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.

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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?

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