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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?


Lost in Translation: 2 Cuban Pitchers

In the World Baseball Classic, an error in translation caused the Cuban baseball team to lose two of its top relief pitchers for their game against Mexico on Monday, March 16th.

According to the New York Times, in the World Baseball Classic, the official rules are always in English. However, an ‘unofficial’ Spanish translation was provided to the teams from Mexico and Cuba. Unfortunately, whoever translated the Spanish version made a minor error that demonstrates how important accuracy in translation can be.

According to the rules, relievers are not allowed to pitch the day after they throw thirty or more pitches. In Spanish, “30 or more” is translated as “trienta o mas.” The translator translated the phrase as “mas que trienta,” which means “more than thirty.”

Based on the translation, the Cuban coach pulled his two best relief pitchers out of Sunday’s game against Japan after they had each thrown exactly 30 pitches.

The goal was to keep the pitchers available for the game against Mexico on Monday, since they would have exactly 30 pitches, not “more than 30 pitches.” However, since the English document is the ‘official’ document, the two pitchers were disqualified.

Gene Orza, the World Baseball Classic player’s union’s chief operation officer, offered this assessment of the situation:

“It was a mistranslation — a mistranslation of what in English are very clear rules,” Orza said. “It’s a very unfortunate situation. But the English rules are the controlling document. We feel terribly that in trying to do a good thing something bad happened.”

“They were clearly very unhappy with the situation, but they did understand it,” Orza said of the Cuban officials. “I am eternally grateful for the class that Cuba showed. I think it’s fair to say we will endeavour to have an official Spanish rules document prepared for next time.” -New York Times

This may have actually worked out to Cuba’s benefit, since those pitchers had some extra rest before Wednesday’s elimination game. However, it wasn’t enough-Cuba played Japan again and lost.

Will Facebook Own Crowdsourced Translation?

On Tuesday, the Baltimore Sun noted that Facebook has applied for a patent for its crowdsourced translation application. The app, which has been in use since early last year, has helped Facebook quickly and efficiently translate its pages into different languages. Here’s how it works: the application presents text that needs to be translated to users who are able to translate it. Different users’ translations of the same text are then put up against each other, and other members vote on which one of the translations is the most accurate.

TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid has some concerns about Facebook’s patent application. Many other sites also use crowdsourced translations, and those sites could be in jeopardy if Facebook’s patent is approved. As Kincaid explains,

“Now it’s up to the patent office to decide if the techniques employed by these other sites will represent prior art that would nullify Facebook’s patent. And you can be sure that’s what many people are hoping for — it would be highly frustrating for social networks down the line if they can’t leverage their own communities the way Facebook has.”

Of course, crowdsourced translations may be quick and efficient, but as some bilingual commenters on TechCrunch noted, the quality of the translations is often inconsistent. For example, commenter Viclava wrote that it took about a year before the Spanish version of Facebook was “readable” and relatively free of grammatical errors.

Hopefully, Facebook doesn’t end up owning the patent on crowdsourced translations for social networks. Crowdsourced translations can be a powerful tool to quickly and cheaply translate content into another language, and this is definitely valuable. However, in many cases it’s important that the content be translated flawlessly the first time. If your brand or image depends on a perfect translation, it’s best to go ahead and spring for a professional translation company.

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Hit West End Show Pioneers Translation Device

The hit West End show Hairspray, currently showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre has introduced a pioneering system which translates the show into 8 languages according to the BBC.

With one third of theatre audiences in London being tourists AirScript developers, Cambridge Consultants, hope the handsets will attract more tourists to London’s theatres.

The translation is received via WIFI and scrolls down throughout the performance. The handset has LED backlighting and the screen has a black background and orange text to minimise glare. It could be quite annoying for other theatre users if the device was too bright. It costs just £6 to hire the device.

The translated subtitles are delivered manually to make sure the line hits the screen at the same time as it is delivered on stage.

It could be quite distracting to look at a device for the whole show rather than getting lost in what’s happening on stage, but it is a great tool for tourists and can only get better as the technology advances.

Free Translations of Happy Birthday

Whether it’s a colleague’s birthday or you just want to impress one of your friends, you can use the free translation of Happy Birthday below to give them your best wishes in their own language.

Happy Birthday in Afrikaans: Gelukkige Verjaarsdag

Happy Birthday in Albanian: Gëzuar ditëlindjen

Happy Birthday in Aleut: Raazdinyaam Ugutaa

Happy Birthday in Arabic: عيد ميلاد سعيد

Happy Birthday in Armenian: Ծնունդդ շնորհավոր

Happy Birthday in Azerbaijani: Ad günün mübarək

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Customers Want Website Translated

Last month, Eurobarometer released a study that examined how Europeans react to foreign-language content on the Internet. The results were clear: if you do business online and have an international clientele, translating your website could help you attract customers and may even increase sales.

English may be the most common language on the Internet, but it’s by no means a universal tongue. While the survey showed that one out of two European web surfers were willing to seek out content that wasn’t in their first language, that high percentage is skewed as citizens of some EU member countries are more likely to seek out foreign-language content than citizens of other countries. From a press release summarizing the results of the study:

“This figure hides great variations as between 90 and 93% of Greeks, Slovenes, Luxembourgers, Maltese and Cypriots indicated they would use other languages when online, but only 9% of UK citizens, 11% of Irish, 23% of Czechs and 25% of Italians said they would do so.”

When it comes to actually putting their money where their eyeballs are, the statistics are even more stark: Only 18% of the respondents were willing to buy products online in another language “frequently or all the time,” and 42% would never buy a product online if the website was in another language. Read more

Translating Honeybees

By now, many scientists are willing to accept that intelligent animals like dolphins may have languages of their own. But what about honeybees? They couldn’t possibly have their own language, could they? After all, they’re just bugs!

Not so fast, say scientists from the University of Dundee in Scotland. They believe that honeybees may, in fact, have a language of their own, and have installed sound monitoring systems in 100 Scottish beehives to see if they can decode and translate it. Read more

1000th Road Sign Translated Into Cornish

Not so long ago, UNESCO classified the Cornish language as “extinct.” Under pressure from English, the language began its long decline in the middle of the 16th century.

It’s not clear if the language ever died out completely or not. What is clear is that by middle of the 17th century, few if any families were teaching it to their children.

Now, after over a century of revival efforts, there are almost 600 people who use Cornish as their main language. At least 20 people have been raised to speak it as their native language. In 2010, UNESCO reclassified Cornish as “critically endangered.” Not bad for a language once given up for dead!

Since 2009, Cornwall has been replacing old, worn-out street signs with new bilingual signs in English and Cornish. That program has reached a new milestone. Cornwall Council just announced that the 1000th Cornish street sign is now in place at Marina Drive in Looe.

Julian German, the Cornish Council’s portfolio holder for economy and culture, told the Western Morning News:

“Using the Cornish language is really important for many reasons and I would like to thank all of those involved in reaching this milestone. It’s great to see we now have one thousand bilingual signs across Cornwall. The Cornish language is an important part of Cornwall’s heritage. The use of Cornish is growing in all walks of life and the opportunities to learn and use it are increasing all the time.”

Curious how “Marina Drive” became “Rosva Vorek”? Here’s a bit of translation geekery:

“Rosva” = Drive, from the Cornish elements “ros” for wheel and “va” for place.

Vorek = “sea-like,” or perhaps “oceanic.” From the Cornish elements “mor” for “sea” and “-ek,” a suffix that turns a word into an adjective.

But wait…then shouldn’t it be “Rosva Morek?” The Cornish Language Partnership explains:

“Like most languages, nouns in Cornish have a gender and are either masculine or feminine. In this case the word rosva is feminine. In common with the other Celtic languages, in certain cases the first letter of an adjective is changed, or mutated, after a feminine noun. So in this case Rosva Morek becomes Rosva Vorek.”

Photo credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Paul Stainthorp

Idiom Translation a Hard Nut to Crack

One of the biggest mistakes to make while translating documents isn’t always getting the words wrong or poor grammar or sentence structure, but it can also be the altogether feeling on the conversation.

Brits are well known for being a bit kooky, our language is full of idioms such as ‘piece of cake’, ‘sleep tight’ and ‘let the cat out of the bag’, which when you think about them, are quite nonsensical.

To translate these literally, you’re probably going to come across a little barmy. Imagine giving directions which are relatively simple, before ending on a proclamation of their uncle’s name (which if it isn’t Bob, you are going to seem rather peculiar, and if it is Bob, you are going to appear like a stalker).

Because idioms are rooted deeply in to culture, history and even TV in the case of ‘sick as a parrot’, they can be a nightmare to translate, so instead transcreation rather than translation is often the best step forward. Instead of literally translating the text to something which would most likely bamboozle an international audience, a translator will find the colloquial alternative.

Although transcreation isn’t just a about dealing with colloquial phrases, but more about incorporating the entire feel of a document, a brand or a company, and make sure the same message is conveyed through each nationality it touches, rather than literally translating the words and hoping for the best.

What are some of your favourite bonkers idioms? We’re going with ‘talk the hind legs of a donkey’ but the list goes on and on.

A Gaijin in Tokyo

A Gaijin in Tokyo

In our last article, Alison noted how lazy we Brits are when it comes to getting a handle on the native language when preparing to travel abroad. From my own experience I’ve seen just how extensive this can be and I’m guilty as charged.

In both 2011 and 2012 I travelled to Tokyo for a combined total of 5 weeks. As a generally reserved chap, I wanted to try and make sure that I could be polite and avoid any basic cultural faux pas. So I learnt how to say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” & gave myself a crash course in Japanese numeracy and most important of all, ensured I could order a beer. A bit of light reading from a guide book and off I went.
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