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.

3 Reasons We Really Did Need a New Translation of The Odyssey

Homer’s Odyssey is one of the oldest and most influential works of Western literature. Before this year, it had been translated from Greek to English no less than 60 times. And now, there’s a new version available, translated by Emily Wilson.

So, did we really need yet another translation of The Odyssey? Here are 3 reasons why the latest version is worth your time:

This is the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman.

Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate The Odyssey into EnglishBut does that matter? Yes, because the process of translation is rarely as straightforward as an outsider might think.  Often, there’s not a single correct word or phrase to use. Instead, there’s a series of trade-offs in finding the closest match, something that conveys as many of the original shades of meaning as possible, without losing the rhythm and mood of the original text.

And sometimes, a translator’s own beliefs and biases can affect the final product. Read more

Chinese Translation Services: A Beginner’s Guide

Is your business looking for Chinese translation services? The potential benefits are tremendous:

Chinese translation can also help you reach communities of Chinese speakers closer to home.

But while the potential benefits are real, the potential pitfalls are, too. To avoid mishaps, read our beginner’s guide to Chinese translation services for businesses.

What language do they speak in China, anyway?

If you answered “Mandarin,” then you only get partial credit. Mandarin (often called Standard Chinese or Putonghua), is an official language in China, Taiwan, and Singapore.  But it’s not the only language people speak in China. Far from it. According to Ethnologue, there are 299 living languages spoken in China today.  Around 70% of the Chinese population speaks Mandarin, although the government would like to increase that to 80% by 2020.

The bottom line? It’s important to know your audience.  Depending on the content you’re translating, the medium you’re using, and the audience you’re trying to reach, Mandarin may be sufficient. But in some areas, like Hong Kong, it’s important to show respect for local languages like Cantonese, too.

And referring to standard Chinese as “Mandarin” is, in itself, a bit of an oversimplification. “Mandarin” also refers to a group of dialects used across northern and southwestern China. When spoken, these dialects are not all mutually intelligible. Read more

8 Horror Novel Translations to Curl Up With This Fall

Halloween is over. But there’s still a month of fall left, and I, for one, am not quite ready to start celebrating the winter holidays just yet.  So, join me in keeping the Halloween spirit alive a little longer by curling up with one of these 8 horror novel translations.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerburg

First published in Swedish in 2004, Let the Right One In is a classic vampire novel that’s been made into a movie. If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no time like the present!

The Crimson Labyrinth  by Yusuke Kishi

Translated from Japanese by Camellia Nieh

Did you like The Running Man? Then you’ll like this novel from Yusuke Kishi, in which unwitting contestants are forced to compete to survive the deadly Mars Labyrinth.

From The Hunger Games to Doctor Who, this premise has become quite common in our reality-TV obsessed era.  But this is an especially well-done example, with 4.5 stars on Amazon and 3.7 stars on Goodreads.

And Unbound Worlds recommended it as one of the best novels for readers who are just beginning to dip their toes into Japanese horror.

Read more

Dracula in Translation

Dracula in Translation

It’s almost Halloween! That means it’s an excellent time to reread your old horror favorites like Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most cultures have some sort of indigenous vampire mythology. But Stoker’s novel helped spread the modern, Western image of the vampire around the world.  What dark, supernatural powers made it so influential?

The power of translation, of course! Here are 6 facts about Dracula around the world that you might not have heard before.

Dracula is available in at least 29 languages.

Dracula has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1897. During that time, it has been translated into at least 29 languages. That’s not quite Translation Hall of Fame material but it’s not too shabby, either.

Dracula’s origins are lost in translation.

Many people think Stoker based Dracula on the historical Wallachian ruler Vlad III, or Vlad the Impaler. But this is likely a myth. There are certainly some similarities between the two figures. For example, some English speaking texts call Vlad Tepes “Voivode Dracula.” And the Count talks about fighting Turks as a mortal. But there’s not much evidence that Stoker modeled his fictional vampire on Vlad the Impaler. Read more

lullabies from around the world

12 Nightmarish Lullabies From Around the World

Mothers everywhere sing babies to soothe them to sleep. But the songs we sing are sometimes less than comforting. Consider, for example, the first verse of Rockabye Baby, which ends with a baby falling out of a tree.

Like the original versions of most fairy tales, there’s a dark undercurrent in a quite a few of the traditional songs we sing to our children. And the urge to soothe babies with creepy songs is apparently found almost everywhere. Need proof? Here are 12 sweet-sounding but nightmarish lullabies from around the world.

Nightmarish Lullabies from Around the World: Iceland

When it comes to creepy lullabies, Iceland may take the prize. Here are 2 examples:

Bíum, Bíum, Bambalóu


The scene described here would make an excellent opening for a horror movie. Here’s an English translation:

Bíum bíum bambalo/Bambaló og dillidillidó/My little friend I lull to rest/ But outside, a face looms at the window.

Read more

8 Stories About Language and Translation for September

Are you having trouble getting over the hump this week? Could you use some midweek motivation? Why not take a few minutes to catch up on all the news you’ve missed over the past month from the world of language and translation? We’ve handpicked 8 interesting stories, so grab a cup of your favorite pumpkin spice-flavored beverage, sit back, relax and enjoy:

Should you learn a local dialect instead of a global language?

That’s the idea behind this article from Quartz. The article posits that since Google Translate already has global languages covered (yeah, right!), it makes more sense to learn a local language like Welsh or Irish instead.

We’re all for more people learning smaller local languages, obviously. But machine translation still has a long way to go, and it will be a long time, if ever, before being able to speak another global language becomes an “obsolete” skill.

That said, there’s evidence that once you’re fluent in two languages, it’s easier to pick up a third. So, maybe you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Looking for some global language learning suggestions?  See The Top Languages To Learn in 2017 Read more

The Languages of Moana 

If you’ve got kids of a certain age, you’ve probably seen Disney’s Moana more than once.  In fact, you can probably sing the soundtrack from memory, or at least the parts of it that are in English.

But what about the parts that aren’t? Have you ever wondered about the other languages used in the film? Have you ever been curious about the meaning of the song that you’ve had stuck in your head since the last time you saw the movie?  Here’s some background on the languages of Moana, along with some helpful translations.

The Languages in Moana

The English-language version of the film is primarily in English (obviously.) However,  the character names are Polynesian:

  • Moana means “ocean” in Maori, Hawaiian, and most other Polynesian languages.
  • Hei Hei means “chicken.”
  • Moana’s father Tui is named after a New Zealand bird.
  • Her grandmother’s name,  Tala, means “story” in Samoan.
  • Moana’s pet pig is named Pua, which means “flower.”

The soundtrack showcases Polynesian languages more fully.  For example, “We Know the Way” includes lyrics in both Samoan and Tokelauan. Read more

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?

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