Mistranslation Confuses Italian Youth

A language translation error in the Italian edition of a Catholic book aimed at young people made it look like the Vatican had changed its mind about birth control, reversing centuries of church policy. The book had to be temporarily pulled from the shelves while the publishers corrected the error, lest young Italian Catholic couples think they had been given license to practice contraception.

The book, YouCat, uses a question-and-answer format to give young adult readers guidance on Church teachings. One question deals with the traditionally thorny issue of family planning. According to, when this particular question-and-answer couplet was translated, the Italian phrase “metodi anticoncezionali” was used as a translation for the German phrase “Empfngnisregelung”. Read more

Botched translation leads to tension between the US and Bulgaria

A botched language translation of a speech given by James Warlick, the US Ambassador to Bulgaria, at the  “Europe as a Global Actor” Conference last week apparently infuriated Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.  And since this is the age of the internet, President Parvanov took his beef directly to Facebook.

According to, during his speech at the conference Mr. Warlick took the liberty of commenting on an ongoing dispute between President Parvanov and his Defense Minister, Anyu Angelov, on how much support the Bulgarian armed forces should provide for international peacekeeping interventions. President Parvanov is firmly in the “stay-at-home” camp, while the defense minister wishes to continue to honor Bulgaria’s commitments to its international partners, expanding the armed forces as necessary. Read more

Indigenous Tweets Collects Minority Language Tweets

Despite Twitter’s recent efforts at making the site more usable for non-English speakers, it’s probably one of the last places you’d expect to find people using minority and endangered languages to communicate. However, as a new website called Indigenous Tweets illustrates, that’s clearly not the case.

Kevin Scannell, a Computer Science professor from the US who created the website, believes that Twitter can even help preserve languages that are struggling. The website searches for tweets in minority languages across the globe, then indexes the tweets and the Twitter accounts they came from. The site is interesting no matter what language you speak, but if you speak one of the 68 languages indexed, it will also help you connect with other Twitter users who speak your language. Read more

Biologist May Have Discovered the Origin of Language

Everyone who’s ever studied Shakespeare knows that languages change over time. And if you look at the vocabulary, it’s obvious that language like French and Spanish are related. Professional linguists classify languages based on how closely they are related, and try to uncover how ancient languages evolved and branched off to form new languages over time.

But looking at how words from different languages are related to each other will only take you back so far. 9,000 years to be precise, which is how old the Indo-European language tree is.

According to the New York Times, biologist Quentin D. Atkinson, working at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, decided to take a different approach: looking at phonemes instead of words. For the non-language geeks out there, phonemes are the smallest elements of language that are capable of changing the meaning of a word. Think consonant sounds and vowel sounds, or, in certain African languages, clicks. Read more

Welsh Language Expert Wants Parents to Learn, Too

For languages like Welsh, which almost died out in the early 20th century before making a strong comeback, reaching the next generation is seen as key to its survival. Teaching children in Welsh is a big part of that effort, and Welsh-medium schools have become increasingly popular as more and more parents encourage their children to treasure and preserve their Welsh heritage.

However, many of the parents that send their kids to these schools want their children to be fluent in Welsh but don’t speak the language themselves. Lisa Jones, a Welsh language expert, told Wales Online that this situation is far from ideal, and called on parents to learn the language, too. Read more

Last Two Speakers of Dying Language Won't Speak

It’s a story that’s been repeated thousands of times in the past: an indigenous language is eventually replaced by another, more common tongue, finally dying out completely along with its last speakers.

That’s what’s happened to the indigenous Mexican language of Ayapaneco over the centuries. When Spanish became the language of education, children were discouraged from speaking Ayapaneco and the language was lost. Only this time, there’s an interesting but sad twist: the last two people who speak Ayapaneco refuse to speak to each other. Read more

US Scientists Developing Program to Translate Middle Eastern Tweets

The popularity of microblogging service Twitter has spread across the globe, and the US government has taken notice. Twitter was one of the earliest means of communication for the Egyptian protestors, and could potentially be used to gain insight into what ordinary people in the Middle East and South Asia are thinking and feeling.

Of course, many people who live in these countries don’t tweet in English, so first you have to translate what they are saying.

The problem: Flesh-and-blood translators cost money, and there’s a shortage of qualified translators for certain languages. People don’t always or even primarily use Twitter to talk about politics or other weighty topics – there’s also a lot of mundane chatter on the network. There’s no point in having professionals spend their time translating what someone in Pakistan ate for breakfast this morning. Read more

“I Know What You're Thinking, Dave”

Pardon me, but does anyone else find this a tad bit creepy? Scientists at Washington University in the US have created a computer program that can translate your thoughts into written language. Yes, computers are on the verge of being able to read our minds.

The researchers took a brain implant currently used by neurologists to determine which areas of the brain are responsible for seizures in people with epilepsy, and reprogrammed it to pick up the brainwaves produced when we think of certain sounds. For this study, just four vowel sounds were used. When test subjects thought of the sound, the appropriate letter would appear on the computer screen, no typing necessary. Read more

Translated Yiddish Cookbook Offers a Peek into the Past

Everything old is new again.” It may be a cliché, but a new translation of an old Yiddish cookbook from 1914 proves that it’s the truth. More than a cookbook, the volume also provides a healthy dose of dietary advice that’s striking in how “modern” it sounds.

When Bacha Weingrod received an old copy of the “Dos Familien Kokh-Bookh” as a housewarming present, she knew immediately that she had something special on her hands. In an interview with, she explains:

“It was like going back to my roots. I did not have to go Russia to the small village where my mother was from. I just opened the book and it was somehow there.” Read more

New Glove Translates Sign Language Into Text

Japanese researchers at  Osaka and Shinshu Universities have been working together to develop a gadget that automatically translates finger spelling into text. The prototype product, called “Fingual,” consists of a glove with magnetic fingertips. As you move your hands to form letters, the glove senses the changes in the magnetic fields and translates the movements into words.

Everybody forms letters somewhat differently, so for the highest level of accuracy, users must program the glove themselves, to recognize their specific style of signing. Once that’s done, the glove is capable of translating gestures with a 90% accuracy rate, at least while indoors.  If you use a glove programmed to understand someone else’s gestures, the accuracy rate will be lower, but still around 80% to 90%. Read more

Blog Posts

Available Pages


Archives by Month: