Chinese Censor Obama

This week saw the inauguration of Barack Obama. We thought that the event was admired by people the whole world over… but not true, he did manage to offend someone – the Chinese government.

References to both ‘communism’ and ‘dissent’ were deleted from Chinese translations of the newly appointed president’s speech. The Chinese government are (sadly) well known for omitting media material they feel would cause difficulties or upset in their country but this is taking it one step too far.

During a televised English report of the speech translated into Chinese the state run Chinese Central Television (CCTV), which is the main television broadcaster in mainland China, cut back suddenly to the studio as Obama mentioned ‘communism’. The shows presenter had to think on her feet as she was not expecting the sudden return to air. She quickly asked her Washington correspondent a random question on the US economy.

Chinese television is not usually live so that they have time to edit what is shown. For example during the Beijing Olympics there was a constant 10 second delay as the government were concerned about free-Tibet activists upsetting proceedings.

We think that it is an outrage that a government can cover up and change what was arguably the most important moment in world history.

The people of China (and in fact all people) should have the right to hear other world leaders’ opinions whether their government agree with them or not.

Star Trek: The next generation of gadgets

According to National Geographic, every 14 days another language passes into oblivion. New languages are created at a much slower rate. Usually, new languages evolve naturally from older languages over time. On the other hand, sometimes new languages are simply created from fiction. These languages are called constructed languages. One of the most commonly spoken constructed languages is Klingon, the language spoken by Klingons in Star Trek.

Star Trek is known for having the most rabid set of fans ever, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Klingon has become a language with its own dictionary, an organisation called the Klingon Language Institute that was founded to promote it, translated editions of Gilgamesh and plays by Shakespeare, and now, a keyboard that’s lettered exclusively in Klingon.

DVICE has a review of the keyboard that begins with the question “Are you one of the biggest nerds in the world?” If you are a fluent Klingon speaker who has always wanted to be able to express your thoughts more fluently in Klingon, this keyboard is for you.

DVICE gave it a low rating because of its limited utility for the rest of us puny earthlings, but what’s really interesting about their review is the comments section, which quickly turns into a lively debate over whether or not Klingon is a “real” language.

So, is Klingon a “real” language? Yes and no. It’s a constructed language, true, but according to Wikipedia there are at least 12 people who can speak it fluently. This means that in the sense that it can be used by two people to communicate, it is a real language. However, it’s missing one of the key features of a natural language, the ability to evolve over time.

Klingon vocabulary is limited to official Klingon words supplied by its creator, Marc Okrand. He adds new words to the language every so often, but the language doesn’t evolve without his approval.

It will be interesting to see how long Klingon survives under these circumstances…will anyone still speak Klingon generations from now? What happens to the language after its creator passes on?


Talking Translator

Have you ever been stuck in a foreign country desperately wanting to ask a local a question but limited by your language skills? Well the iPhone and iPod touch from Apple in conjunction with Coolgorilla have the solution.

Coolgorilla develop software applications for iPods and Mobile phones. They have just launched their first application for the iPhone and iPod touch called the ‘Talking Phrasebook’.

The application provides both text and audio translations in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian. A Greek version is expected to be released soon and if successful more languages will follow.

The software is sponsored by lastminute.com so it is available free of charge and can be downloaded from the Coolgorilla or Apple Apps websites.

The application contains over 300 hundred words and phrases in each language to help you get by when travelling abroad. It includes sections on Essentials, Travel, Accommodation, Food & Drink, Socialising, Romance, Shopping and Emergencies.

Simply select your required phrase from the English menu system and your iPhone or iPod touch will then display a written translation on screen and also provides a spoken translation using recordings of a native voice artists.

All the translations are stored within your iPhone or iPod Touch and so the application does not require that you access the internet whilst abroad.

While this is not a replacement for telephone interpreting this application is an exciting development in translation software and an ideal solution for holiday makers who need basic phrases to help them on their travels.

Text Messaging: A New Tool in the Struggle for Language Diversity?

Text messaging is quickly becoming one of the most common methods of communication worldwide. In fact, last year in the US, text messages surpassed voice calls in popularity.

However, the Wall Street Journal notes that texting can pose problems for some non-English speakers. Most of the time, when people send text messages, they use software called predictive text to make typing the messages easier.

Predictive text “predicts” what you are trying to type, so you don’t have to press as many buttons. Without predictive text, you have to press numbers multiple times to get to the right letter. This is frustrating enough in English, but it’s even more time-consuming if you’re trying to use a language with a longer alphabet, like Hindi.

As language advocates see it, the problem with text messaging is that influences people to communicate via text message using languages that predictive text software is written for. This is fine for native English speakers, but could be detrimental in other cultures that are struggling to preserve their languages and pass them on to the next generation.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, so far only 80 of the world’s 6,912 languages are supported by predictive text software. Linguistic experts hope that expanding the number of languages available will make it easier for people to communicate in their native languages.

For example, predictive text software is now available for Gaelic. According to Breandan Mac Craith, marketing director for Dublin-based Foras na Gaeilge, an organization that promotes the use of Irish, “They’re fabulous tools for us. It facilitates the Irish language as a communications tool for every day — not just in the classroom.”

However, as mobile phones become increasingly vital parts of doing business around the world, the availability of predictive text is vital for more that just language preservation. According to the Wall Street Journal, “text capability on mobile phones can be vital to economic development and helping people who don’t speak or read English buy and sell goods.”

New spelling in Brazil

Could you imagine what would happen if you had to adopt a new set of spelling and grammar rules? Well that’s exactly what has just happened in Brazil.

I’m sure you know that Portuguese is different in Brazil and Portugal. It all stems from 1911 when Portugal (and its territories) commissioned a standardisation of the writing system (orthography) for Portuguese; this was known as the orthographic reform of Gonçalves Viana.

Due to various disagreements and logistic issues Brazil set up an orthography of its own in 1934, with the same general principles as the Portuguese orthography, but not entirely identical to it, which lead to differences between the two languages.

Over the remaining 20th Century various moves were made to reform the languages and bring them closer together, many positive steps were taken. The main change was the signing of the Orthographic Agreement in 1990 by seven Portuguese speaking nations.

Orthographic Agreement of 1990

The agreement sets out new spelling rules for the language in an attempt to standardise its use across its 250 million users. This means that as from this week some Brazilian Portuguese spelling and grammar rules will be different.

The changes include,

  • Ruling out of letters c and p from the European/African spelling when silent
  • The removal of the diaeresis mark from Brazilian spelling
  • The elimination of the acute accent from the diphthongs éi and ói in paroxytone words
  • Spellings such as anónimo and anônimo, facto and fato, both will be considered legitimate, according to the dialect of the author or person being transcribed.
  • Common guidelines for the use of hyphens and capitalization.

What will it mean to you?

International websites such as BBC Brazil will be adopting the new way of spelling as soon as possible. If you sell/operate in this market make sure that you have your copy reviewed by a translator.

My friend can speak that language…

… So why do I need a translator?

During one of the medical industries biggest exhibitions, Medica 2008, we spoke to hundreds of people regarding their translation requirements.

Surprisingly many of the companies confirmed that their translation is done by employees who happen to speak the foreign language required.

It seems like a good and inexpensive option, but is it really?

Inexperienced translators, even if they have good knowledge of the product, might not have the sufficient knowledge of linguistic aspects of translation needed to convey the message accurately.

In addition, experienced translators are efficient and able to provide accurate translations under time pressures that are often exerted by print/launch deadlines. Inexperienced employees undertaking translation projects will spend much more time on it compared to an experienced language specialist.

The biggest cost comes from these employees not attending to their daily responsibilities; this “opportunity cost” is often higher than the cost of outsourcing translation to a specialist agency such as K International plc.

K International uses translation memory software (TMS) which helps its translators by storing all previously translated material, whereas, translation done by employees is never stored in a way that allows efficient re-use of previous translations.

By outsourcing to K International you can save considerable amount of money because of the enormous savings (up to 70% discounts) on previously translated and repetitious text. Therefore, using an established TMS will benefit your company in 3 ways.

  1. A reduction in cost – as the software will ‘remember’ what has been previously translated.
  2. Improve consistency across releases and updates.
  3. A reduction in time to market – i.e. reducing the amount of work that is required.

Summing up the opportunity costs, longer delivery times, late launches and losing benefits of TMS, can you really afford to translate your documents in-house?

Creating a More Linguistically Diverse Internet

The Internet has long been dominated by English-language content, but that may change over the next few years. The New York Times reports that many companies are responding to increased demand for content in languages other than English by translating existing online content and providing new tools that help users create content in their native languages.

English may be the most popular second language in the world, but many people who speak it as a second language still prefer to communicate in their native tongue whenever possible, including online. For example, a survey of 50 million Indian Internet users found that even though most could speak English, ¾ preferred to read in the language they grew up speaking.

However, people who want to communicate in languages other than English can face some rather frustrating obstacles. For instance, The New York Times describes how Indian engineer Ram Prakash Hanumanthappa wanted to use his native language, Kannada, to email friends and family. However, Kannada is written using a special script, and typing it on a regular keyboard involves using complex keyboard maps to create the special characters. Read more

Malaysians Debate Language

Malaysian politicians, schools, activists and parents have been engaged in a furious debate over what language to use for instructing the nation’s schoolchildren in math and science.

Now, MSNBC reports that negotiations between the different camps have reached a standstill. The issue is emotional and difficult to negotiate: Should Malaysian students receive math and science instruction in Malay, Malaysia’s national language, and the native language of most of its inhabitants? Or, should Malaysian students receive math and science instruction in English to better enable them to compete with students from other countries in an international job market?

Malaysia was once a British colony, and Malaysian schools once taught exclusively in English. However, after Malaysia gained its independence from Great Britain, Malaysian leaders had schools begin teaching in Malay again, to promote native culture and the use of the Malay language.

Unfortunately, this backfired on Malaysian students seeking work in an international marketplace, where English fluency is considered a desirable trait. Schools began teaching math and science in English in 2003.
Malay language activists have been trying for decades to help the Malay language evolve to meet the needs of modern Malaysians, as well as to develop a Malay vocabulary for math and science terms.

They feel that teaching math and science in English threatens their efforts. Another component of the mix is the desire of Malay’s main ethnic minorities to have these subjects taught in their native languages, Tamil and Chinese.

Since the different players in the language debate are unable to come to a resolution, a decision on the policy will have to be made by the Malaysian Cabinet. Nobody is sure what the Cabinet will decide, but one this is clear: Someone is going to walk away unhappy when the decision is announced next year.

Online Social Site Offers Machine Translation

One of the earliest Utopian promises of the Internet was that it would connect the world and give different cultures a greater understanding of each other. Imagine if you could sit at a coffee shop and talk to people from across the world, and hear what they have to say. In theory, at least, everyone would emerge from the coffee shop with a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for each other’s views.

Of course, even though the Internet allows people to communicate across continents, there’s still one problem: the language barrier. Now, an online social networking site called Meedan aims to break down the language barrier between Arabic, Hebrew and English speakers. The site uses translating software to translate members’ comments and messages to one another. Unfortunately, translation software is never perfect, and Meedan’s is no exception, as the New York Times reports.

Programmers face a number of obstacles in writing translation software aimed at translating Arabic to English (and vice versa). For one thing, currently all translation programs work by having computers review copies of human-translated documents. By giving the computer a copy of the same text in each language, it can compare the two texts and “learn” which words correspond to each other.. The more translated text the computer sees, the more accurately it can translate. However, there is less common material available between English and Arabic than there is between English and many other languages.

Also, syntax is more fluid in Arabic than in English. Arabic speakers use content and meaning (basically, common sense) to determine the meaning of a particular sentence. Computers, unfortunately, lack common sense.

According to the New York Times’ article, Meedan’s software is “surprisingly good ,“ even for some abstract phrases and figurative language. However, human translators have no need to worry about being replaced by computers anytime soon-Meedan also produced this little gem:

“The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favour or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian and on relational Israel Holland.”

As the New York Times’ astutely points out, given how fraught with tension the semantics of the conflicts in the Middle East are, it remains to be seen how well Meedan will be able to build to a bridge between here and there.

Don’t Jump…. Get yourself a donkey!

Translating documents is not an easy business, a word can mean one thing in one language but something different in another if translated literally. When translating important life saving information leaflets it is essential to proofread the text to make sure it reads correctly and fluently.

Here is a good example of when things go badly wrong…

A fire brigade leaflet produced for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service offering advice on how to escape from your home.

Written in English the text read,

Never jump straight out of a window, lower yourself onto cushions

This was translated into Urdu, the result was very interesting. It read…

Never jump out of a window straight. Put yourself on a donkey and come down.

Teacher Ilfan Malik explained: “The Urdu word for cushion is gadda. But the word for donkey is gadha.”

A spokesman for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue apologised, adding: “A replacement leaflet will be distributed soon.”

There’s never a donkey around when you need one!

An important lesson on how you must never confuse the letters h and d. It can have serious repercussions, particularly if you cannot find a donkey.

It would have been beneficial to have had the document proofread. Having another translator reading the translated text means the context and spelling etc… can be checked, eliminating the problem of misinterpretation.