Google Docs Fails Translation Test

Google has long touted its machine translation services as a boon to businesses, but how well do they measure up? To find out, PCWorld writer Tom Bradley recently put the translation feature in Google Docs to the test, translating content to and from English and other languages.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the translations provided by Google Translate left something to be desired. For example, Mr. Bradley used Google Docs to translate some text into French and sent it to a French speaking acquaintance. The acquaintance responded, “Some sentences were perfect, but some were almost impossible to understand. I’d give the translation 7 on a scale from 1 to 10. I would not use such a service in a professional setting, although it gives a good general idea of the text.” Read more

Indonesian Literature Gets Translated

Unless their work is translated into English, novelists are basically shut out from a large part of the international market. Now, according to the Jakarta Globe, Indonesian authors will get their books translated as part of the Lontar Foundation’s “Modern Library of Indonesia” project.

The project will begin by translating just ten Indonesian novels into English, but 40 more are expected to follow in the next 3 years.

This is big deal for the authors involved, as the article in the Jakarta Globe makes clear. Indonesian writer Dewi Lestari called the English translation of her book “Supernova” a “dream come true,” and explained that the lack of a translation has made it more difficult for her to progress in her writing career. She explained, “In the past, I have been invited to some writers’ festivals abroad. The participants always seemed very interested in my presentation, but when they asked me, ‘Where can I get your book?’ I always had to say that there wasn’t an English language translation yet.” Read more

No word for time

The Amondawa, a small tribe in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest, has a unique language: there is no word in it for “time,” nor “month,” nor “year.”

Instead, according to researchers from Oregon’s University of Portsmouth, the Amondawa see events in the context of life stages and transitions. For example, while they don’t celebrate birthdays and nobody keeps track of how old they are, tribe members do change their names to reflect what stage of life they are in and their current role in their community.

As researcher Chris Sinha explained to the Daily Mail,  ‘For the Amondawa, time does not exist in the same way as it does for us. We can now say without doubt that there is at least one language and culture which does not have a concept of time as something that can be measured, counted or talked about in the abstract. This doesn’t mean that the Amondawa are “people outside time”, but they live in a world of events, rather than seeing events as being embedded in time.” Read more


Links Between Welsh and Elvish

A new book from Cardiff University Professor Dr Carl Phelpstead gives Welsh geeks one more reason to be proud of their heritage: it was the inspiration for Sindarin, one of two elven languages created by fantasy author J.R.R Tolkien. The other, Quenya, is based more on Finnish.

Tolkien was entranced by the sounds of Welsh. In “English and Welsh,” a speech he gave in Oxford, he notes that the sounds of Welsh had always called to him: “I heard it coming out of the west. It struck at me in the names on coal-trucks; and drawing nearer, it flickered past on station-signs, a flash of strange spelling and a hint of a language old and yet alive; even in an adeiladwyd 1887, ill-cut on a stone-slab, it pierced my linguistic heart.”

It’s only natural, then, that Tolkien would use one of his favorite languages as the inspiration for the speech of the Grey Elves. As Dr. Phelpstead explained to the BBC,  “It’s not so much that he borrowed Welsh words, more the sounds. This particular Elfish language is very like the sounds of Welsh and deliberately so. I have a friend of mine who is a Welsh translator who went to see the Lord of the Rings films and when they started speaking Elfish in the film she turned to her daughter and said ‘they are speaking Welsh’ so people do see this relationship.” Read more

Welsh Exit Sign Confuses Shoppers

Bilingual shoppers leaving the Tesco in Swansea are presented with a bit of a conundrum: An exit sign with the English word “Exit” pointing to the right, and the Welsh language translation, “Allanfa,” pointing to the left. Which is it? Is there a separate exit for Welsh speakers?

Actually, no. According to store management, drivers can either exit the car park directly or they can exit through the petrol station. The English language sign points to the direct exit while the Welsh language sign points to the petrol station.  A Tesco representative told the BBC:

“We’d like to reassure all customers that they are welcome to exit the car park in either direction.” Read more

Linguist Takes a Stand for Haitian Creole

A creole language is a type of language that arises from a clash of cultures, where people who speak two different languages have to learn  to communicate. Over time, features and words from both languages combine to form a new language.

The most well-known examples of Creole languages come from areas colonized by Europeans and their African slaves, like Haiti. Unfortunately, because of their association with conquest and slavery, Creole languages have long been given the short end of the stick, considered less worthy than their parent languages. Read more

Whales Have Dialects, Too

It’s not just Brits and Americans who are “divided by a common language.” Scientists have learned that whales, too, have accents and dialects.

According to Science Daily, the discovery came when a team of biologists set out to study sperm whale vocalizations for the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.  As they hunt for food deep in the ocean, sperm whales communicate with each other using characteristic clicking sounds called “codas.” Read more

Coming Soon…Dolphin Translation?

We know that dolphins have extremely advanced communication skills. In captivity, for example, they’ve been able to learn to respond to a large number of verbal commands, and even seem to understand syntax, or how word order determines meaning.

What we’ve not yet been able to do is to have a two-way conversation with them. As the Wild Dolphin Project’s Denise Herzing explained to the New Scientist, researchers have been able to:

“create a system and expect the dolphins to learn it, and they do, but the dolphins are not empowered to use the system to request things from the humans.” Read more

American Publishes Guides in Spanish Slang

Fair warning: Just because you aced your foreign language classes in school, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to understand the locals in a foreign country. That’s because students in classrooms are generally taught a standardized version of the language. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s definitely a good starting point. But it’s rare that people actually talk that way. Real language is not standardized; it’s vibrant with local color and alive with slang words that will often leave you perplexed at best and embarrassed at worst. Read more


Japanese Came to Japan With Agriculture, Researchers Say

Recently, researchers at the University of Tokyo completed an analysis of the different dialects of the Japanese language and how they evolved. According to the New York Times, the results appear to shed light on the origins of the Japonic language family, which includes both Japanese and Ryukyuan, a related language spoken by islanders to the south.

The researchers were trying to answer a question that has long vexed linguists: where did the Japanese language originate, and who brought it to Japan? There are two possible contenders: the Jomon people, a group of hunter-gatherers who arrived on the island during the last ice age,  or the Yayoi, a group of rice farmers who came later. Read more

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