Translation News: 5 Stories to Keep You In The Know

Can you believe we’re already one month into 2016? Neither can we! Life moves fast. Here are five language and translation news stories you may have missed.

boromir google translate

Google Translate Fail: Russia is “Mordor”

We’re not even out of January yet, and already Google Translate has made a high-profile (and hilarious) error. The online translation service’s algorithms somehow decided that when translating from Ukrainian to Russian, “Russia” should be translated as “Mordor.”

Additionally, the service translated  Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s name as “sad little horse.” No word on whether Putin became “Sauron” or not.

The error was probably caused by online chatter from Ukrainians about Russia, which took a turn for the dark side after the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Google released a statement on the matter which almost perfectly demonstrates why you should think twice about using Google Translate for your business:

“Google Translate is an automatic translator – it works without the intervention of human translators, using technology instead. This means that not all translations are perfect, and there will sometimes be mistakes or mistranslations. We always work to correct these as quickly as possible when they are brought to our attention.”

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French Government Demands Better French Keyboard 

France’s language ministry is demanding a new revolution…in French keyboard layout.

In the English-speaking world, most of us learned to type on the QWERTY keyboard. However, QWERTY was designed with English in mind. Travel to countries where English isn’t the predominant language, and suddenly your touch-typing skills are rendered useless by unfamiliar keyboard designs.

The QWERTY keyboard itself has come in for quite a bit of criticism. Its design is riddled with inefficiencies. For example, according to Wikipedia, “The QWERTY keyboard has only one vowel (the letter A) on the home row, even though most English words contain a vowel, forcing the fingers to travel off the home row for most words.” Additionally, the layout puts right-handed people at a disadvantage, since a majority of the most commonly used letters are typed with the left hand instead of the right.

However, dissatisfaction with current keyboard layout options is not limited to countries where QWERTY predominates.  In fact, France’s culture and communication ministry just issued a statement that basically blames the decline of French language on the country’s venerable old AZERTY keyboard layout.

French Keyboard Layout Makes It Hard to Type French

Nobody knows exactly who invented the AZERTY keyboard, but it’s been in use since the 19th century. The layout is based on the QWERTY keyboard, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s not optimised for French typists. It’s just one more reason to blame America for ruining the French language, I suppose. Read more

How to Choose a Translation Company

Choosing a translation company is an important decision, and it’s important to get it right. The right translation company allows your business to clearly communicate with customers and stakeholders in other languages.  Choose poorly, and you could face a number of unhappy consequences, including embarrassment, lost customers and even regulatory compliance issues.  What to do? Learn how to choose a translation company with our detailed guide! Here’s what to look for:

How to Choose a Translation Company: Learn More About The Translators

A translation company is only as good as its translators. So, the first step in evaluating a translation company is to learn more about the people who will be translating your content.  How many languages can the company source translators for? Are all the translators native speakers of the language they’ll be translating? How much experience do they have?

How to Choose a Translation Company: Experience and Reputation

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with choosing a newer company, using a well-established provider with years of experience gives you one more level of security.  Different industries have their own terminology and translation requirements. So, in addition to general experience, you should look for a company with experience in your industry.

For example, medical translation and legal translation are specialised disciplines that require subject matter expertise in addition to fluency in both languages.

While experience is important, we all know age is just a number.  You want a translation company that is not just experienced, but also has a reputation for quality, integrity and good customer service.  Any translation agency you work with should be able to provide you with case studies, testimonials and references from previous clients. Read more

6 Star Wars Languages and Their Real-World Counterparts 

What would an alien language sound like, anyway? In the Star Wars universe, it might sound like Indonesian, or maybe Finnish. Here are some of the most interesting Star Wars languages, along with the real-world languages that inspired them:

Quechua

In the real world, the Quechua language family is an indigenous language spoken in the South American Andes. It was the language of the Incas, and currently has 8.9 million native speakers.  In the Star Wars universe, however, it sounds an awful lot like Huttese, the language of the Hutts.

When sound designer Ben Burtt was trying to come up with dialog for the bounty hunter Greedo, he drew inspiration from a Quechua language tape. As a result, Huttese shares sounds and even a few words with Quechua.

For example, tuta means night in Quechua. It appears to mean from in Huttese, as in the phrase “Sebulba tuta Pixelito.” Read more

Why Do Languages Have Gender?

Why do languages have gender? For an English speaker, grammatical gender is one of the most vexing aspects of learning a new language. As Mark Twain once wrote in reference to German:

“A person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it! A person’s nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven’t any sex at all…”

Doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? And yet many, if not most, languages across the world divide nouns up by “gender,” often in quite arbitrary ways. Here’s a quick primer on this interesting language characteristic, along with some tips and tricks to make learning gendered languages easier.

Grammatical Gender Vs. Natural Gender

It’s important to distinguish between grammatical gender and natural gender. Natural gender is simply the gender of a person, animal or character. Grammatical gender is a way of categorising nouns; it doesn’t necessarily match up with the “natural gender” of the person or object being described.

In some languages, grammatical gender is more than just “male” or “female.” Some languages have a “neuter” class, while others have different genders for animate versus inanimate objects.

Languages also have different ways of assigning gender. Some languages go by the physical characteristics of the object in question. Often, mythology and cultural views on gender come in to play, too. For example, in the Alamblak language of Papua New Guinea, the masculine gender “includes things which are tall or long and slender, or narrow (e.g. fish, snakes, arrows and slender trees).” Hmmm. I wonder why? Read more

A Geek’s Guide to Fictional Interpreters

Good science fiction and fantasy stories take us to new universes with new cultures…and that usually means new languages, too. That’s why invented and constructed  languages are on the rise. In these fantasy worlds, interpreters and translators often play an important role. Here are some of our favorite fictional interpreters:

Missandei, Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire


“Eleven years of age, yet Missandei is as clever as half the men at this table and wiser than all of them.” — A Dance with Dragons 

Interpreter Missandei is a compelling character in both the A Song of Ice and Fire books and the TV show.  That said, she’s almost a different character in the books than she is in the show.

In the books,  Missandei is very young, only ten years of age when Daenerys overthrows the “Good Masters” of Astaphor.  She speaks at least three languages: the Common Tongue of Westeros, High Valyrian and Bastard Valyrian.  She is a slave, serving as interpreter because of her linguistic skills.

Despite her age, she quickly becomes one of the queen’s closest confidantes and advisors, serving as her herald and interpreting when needed. After Daenerys disappears, she helps Sir Barristan Selmy overthrow Daenerys’ shady Meereenese husband to rule in her place.

In the show, Missandei is quite a bit older and played by Nathalie Emmanuel. She speaks 19 languages fluently, helps save Daenerys from an assassination attempt, and helps Grey Worm and Tyrion govern Mereen after the queen disappears.

Which version of Missandei do you prefer? We think she’s awesome either way! Read more

When Translated Tattoos go Wrong

Everyone has tattoos now-a-days, particularly the hipsters. Even our Prime Minister, David Cameron’s wife has one, and it seems their popularity is continuing to grow. I saw a survey a while back that said that 20 percent of all British adults now have at least one tattoo, with the over 60s being the smallest group to have them at only 9 percent. The 16 to 44-year age group has most tattoos with 29 percent having tattoos.

With around 14 percent of school teachers admitting they have tattoos, this type of body art is more mainstream that many would admit to. Once a tattoo has been inked, though, individuals regretting their body art need the images and wording removed using lasers or can cover tattoos with new ones, although tattoo laser removal is extremely painful. Increasingly, the tattoo artist in the UK is likely to be an arts graduate, as tattoos are seen to be fashionable and body enhancing. That’s not the case globally, however.

Angelina Jolie had the names of her two ex-husbands inked over with new tattoos after the divorces, not everyone has this option though. The increased numbers of people sporting tattoos has led to some amusing errors, spelling mistakes (or even just plain nastiness on the part of some tattoo artists!) when it comes to written forms of body art and translating foreign languages. Read more

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