8 Facts About Language Diversity for International Translation Day 2017

Our favorite holiday is almost here! International Translation Day is happening tomorrow, 30 September. Set to coincide with the birthday of St. Jerome, this is a day to celebrate translators and the art of translation. And this year is special. Although International Translation Day has been celebrated since 1953,  the United Nations officially recognized it as a holiday this year. 

Every year has a theme. The theme for 2017 is “Translation and Diversity.” So, here are 8 fascinating facts about language diversity around the world.

There are over 7,000 languages in the world today.

7,099 to be precise, at least according to Ethnologue. But the exact number is up for debate and constantly changing.  This uncertainty exists for a number of reasons.

First of all, it’s sometimes difficult to draw the line between a language and a dialect. So, the way languages are classified can change. Unfortunately, languages can also die out. Occasionally, linguists discover new languages in remote parts of the world. For example, researchers found a new language in India in 2013. 

And every so often, linguists catch a brand new language evolving.  Read more

The Multilingual History of 3 Common Internet Symbols 

The online world has a vocabulary all its own. And it’s not all words, either. But while we think of “hashtags” and “likes” as modern English inventions, they go back much further. In fact, these Internet symbols are much older than the Internet, and they weren’t originally English.

Want to learn more?  Let’s take a look at the multilingual history behind 3 of the Internet’s most common symbols.

Internet Symbols Around the World: The Hashtag (#)internet symbol hashtag

Hashtags have taken over the Internet. That’s not a bad thing. Twitter would be all but useless without them. (Unfortunately, they’re also invading our speech. Surely I’m not the only one who dies a little inside everytime someone says “Hashtag” followed by something intended to be clever or snarky?)

But the# symbol hasn’t always been  called a “hashtag,” and it’s much older than the Internet.  The hashtag started out as an abbreviated of the Latin word for “pound,” libra pondo. Prior to Twitter, Americans still called it a “pound sign.” Sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries, people got tired of writing “lb” for “pound” and starting writing # instead. So, it’s basically an abbreviation of an abbreviation.

In 1968, the hash sign was added to the push-button dialpad created by Bell Labs for the telephone. But for some reason, the people working at Bell Labs decided that terms like “pound sign”, “number sign” and “hash sign” were inadequate, so they rechristened it the “octothorpe.” According to the New Statesman, this may have been part of a juvenile plot to ““piss off” international users by inventing a name that is difficult to say in some languages.”

Fortunately, octothorpe didn’t quite catch on. Read more

European day of languages

European Day of Languages: How Did You Celebrate?

The 26th of September is the European Day of Languages, a day set aside to celebrate all of Europe’s 225 languages and to promote language learning.

Why celebrate European Languages Day? According to the Council of Europe, the holiday was set up after the “European Year of Languages” campaign in 2001, to promote the following objectives:

  • [Awareness of] Europe’s rich linguistic diversity, which must be preserved and enhanced;
  • the need to diversify the range of languages people learn (to include less widely used languages), which results in plurilingualism;
  • the need for people to develop some degree of proficiency in two languages or more to be able to play their full part in democratic citizenship in Europe.

This year’s European Day of Languages saw a variety of events and celebrations, including workshops, school projects, meetups, exhibitions and more. Some of these are still ongoing- visit the Events page of the European Day of Languages website to see what’s going on and vote for your favorite.

In honor of the European Day of Languages, here are some fun facts about language in Europe:

  • Europe is home to 225 indigenous languages. About 3% of the world’s languages originated here.
  • The most widely spoken language in Europe is not English. Not even close. That honor goes to Russian, with 150 million speakers, followed by German with 95 million speakers and Turkish with 80 million. English and French tie for fourth place, with 65 million each.
  • English is the most popular second language in Europe, however.
  • European languages use the following scripts: Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Armenian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Georgian.
  • At least 300 languages are spoken in London.
  • 56% of EU citizens speak at least one language besides their native tongue.
  • Over 150 European languages and/or dialects are classified as endangered by UNESCO.

Did you celebrate the European Day of Languages? How?

The dangers of online machine translation extend beyond quality

The Dangers of Online Machine Translation Extend Beyond Quality

Data privacy and data security have become two increasingly hot topics in recent years. As technology grows rapidly in its scope and capabilities, it seems that everyone from Google to the government is keen to glean all they can from our personal data.

Hackers, too, are eager to get their hands on our data, whether it be personal account and credit card details or log-ins and passwords to company accounting systems. Indeed, company data is the holy grail for many of those who use the internet with nefarious purposes in mind.

This makes the recently revealed privacy breach at translate.com all the more alarming. In this case, hackers had no need to resort to phishing tactics or man-in-the-middle attacks in order to gain access to company data – the information was freely available on the internet for all to see. Read more

You In Other Languages: What People Call Each Other Around the World

To English speakers, “you” seems like it should be one of the easiest words to translate. But languages are quirky. In English, “you” is “you” no matter who you’re talking to. But other languages have more options when it comes to second person pronouns. Knowing which version of “you” to use can be trickier than it might seem at first.

With that in mind, here are 3 ways “you” in English is different from “you” in other languages.

Formality and the many different ways to say you in other languages

In English, if you’re speaking directly to someone, you’d say “you” whether you’ve known them for 5 minutes or your entire life. The President is “you”, your child is “you”, your friends are “you”, and your boss is “you.”

But that’s not the case in every language. In some languages, there are multiple possible pronouns depending on your relationship with the person you’re addressing. The pronoun you choose for “you” can signal politeness and deference. It can indicate familiarity or intimacy. And it can even signal contempt.

Linguists call this “T-V distinction,” after the Latin pronouns “tu” and “vos.” And actually, English used to have a T-V distinction. Starting in the 13th century, ye was the formal, respectful version of “you,” used to address the upper classes. Thou was more informal and used for the lower classes.

Over time, ye became you, and people stopped using thou altogether.

The T-V Distinction in Translation

Sometimes, in languages where the formal form of “you” is no longer in general use, it will still be used for translations from languages that maintain the distinction. Read more

11 Great Books About Translation 

Are you looking for some good books about translation to add to your holiday reading list? We picked 11 of our favourites from several different genres.  Interested in history? Looking for romance? Suspense? It’s all here, so go get yourself a cup of hot tea and get ready to curl up by the fire!

Found in Translation

Found in Translation

How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

Through a series of carefully chosen anecdotes, industry legends Kelly and Zetzsche show “the surprising and complex ways that translation shapes the world.”

This is a fun read for translation-industry insiders and language geeks alike. It’s smart, but also entertaining and accessible. It’s on the reading list of every localisation sales team I know and there are stories in there which anyone in the language industry can relate to.

If you work in this industry, it’s one of the best books about translation to recommend when people ask “So, what is it you actually do again?” If the translation professional in your life doesn’t have this, I recommend you ask Santa to put it in their stocking this year.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

Lost in Translation

An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders

Lost in translationIn this New York Times bestseller, Ella Frances Sanders illustrates more than 50 words without direct English translations.  For example, take the German  Kabelsalat, meaning “a tangle of wires.” Here, it is illustrated by multi-coloured wires, tangled like spaghetti.

Razliubit, a Russian word for the bitter-sweet feeling of falling out of love, is illustrated by the figure of a person tumbling off a giant rose, with rose petals falling all around. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

Available on Amazon here.

Read more

4 Lessons on Translation from Hurricane Irma

Irma marks the second major hurricane to strike the United States in the past 30 days. Like Harvey, Hurricane Irma struck a heavily-populated, multicultural part of the country. And also like Harvey, translation has been essential in getting people out of the storm’s path, and in getting victims to safety.

In a situation like a hurricane, it’s essential that the government be able to communicate with its citizens. Communication errors can be deadly. And there’s no way around the need for translation. For instance, 72.8% of the 2.5 million people living in Miami don’t speak English at home. Most of these people (64%) speak Spanish. About half of those living in Spanish-speaking households also speak English “very well,” which means the other half does not.

Add in all of the other, smaller language groups and the need to reach the visually impaired,  deaf and hard of hearing, and you can imagine just how much language help is needed.

The effort hasn’t always gone as smoothly as it could have. With that in mind, here are 4 lessons on translation in times of crisis we can learn from Hurricane Irma.

On Translated Websites, User Experience Matters

According to The Atlantic, the non-English versions of the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s website are plagued with broken links, as a result of a clash between the iFrame coding used on the site and the automated software used to translate it. Read more

food localisation strategy

A Primer on Food Localisation Strategy

The history of advertising is full of translation fails. Some of them are not completely true however, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” is often touted as a failed slogan translation. Legend has it that the Swedish vacuum manufacturer used it for a campaign in the US when in fact, the target was the UK market only. The agency that created it was from the UK, and the pun was intended.

However, real translation horror stories do exist. Like the one involving a Ford model named Pinto. After launching it in Brazil, Ford realised that Pinto in Portuguese is a slang term for penis.

When talking about food products in particular, getting your translations right will be the first step towards a successful launch into a new market, but it won’t stop there. To attract local consumers, there is a good chance you will have to adapt other elements of your brand, such as the logo, packaging design, product formulation and (if you have a bricks-and-mortar business) even store layout. This holistic approach is called localisation. Read more

5 Famous Movie Quotes in Other Languages

A good catchphrase can be the most memorable part of a movie.  These little sound bites get quoted and thrown around so much, even people who’ve never seen the movie are often able to recognize them. They can even become a permanent part of the language. 

But translating them, whether for dubbing or subtitles,  can be quite tricky for a number of reasons. Catchphrases can use slang or idioms that are difficult to translate, they can depend on cultural references that may not make sense to foreign audiences, and the translations have to work within the limitations imposed by dubbing or subtitling.

So sometimes, that catchy quote that we hear in English doesn’t come out quite the same in foreign-language versions of the movie. Here are 5 examples of famous movie quotes in other languages. See how they’ve changed in translation:

“Hasta la vista, baby!”

This quote comes from the 1991 film Terminator 2, Judgement Day (as if you didn’t know.)  In the movie,  teenage John Connor instructs Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s humorless cyborg character to talk more like a human. In this case, a foul-mouthed early 90s teen:

John Connor: No, no, no, no. You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say “affirmative” or some sh* like that. You say “no problemo”. And if someone comes on to you with an attitude, you say “eat me”. And if you want to shine them on, it’s “hasta la vista, baby”.
The Terminator: Hasta la vista, baby.

The Terminator then uses it when he offs the T-1000.

But that’s not what Spanish-language audiences heard. “Hasta la vista” is a common Spanish-language farewell that roughly translates to “Until I see you.” To keep the same edgy vibe, translators used “Sayonara, baby” for the Spanish translation:

And in Japanese? Apparently, he terminated the T-1000 with a deadpan “Cheerio then, love”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

It seems tame now, but this line from the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind contained controversially strong language for the time. And Rhett Butler’s blunt, almost vulgar goodbye to Scarlett O’Hara didn’t carry the same edge in some of the translated versions of the movie.

Here are a few foreign-language variations:

German: Translated back into English, the German version of this line becomes, “To be honest, I’m completely indifferent.”
Russian: Meanwhile, in Russia, Rhett says, “Straightforwardly, my dear, I would not give you a damn.”
French:  French audiences heard“Franchement, ma chère, c’est le cadet de mes soucis, which translates to “Frankly, my dear, it’s the least of my worries.” Read more

Background to labelling sports foods

Background to labelling of sports foods

Back in 2014, an ad campaign by Lucozade was very eloquently entitled “Lucozade Sport vs Water.” In the video, two groups of athletes, one drinking water and one drinking Lucozade, are doing an endurance running test on a treadmill. Eventually, the “water only” athletes give up one by one, exhausted, while the Lucozade group keeps going strong. The reason is, quite simply, that Lucozade “hydrates and fuels you better than water.”

As it turned out, the Advertising Standard Authority had a lot of issues with that slogan. Although it was based on the authorised claim that “carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions enhance the absorption of water during physical exercise,” a dispute ensued between GlaxoSmithKline (the then owner of the brand) and ASA, around whether or not the wording in the ad departed too much from the authorised claim. The ASA eventually ruled that it did, and the ad was pulled off the air.

The details of the exchange between the two parties are quite technical, but they clearly illustrate one thing: in sports nutrition, claims are a big deal. Wherever there’s food marketing there are claims, and while that holds true for all types of food, it’s even more true for sports foods, considering the size of the market. According to a report from the European Commission, the EU retail market for the three categories of sports supplements, protein products, performance boosting products and sports drinks, grew by 11.2% between 2009 and 2014, reaching a total value of €3.07 billion in 2014. Read more

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