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.

60+ Metaphors for Death From Around the World 

Death comes for us all, but that doesn’t mean we like to talk about it. Languages and cultures around the world are full of metaphors for death, ways to discuss it without having to say the actual words for “death” or “die.” Some of these metaphors are pleasant, euphemisms meant to soften the blow for grieving friends and family. Others are more direct, the verbal equivalent of whistling past the graveyard.

Let’s take a look at some metaphors for death from around the world:

English Metaphors for Death

Looking for an alternative to “dead?” English has plenty!

For example, you could say deceased, demised, passed on, ceased to be, late. . . Hold on, I think we should just let Monty Python take it from here:

And now for something completely different: a collection of metaphors for “death” from 16 other languages. Some are poetic, some are blunt, and some are kind of funny. Which one is your favorite?

Polish Metaphors for Death2540741766_721a5e2041

Kopnąć w kalendarz—to kick the calendar
Przejechać się na tamten świat- take a ride to the other world
Wykorkować– cork off
Pożegnać się z życiem – say goodbye to one’s life
Spocząć w grobie – rest in the grave
Skończyć swoje dni – finish one’s days
Zgasnąć jak świeca – go out like a candle
Ostatnie pożegnanie – last farewell Read more

7 Cheesy Multilingual Pop Songs You’ll Secretly Sing Along With

These days, the most popular songs around the world have lyrics in English. But there are certainly exceptions. And sometimes English-speaking artists will throw in bits and pieces of other languages for effect.

As with pop music in general, some of these songs stand the test of time better than others. For example, here are 7 cheesy multilingual pop songs that you’ll sing along with when nobody is looking.  Don’t worry, we promise not to tell!

Los Del Rios: “Macarena”

Languages: English and Spanish

Remember this one? Of course you do! And if you press play, it will probably be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

“Macarena” (and the associated dance) was all the rage in the 90s.  The song was originally released by Los Del Rio in 1994.  Spreading first in Spanish-speaking communities around the world, it soon “went viral”(before that was a thing) and conquered everywhere else.

Top Chart Position: There are six versions of “Macarena,” but the partially English-language Bayside Boys remix is the one that hit #1 in the US and #2 in the UK.

Where are they now? Los del Rio is still around. They last released an album in 2012.  None of their other albums or singles were received with the same level of insanity enthusiasm, but sometimes a one hit wonder is all you really need. Read more

5 Examples of Taboo Language From Around the World

What is taboo language? Sometimes, politeness is as much about what you don’t say as it is about what you do say.  Swearing is part of that –  even today, when those “7 dirty words” have become a lot less dirty, there are still plenty of situations where you’d want to avoid using them. But swearing isn’t the whole story. “Language taboos,” words people aren’t allowed to say, are common to many cultures, both ancient and contemporary. Here are 5 examples of taboo language from around the world. Some of them may surprise you!

Taboo Language: When Your Mother-In-Law Is “She Who Cannot Be Named”

“Mother-in-Law” jokes were once a staple in Western comedy. You might not get along with your in-laws, but what if you literally had to treat them like Voldemort? An entire category of joke would have never existed!

Some cultures follow a practice called “avoidance speech,” where it is forbidden to say your mother-in-law or father-in-law’s name.  The details of this taboo vary by specific culture. The taboos most commonly affect daughters-in-law, and they don’t always stop with just names. For example, consider the Kambaata language of Ethiopia.  As Bryant Rousseau explains in the New York Times,

Some married women who speak the Kambaata language of Ethiopia follow ballishsha, a rule that forbids them from using words that begin with the same syllable as the name of their father-in-law or mother-in-law.

This rule can complicate a conversation, but there are workarounds. Certain basic words in the vocabulary come in synonymous pairs. “One is the normal term, used by everybody; one is the term used by women who are not allowed to say that word,” said Yvonne Treis, a linguist at a French research institute, Languages and Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Some languages also have rules about which words you can use in the presence of your in-laws. And in some Australian aboriginal cultures, men aren’t even allowed to speak to their mothers-in-law. Which might sound like a relief, until you realize how much it would complicate family gatherings. Read more

9 Language and Translation Stories You May Have Missed 

We’re already one month into 2017, and it’s already shaping up to be a busy year in the world of language and translation. Feel like you’re falling behind? Read these 9 language and translation stories you may have missed.

The Rosetta Wearable Disk: Language Preservation is in Fashion

Sad but true: We lose another language every 14 days. But now, you can wear more than 1,000 languages around your neck, thanks to the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Wearable Disk.  It’s a silver-and-gold necklace on a chain that uses nanotechnology to store over 1,000 minuscule nickel “pages” printed with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 327 languages and vocabulary for 719 more.

This would be an amazing gift for the language lover in your life . . . but it will cost you. How much? A “donation” of $1000 or more.  

Finally, I feel obligated to note that the Smithsonian story I’m linking to isn’t quite correct. There are currently 6,000-7,000 living languages, of which 3,748 have a writing system. So no, the disk doesn’t include “All of the world’s languages.” Just a lot of them.  Read more

The Top 10 Most Endangered Languages in Europe

Every 14 days, another language falls silent forever. Linguists warn that in the next century, anywhere from 50-90% of all the languages in the world will be lost. While many of these languages are in developing countries, some are in Europe and even in the UK.

Before they disappear forever, let’s take a look at the 10 most endangered languages in Europe.

Endangered Languages in Europe: Cappadocian Greekcappadocian_greek_homeland

Country: Greece

Number of native speakers: 2,800

Cappadocian Greek is spoken by the descendants of the Cappadocian Greeks who were forced to move from Turkey to Greece in the 1920s.

Cappadocian Greek evolved during the time of the Byzantine Empire. Like the rest of the empire, the people of Cappadocia, Turkey spoke Medieval Greek. However, in 1071, Byzantine forces lost the Battle of Mazikert, and the area around Cappadocia was taken over by Turkish speakers.

The Greek speakers kept their language, but it evolved separately from the rest of the Greek-speaking world and was heavily influenced by Turkish.

After the Cappadocian Greeks were moved back to Greece, most of them learned to speak standard Greek.

Fun fact: Scholars thought that the Cappadocian variant had died out in the 1960s. But in 2005,  researchers from Ghent University and the University of Patras found around 2,800 Greeks of Cappadocian descent who still spoke the language. Read more

President Trump, In Translation

T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month. But not for professional translators and interpreters who specialize in news and politics. In 2016, the cruelest month was probably November, when they (along with the rest of the world) came to the horrifying realization that they would be stuck with Donald Trump for at least the next four years.

We’ve written about some of the reasons Donald Trump is hard to translate: the word salad, the vulgarity, the words that don’t quite make sense. But now that he’s actually, officially the president of the United States,  the stakes are higher. And if you thought that becoming President meant Trump would put down Twitter and be more mindful of his speech, you would be incorrect.

So, here’s a quick recap of how translators and interpreters are coping with Trump’s first week as president:

Interpreters to Trump: Finish Your Sentences, Man!donald_trump_swearing_in_ceremony

Unless he’s reciting a pre-written speech, Trump’s speaking style could charitably be described as “stream of consciousness.” It’s like he starts talking about a topic and then takes a detour all the way from the Shire to Mt. Doom, often leaving the original thought unfinished.

As Christiane Abel, a French professor and interpreter for the US State Department, told the LA Times:

“There are several things that make an interpreter’s life easy. When people finish their sentences …  the syntax is well-structured … when the speaker starts speaking and you kind of understand where the person is going, you can kind of decode the underlying thought.”

That’s not Trump. And while the lamentations of French translators have attracted the most media attention, French is far from the only language in which it is difficult to translate new President. For example,  as  Japanese translator Agness Kaku explained to the Washington Post:

English is a subject-prominent language — understanding a sentence in English involves pinning down who or what the subject is. Japanese, on the other hand, requires tracking the topic of a conversation.

In Trump’s remarks, Kaku said, the subject is very easy to keep track of — “it’s about him, it’s about the enemy.” But the actual topic or point of his sentences is often difficult to grasp, complicating Japanese translations. “It just drifts,” she said. “You end up having to guess as a translator, which isn’t very good. You shouldn’t have to guess.”

Read more

Graphic Design Around the World

How Graphic Design Differs Around the World 

Why would you need a multilingual design studio, anyway? As long as the words on your documents are translated correctly, shouldn’t that be good enough?

Well, no. Not always, especially for ads, marketing materials, and other visually intensive content. Earlier this week, we looked at some reasons why multilingual typesetting is harder than it seems. But getting the words to look right on the page is only part of the puzzle. You might think that good design is universal, but what makes a “good” graphic design in the UK won’t necessarily resonate with your audience in Japan.

With that in mind, let’s a took at some of the ways graphic design differs around the world:

Graphic Design in Japan and Asia

In the West, we tend to think of the Japanese as the original minimalists. However, graphic design in modern-day Japan is often anything but minimalist. Japanese consumers tend to favor designs with bright colors and bold brushstrokes.  Circles and flowers are common motifs, and cute mascots are a common way for businesses to make themselves more relatable to their customers.

Japanese design is also frequently “information dense.” This tendency is especially notable when it comes to websites. Japanese websites often seem cluttered and “dated” to Western eyes, but as Rich Mirocco explains on the Canva Design school blog,

“(In Japan), details are a welcome aspect of communication and therefore web design too, as a website conveys information and sells the company and its products in place of a live salesperson.”

Many of these traits are also considered desirable in China and South Korea. In China,  Website Magazine  notes that

Chinese sites tend to be divided into many independent spaces, while on western style sites the layout is arranged around a focal point on a page. This is dictated by cultural norms around displaying and consuming information, with China more used to browsing rather than focusing.

Read more

5 Reasons Multilingual Typesetting Is Harder Than You Think

You’ve no doubt heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But how does that apply to translation? To put it simply, words aren’t the only thing that can get lost in translation. Without special precautions, the visual impact of your content can easily get lost in the shuffle.

For example, international typesetting is trickier than it might initially seem to the uninitiated. However, ignoring its complexities can make your translations look unprofessional or even unreadable.  Here are 5 reasons multilingual typesetting is harder than you think:

Multilingual Typesetting Pitfall #1: Formatting

Text formatting conventions can vary between languages, even languages that are closely related. Here are some of the most common pitfalls:

  • Hyphenation and line breaks: Different languages have different rules about if, when and where you can use hyphens. For example, there are no hyphens in Arabic.  English allows them in a variety of circumstances, although grammar experts and organisations disagree on the particulars. German, on the other hand, allows hyphens, but only in certain locations. And then there are languages like Thai, which don’t have spaces in between words but do have rules about where the next line can begin.
  • Text Direction: In English, of course, we read from left to right. But that’s not true for all languages. In Arabic, Hebrew and Persian, text is written (and read) from right to left. This might mean you need to reverse the entire layout of your document. And what if there is some Latin text embedded in the document and left untranslated? That can get really interesting!
  • Numbers: Different countries write numbers in different ways, too. For example, some countries use a comma where we would use a decimal point, and vice versa.
  • Alignment: Standards for how to align text also vary from language to language. For example, in Chinese, it’s important that text is aligned precisely and justified on both sides, if possible. Meanwhile, Arabic is almost never aligned to the left.

Read more

Google Penalizes Bad Machine Translation

& 10 tips for good international SEO

Planning to translate your business website into another language? Free, automatic translation tools like Google Translate might seem tempting, but here’s one more reason to avoid relying on them: Google doesn’t like it. And if Google doesn’t like it, you’d better not do it, at least not if you value your website traffic.

It seems odd that the search engine gods would issue penalties for using Google’s own product, but apparently search engine spammers have been publishing lots of awkward, error-laden machine translated content.  To keep their results as accurate as possible, Google classifies automatically translated content as “automatically generated content,” which violates their webmaster guidelines.

That means that poorly translated content could seriously impact your rankings.  Also,  as Ariel Hochstadt pointed out in Search Engine Land, if you’ve monetized your site using AdSense, your account could be disabled for including “websites with gibberish content that makes no sense or seems auto-generated.”

Ironically, Google itself has started using automatically generated content on its own properties, like the Google Play store. However, as Search Engine Land points out, it appears that Google is using some sort of new and improved Google Translate that’s not available to the general public.

Why not release the latest and greatest Translate tool? Hochstadt speculates:

My best bet is that Google is afraid of mass spamming that could be hard to identify. Nevertheless, if they think it is good enough for them to publish it on their Android and Chrome stores, why wouldn’t they allow others to do the same in Google Translate? Knowing Google, you probably are aware that their rules sometimes oblige us, but don’t apply to those located in Mountain View.

Fair or not, you’re better off using a professional translator, or at the very least having the final product reviewed by someone who is fluent in your target language and able to correct any mistakes. To help you out and keep you the right side of the Google police, we have put together a collection of 10 International SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) tips that you can employ to help boost the performance of your multilingual site. Read more

closest to English

Which Languages Are Closest to English?

Have you ever wondered which languages are most closely related to English? Well, wonder no more! Here are the 5 languages that linguists say are the most closely related to English. Some of them might surprise you…

The Closest Language to English: Scotsscotslanguagemap

The closest language to English is Scots . . . assuming you consider Scots a language, that is. According to a 2010 study by the Scottish government, a majority (64%) of Scottish people don’t.

And yet, Scots began to diverge from English as far as back as the Middle English period.  The UK government classifies it as a regional language and it is protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Fast Facts About the Scots Language

  • Scots is spoken by about 1.5 million people
  • Technically, the Scots alphabet has one more letter than the English alphabet. The last letter, called yough, looks like a backward “3.” The letter “z” usually replaces it.
  •  Scots has been primarily an oral language for so long that it does not have a standard spelling system.

Scots is not only the closest relative of the English language, it’s also been heavily influenced by its “big brother.” So, how easy is it for an English speaker to read Scots? Try it for yourself!

Aw human sowels is born free and equal in dignity and richts. They are tochered wi mense and conscience and shuld guide theirsels ane til ither in a speirit o britherheid.

Got that? It’s Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here’s the English translation:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

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