Interesting & varied language stories from all around the world, curated by our dedicated writer. From the topical to the absurd, the grand and the obscure, it’s all here for you to enjoy.

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

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

Paul is Dead, the End is Nigh, and Mr. Squidward is Supreme Leader: 10 Language Stories to Read This Week

Looking for some new reading material? Wondering what’s been going on in the language and translation world? We’ve collected 10 language-related stories from the past month. They’re guaranteed to make you laugh, make you cry and give you plenty of office conversation material.

So, sit down, fill up your coffee cup, and let’s dig in.

How Translation Wages Affect the Popularity of Foreign Classics in China

Earlier this month, we posted a story about how literary translators are the unsung heroes of the literary world -and how they are frequently underpaid. This story from The Sixth Tone shows why low wages are a problem – it affects quality in a big way:

“[B]oth translators and editors are forced to work for paltry wages, and under such unfair working conditions, it is difficult to improve the quality of translations. This in turn gives translations of foreign literary works a bad name among Chinese readers, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

What Language Should Algeria Speak?

Next, let’s take a look at how Algeria is currently struggling to balance the country’s four major languages: French, Standard Arabic, Berber, and Darija. It’s quite a challenge to juggle the different languages used at home, on the streets, in the schools, and in courts.

New Imaging Techniques Reveal Secrets Hidden In Ancient Parchments 

New imaging techniques have allowed scholars to read the “undertext” of ancient manuscripts. Hundreds of years ago, parchment was valuable.  In an old-school example of recycling, scholars would erase words from old manuscripts so they could be used again.  Some of these manuscripts landed in St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, where scientists have been able to uncover the lost writing, including long-forgotten languages like Caucasian Albanian and Christian Palestinian Aramaic. Read more

11 Foreign Phrases to Stop Using Right Now

Some English speakers love peppering their speech with foreign phrases. We think it sounds sophisticated. But here are 11 foreign words and phrases that don’t go over quite as well in their home languages. Let’s all agree to stop using them now.

Phrases to Avoid in French

Bon Appetit! 

According to the Daily Mail, language learning app Babbel has identified this innocuous-sounding phrase as one of the most common gaffes made by Brits abroad: “It literally invites diners to ‘a good digestion’, suggesting that they are so hungry that they are willing to jump at any food offered.”

There is, however, some controversy about this. A 2007 New York Times article, for example, quotes a French etiquette teacher who says,  “In France, ‘Bon appétit’ is not proper.” But an article in the Guardian a year later found that most Parisian locals had no problem with “Bon Appetit.” Ironically, the few people who did think it rude were English speakers.

So, perhaps the key here is to know your audience.

Garçon for Waiter 

Did you know garçon actually means boy? You might think you sound suave when you address your French waiter this way. But really, you sound like a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. Use “monsieur” instead.

Sacrebleu!

If you’re visiting France, don’t expect the French to express dismay by exclaiming “Sacrebleu!” Unless, of course, you have a Tardis and you’ve time-traveled back to the 19th century.  And if you use it, expect to get some odd looks at best.

Entrée

Watch out for this one if you’re American.  While we tend to use it as a fancy word for “main dish” or “main course”, in France it means an appetizer.

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Yeah, yeah, it’s the French-language chorus of a famous sexy pop song. But it’s not likely to win you any friends in France, and it almost certainly won’t win you any bedmates.  It might win you a slap across the face, though . . .   Read more

The Multilingual Response to Tropical Storm Harvey

A few weeks ago, Jonny wrote a post about translation’s role in times of crisis. And now, unfortunately, there’s another example to add to the list: Tropical Storm Harvey.

This storm has dumped unprecedented amounts of water on the US city of Houston, Texas. It’s turned freeways into rivers and low-lying residential areas into lakes. So far,  at least 38 people have died. And at least 30,000 have had to abandon their homes for shelters due to rising flood waters.

Relief and rebuilding efforts are going to take years . . .  and since Houston is such a diverse city, they’ll have to be multilingual. Here’s how translation has been and will be needed to help Houston recover from the impacts of this devastating storm. Read more

Spanish Around the World: The Different Types of Spanish and Where They’re Spoken  

With 405 million native speakers,  Spanish is the second-most commonly spoken language in the world.  But while all of those 405 million people might speak the same language, they don’t all speak it the same way.

So, let’s take a look at the different types of Spanish, where they’re spoken, and what that means for organizations doing business in Spanish-speaking countries.

How different are the different types of Spanish?different types of Spanish

There’s not as much variation between the various Spanish dialects as there is between dialects in other languages. Most Spanish speakers, no matter where they’re from,  can understand each other simply by speaking more slowly, listening carefully and using context clues for unfamiliar vocabulary.

That said, here are some key facts and statistics about where Spanish spoken and how it differs from place to place:

Spanish in Spain

Number of Speakers: 46.6 million
Where it’s spoken:  Spain

Spain is the motherland of the Spanish language, of course. But these days, Spanish speakers from Spain are greatly outnumbered by Spanish speakers from other places.

Latin American Spanish

Number of Speakers:  More than 418  million 
Where it’s spoken: The United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America 

90% of Spanish speakers are Latin American, though indigenous languages are also spoken throughout Mexico, Central, and South America. In the Latin American market, the largest Spanish-speaking countries are:

  • Mexico.
  • Colombia.
  • Argentina.
  • The United States.

Read more

8 Important Facts About Pidgin Languages and Creoles 

The BBC  just announced that it will now be broadcasting in Pidgin for the West and Central African markets. But wait, what’s Pidgin? Is that even a language?

In fact, pidgin languages and creole languages can be found all over the world. Most them have historically been treated as the bastard children of European languages – denied recognition and looked down upon. But just as in Game of Thrones, it would be foolish to write off pidgins and creoles because of their parentage.

With that in mind, here are 8 things you need to understand about pidgins and creoles.

Isn’t Pidgin English just English with a heavy accent?

Nope. Pidgin languages are makeshift languages that arise whenever multi lingual groups have to communicate on a regular basis without a common language. This can happen because of trade, or as a result of slavery or colonization.

What’s the difference between pidgin languages and creoles?

Pidgin languages are generally simplified and flexible, with a limited vocabulary. Nobody speaks a pidgin language as a first language. But, over time, that can change. If a pidgin language becomes widely used, its vocabulary may grow and additional grammar rules may develop. Children may begin to grow up speaking it from birth. At that point, it’s considered a creole.

And just to make things confusing, since creole languages evolve from pidgins, many languages with “pidgin” in the name have actually evolved into creoles, like Tok Pisin, one of the official languages of New Guinea. Read more

Solar Eclipse Myths From Around the World

Today, the United States will experience a total solar eclipse. It’s a once-in-lifetime astronomical event, and people are going crazy with excitement. But it wasn’t always this way. Historically, eclipses have fueled myths and superstitions in many different cultures, and some of them are quite terrifying. So, in honor of the 2017 eclipse, here are 8 solar eclipse myths and superstitions from around the world.

Solar eclipse myths from China

As Griffith Observatory director E.C. Krupp told National Geographic,  “the earliest word for eclipse in Chinese, shih, means “to eat.” The ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses were caused by a giant dragon eating the sun, and they sometimes tried to scare the dragon away by beating pots and pans.

Eclipses were a bad omen for emperors, but they were an even worse omen for the emperor’s astrologers. In 2134 BC, two astrologers lost their heads as punishment for failing to predict a solar eclipse.

Solar eclipse myths from Scandinavia

In Viking mythology, eclipses are caused by a wolf named Sköll, which is Old Norse for “treachery.” Sköll chases the sun through the sky. When Ragnarök comes, he will catch the sun and consume her completely. So, each solar eclipse is like a preview of the apocalypse. Comforting, no?  Read more

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