despite the fact that the language was not written and was only minimally documented before it disappeared.

For the past year, efforts to rebuild the language have focused on translating a recording of an old Houma children’s song, called “Chan-Chuba” or “The Alligator Song.” Houma parents used to tease their children with this song, chasing their little ones while they “chomped” the air with their hands.

Nobody living could remember the words of the song, but last year Colleen Billiot found a tape of her great-grandmother singing it. Billiot told the News Star:

“When we played it, it was like we were unlocking a trunk that had been locked up and covered in dust. It’s my great-grandmother who died before I was born. I heard her sing it, and I said, ‘This is a connection to my past.'”

She and another tribe member, Hali Dardar, have been leading the effort to translate the song. They hope that doing so will give them a start on reconstructing the Houma language.

The odds would seem to be against them, unfortunately. The language was hardly documented before it vanished. In addition to the recording, tribe members are searching libraries around the globe for scraps of the language that might have been documented by long-ago missionaries.

Anthropologist John R. Swanton visited the Houma in 1907, and compiled a vocabulary list of 75 words. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia there is some debate over whether or not these words are all Houma — they may instead be from a trade language called Mobilian Trade Jargon.

According to the News Star, a Louisiana State University student is translating a memoir in French that may contain some clues about the language, and there may be additional documentation in libraries in Canada and Paris.

Even if the entire language is never reconstructed, hopefully the song will be translated, and Houma parents can sing it for their children again.

Photo credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Bogeskov

Endangered Languages: A Consequence of Prosperity?

Are languages dying as a result of economic growth? That’s the conclusion of a new study from researchers at the University of Cambridge.  But does it have to be that way? Dr. Tatsuya Amano, who led the study, has a background in animal extinction. Given that one in four languages around the world are threatened with extinction, the researchers decided to analyze where the languages most under threat were located and what those regions had in common. They found that the most developed regions of the world, like the US, Europe and Australia, had the highest rate of extinctions. As Dr. Amano explained to the BBC:

“World languages are now rapidly being lost. This is a very serious situation. We wanted to know how the extinction is distributed globally and what are the main drivers of this…As economies develop, one language often comes to dominate a nation’s political and educational spheres. People are forced to adopt the dominant language or risk being left out in the cold – economically and politically.”

Is language death a necessary consequence of development, though? Should we just let threatened languages die off in the name of spreading global prosperity? Some people certainly do see it that way. Tim Worstall of Forbes says that “ we shouldn’t worry too much about languages disappearing: because that is a signal that economic development is happening, people are becoming less poor.”  He advocates letting them die, but preserving recordings and dictionaries and other documentation for scholars to study. 

That argument ignores a few very important points, though. First, as a rule,  when a language dies people tend to feel like they’ve lost something of value, an important part of their cultural identity. Consider how many different groups, from Native Americans to minority language speakers in Europe, go through considerable amounts of  trouble and expense  to try to preserve or resurrect their languages.  In theory, at least, it should be easier to keep them from declining in the first place.

Besides, we now know that it’s not really an either/or choice between learning a dominant language like English and learning the native language of a given community. As long as children are exposed to both languages at an early age they are quite capable of learning both, and switching between them as required for business.

Also, as Gregory Anderson, the president of Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages pointed out on al-Jazeera, from a historical perspective most cases of language extinction aren’t voluntary. There is almost always some type of force involved:

“There is a whole complex of historical and social factors, including discrimination … and disenfranchisement behind communities who abandon their language,” Anderson said. “It’s in many cases a response communities have to being mistreated and having their very identity devalued.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

The Retail Conference 2014

Translation at the Retail Conference 2014

The Retail Conference 2014 is taking place on Wednesday 17th September 2014 at America Square Conference Centre in London.

This is the 8th time conference takes place and as a well established event it became a key platform to share industry knowledge and discuss retail`s hottest topics. This year’s retail conference will attract between 150 and 200 delegates making it a fantastic opportunity to network with some of the leading minds in this sector.

Clare RaynerA great example of the passion and professionalism found at this event is the founder and managing director of The Retail Conference, Clare Rauner. Known in the industry as The Retail Champion she is an expert in current and future trends and routes to success as well an exceptionally good visionary individual with a real feel for the market.

Clare wrote the books ‘The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success’ and ‘How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets to Getting Your Product to Market’ both of these are an absolute must-read.

Personally I am very passionate about the world of retail and caught the retail bug whilst working in the industry with clients like Tesco and M&S. Working with these clients my company helps them to put their products on shelf all over the world by providing a language translation service specifically tailored to the retail sector.

The event will also be an opportunity to share opinions on matters that are important to retailers, subjects like what makes brands successful, how to conduct efficient market analysis and how to achieve effective true multichannel communication.

K International`s involvement in all this is to create emotional engagement with consumers regardless of the language(s) used. Two way communication between your brand and your consumers is a key builder of trust and therefore a vital element of your international retail strategy.

Some Presentations of Note

During the event I particularly look forward to seeing Jeremy Michael, Managing Director, Service Management Group. Service Management Group (SMG) is a research agency conducting store-level, ongoing customer experience measurement. The presentation will be a joined one with Bruce Gibson, Head of Retail, Hobbycraft. The tittle “Crafting the Future: How Hobbycraft has driven commercial success through listening to its customers” suggest that both listening to consumers and responding accordingly will be one of the key indicators that consumers mention when highlighting great shopping experiences. I wonder whether SMG had conducted studies on how translation and product adaptation to new regions influenced figures?

I am also very keen to see Karl Reindl, Managing Director, Youstice presenting “How to Build Consumer Trust in an Online World”. Technology is a key influencer in all industries, our clients talk about the ‘clicks and mortar’ business model (which we develop multilingual solutions for) and our own workflow technology is constantly being updated to handle the latest trends

Another interesting point of Karl`s presentation will no doubt be a discussion on the most effective communication channels for delivering customer care. I suspect that it will mention that how we communicate is crucial. To inform the customer about a product is not enough, we need to create a message that will be truly meaningful as this will be the catalyst to buy. If we think about it, with today`s content packed Online World the message needs to stand out to engage consumers, often the first two lines describing product will be all that customer will read, as we have more choice and less time, consumers will ignore boring, inadequate and dull messages.

Richard Wonnacott, Retail Business Consultant, Microstrategy will present on “Standing at the nexus of big data, business analytics and mobile”. Richard will present to highlight how important it is to efficiently manage information within the business. I look forward to seeing a presentation on how managing information can contribute to the success of a company as it is something that we have engaged in here, managing linguistic assets of our clients across countries and continents. Once your business goes global, you will face linguistic challenges both internally and externally. The staff will require training, the legal team will engage with local authorities, reports from local suppliers will be sent in different languages. Managing this asset centrally will guarantee consistency of terminology across communication channels.

I Hope to See You There

Agnieszka AnimuckaLooking forward to this great experience and I hope to meet real retail enthusiasts along the way.

Be very happy to talk about your language challenges and potential retail expansion plans. We are experienced partners to some of the UK’s largest retailers and would love to help you too.

Follow me on twitter be happy to meet up.

Language service company warning signs

Selecting the Right Language Service Company

Vic MarcusToday we have a special guest post from Vic Marcus, Vice President of Business Development at NWI Global, a language translation & interpreting company based in Vancouver, Washington, USA.

You recently learned that the content you produced in English will now need to be translated into 16 languages, including Spanish, Arabic and Simplified Chinese. You also know that your organization requires you to go out for a bid to find the best possible supplier that will meet your quality, cost and turnaround time requirements.

Your supplier database of language service companies is fairly thin and you believe more companies need to participate in the bidding process, so you go on the web to search for more potential suppliers. This is a great way to bolster your competitive bid process, but what if you could eliminate certain suppliers before they can even submit a bid? This will save you a lot of time and ensure you choose the language service company best suited for your project.

Here are the five reasons not to work with a language service company that came up in your Google search results. Eliminate these companies prior to starting your formal bidding process.

  1. Outdated Content – Blast From The Past
    You clicked on a link and it took you back in time. The company’s website was last updated years ago. In today’s market, it’s about customer engagement using various online and social media tools. One of the primary marketing tools a company has is its website. Having an outdated website is a red flag. If the company doesn’t care about its own online content and appearance, why should you trust them to deliver quality content translated into other languages?
  2.  No Contact Information – Don’t Contact Us, We May Contact You
    You found what seems like a legitimate company and you are interested in having it participate in your bidding process. You’d now like to communicate the bid information to this company. You look everywhere on the navigation menu and can’t find a clear way to contact them. Sure, it could be a poorly designed navigation structure, but it could also be that this company doesn’t want you to contact them by making it really difficult to do so.At a minimum, every company must have a contact page and the contact page should contain the following elements:
    • Company’s Name and Physical Address
    • Contact Form or an E-mail Address
    • Links to the Company’s Social Media Channels
    • Telephone NumberIf there is no physical address listed, does this company really have an office they operate out of? This is something to think about in your search efforts.
  1. Spelling and Grammatical Errors – Your Smart, My Smart, We all Smart
    The company didn’t take the time and effort to proofread and edit the content on their website. If that’s an indication of how they approach their translation projects, I’d head for the hills now. 
  1. We do Everything – Jack of All Trades
    This company claims to do it all and do it well. All professional fields have their areas of expertise. You wouldn’t go to a psychiatrist for brain surgery (a physical one, anyway). And it’s very unlikely that a psychiatrist is a brain surgeon, and vice versa. It’s also unlikely that a company can do patent translations and community interpreting. There are language service companies that do a lot of things well, but they are few and far between. Finding a speciality shop that can scale with your needs is your best bet. 
  1. We do it Fast & Cheap – Race to Zero
    Since you will be going out for a competitive bid, pricing is most certainly a factor in your decision. Keep in mind that not all language service companies deliver the same level of service. If quality is important to you, be prepared to invest in it. There will always be a company out there that can do it for less, but at what cost?

There are many good language service companies out there and a few not so good ones. Keep the above five reasons in mind when putting together your list of bid stakeholders. It will save you a lot of time and make the competition a lot more interesting. Good luck in your search!

Vic Marcus is the Vice President of Business Development at NWI Global, a language services company specializing in B2B and B2G content translation & interpreting. Vic has over 10 years of experience in the language services industry, and is continuously involved in educating all stakeholders about the translation & interpretation process.

Translation Fails in the Wild: A Trip to the Asian Dollar Store

Near my house, there is a small shopping center dominated by Asian-owned businesses. There is a Thai restaurant, an Asian market, a Taekwondo studio…and a “dollar store” featuring a variety of cheap goods, mostly made in China.

I love the Asian dollar store.  They have everything:  random bits of hardware, freaky colored contacts, luggage, wigs and so much more.  They also make some rather interesting merchandising decisions, like interspersing saw blades amongst the pedicure supplies.

And then there are the products that seem to have gotten lost in translation, with packaging that ranges from the awkward to the incomprehensible. Here are some of my favorites:

The Oxygen Bar

asiandollarstore1

I’m not sure what this does…perhaps it’s some sort of humidifier? The words on the box are less than enlightening:

“Between noise and peace there is a bridge, Brought them together, Just like human being and nature, is alwaysinsep arable.”

You know what else should be inseparable?  The letters in the word “inseparable.”

The Coffee Set

asiandollarstore3

“The features of practicality and beautyshow perfection; greatestefforts and endlessseeking”

Just what I was looking for in a coffee set!

Amphibious Pal and Her Baby

AsianDollarStore4

“It really swim s and crawls” What is with the random spaces here?

Aquatic Animals Anion Humidifier

AsianDollarStore2

“Fresh: Come back to natural, purify the air.

Add wetly: Transfer water in to fog moist air

Cosmetology: Create the foggy oxygen bar, wet the skin.

Intersperse: Interior decoration, the fashion is furnished.”

Uh-huh.

Bonus: Personal Air Conditioner Instructionsasiandollarstore5

This one is actually from Costco, but it was too good not to share.

When you’re trying to sell your product in a foreign market, the last thing in the world you want is to leave potential buyers scratching their heads as they try to translate your translations.  Don’t rely on Google Translate. You need a skilled translator. Take a look and see how we can help!

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