Vitaminwater’s Translation Blunder

Vitaminwater’s Translation Blunder

Canadian Vitaminwater consumers were left with a bitter taste in their mouths last week following a translation gaffe. Vitaminwater’s parent company, Coca-Cola, had to apologize for the multilingual marketing campaign that went awry, with insults and slurs printed on the bottle caps.

The concept behind the campaign was actually not bad. A random French and a random English word were printed underneath the cap of each bottle of Vitaminwater, so consumers could collect the bottle caps and make sentences out of the words. Fun, right?

Unfortunately, when it comes to languages, the devil is often in the details. In this case, some words that are innocuous in French are offensive in English. Like “retard,” which means “late” in French. Or “douche,” which means “shower” in French.

So, when Edmonton photographer Blake Loats opened a Vitaminwater at a restaurant last week, she was shocked and offended to find the phrase “you retard” written under the cap.  She found the insult especially galling since she has a disabled younger sibling.  Loats did what anyone else would do under such circumstances- she snapped a photo with her phone and posted it to Facebook, along with an angry letter written by her father and a picture of her sister.  It promptly went viral. Not how you would want your brand to be represented online, is it? Read more

How to Talk Like a Pirate

Ahoy, maties! Hoist the Jolly Roger! Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day… the only day aside from Halloween that a scurvy landlubber like yerself can walk around saying “Yo ho ho!” and “Arrr!” without sounding like an idiot.

Of course, you won’t sound like a pirate, either —not in the historical sense, at least. But no matter, it’s all in good fun! Here are some tips and key phrases to help you celebrate. You may not even have to wait until next year- some events are taking place over the weekend.

Get in Character

Grab a pirate hat, an eye patch or just a bottle of rum. Don’t just talk like a pirate; walk like one, too. The rum will help.

Find Some Mates

International Talk Like A Pirate Day keeps getting bigger every year. Check the map on the Talk Like a Pirate Day homepage for events close to you. With your roguish charm, you may even be able to commandeer drinks, pastries and other booty from local businesses.

Learn the Lingo

The most important part of Talk Like a Pirate Day is talking like a pirate. Here’s a quick primer of some of the most important phrases: Read more

Google Plots Universal Translator

Google Plots Universal Translator

Google is known for taking on big, ambitious projects. So, it should come as no surprise that their latest “mo0nshot” comes right out of science fiction: a “universal translator” that translates between any two languages, instantaneously.

Der Spiegel recently profiled Franz Josef Och, the computer scientist behind Google Translate. In the interview, he described his ambition to create a universal translator that seamless integrates itself into the users’ conversations, without the need to press buttons.

As Och explained to Der Spiegel, Google Translate does not require the in-depth knowledge of languages and cultures that the translation industry takes for granted:

“I have trouble learning languages, and that’s precisely the beauty of machine translation: The most important thing is to be good at math and statistics, and to be able to program…So what the system is basically doing (is) correlating existing translations and learning more or less on its own how to do that with billions and billions of words of text. In the end, we compute probabilities of translation.” Read more

Multilingual SEO

Multilingual SEO

If you’re a native English speaker, then you may believe that the internet is dominated by the English language. Almost all of the computer code, social networking, e-commerce and news sites that are most popular with English speakers were developed in the English-speaking world, and they mesh seamlessly with the language. However, while slightly more than half the web’s content is still written in English, that won’t be true for long. Only around a quarter of internet users have English as their primary language and internet usage of this demographic is growing at a much faster rate.

Most people require or prefer web content that’s written in their native language. For international businesses to really engage with customers they need to have versions of their websites written in each of the languages their customers speak. In some parts of the world, even local businesses have to engage with more than one language group. Read more

Panda Madness in Belgium

Everyone loves pandas. Fuzzy, clumsy adorable pandas. If anything could unite French speakers and Dutch speakers in Belgium, you’d think it would be pandas.

Unfortunately, the differences between the two communities are apparently so great, even pandas can’t bridge the gap. In fact, a row erupted this week between the two groups after China offered to loan two of the rare furry creatures to Belgium. The pandas will be going to the Pairi Daiza wildlife park in the French-speaking region of Wallonia.

This has angered some groups representing citizens in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders. They contend that the pandas should have gone to Antwerp Zoo in Flanders.  The Antwerp Zoo is older, has previous experience with pandas and applied to house and display another pair of them a decade ago.  Therefore, the zoo feels it should have dibs on any pandas coming into Belgium.  A zoo spokesman told Reuters,  “All in all we are rather surprised that the prime minister did not think of us.”

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo is from Wallonia, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Pairi Daiza wildlife park. A member of the Flemish separatist party has accused him of favoritism. For its part, the wildlife park says it won the pandas because it has the best facilities. A spokesman told the Telegraph, “Pairi Daiza has begun building an ultra-modern installation in its Chinese garden that has perfectly integrated a Sichuan country setting.”

At its core, the dispute is about money. Pandas are cute, rare and draw huge crowds. According to Reuters, other zoos have seen visitors increase by 20 percent after acquiring the animals.

Hopefully tensions die down after the bears arrive next year. After all, who can stay mad looking at a face like that?


Ants, Grasshoppers and Language

Everyone remembers the fable of the ants and the grasshopper, right? The ants spend all summer collecting food while the grasshopper sings. Then, when winter comes, the grasshopper starves while the ants prosper. According to research from economist Keith Chen, your native language may influence whether or not you fall into the “ant” category or the “grasshopper” category.

In a paper published earlier this year, Chen hypothesized that  language may predispose us to bad habits like not saving money, smoking and obesity, based on whether or not the language in question has a distinct future tense for verbs.  Not all languages do. Some use the present tense; “I eat vegetables tomorrow” vs “I eat cake today, I will eat vegetables tomorrow.”  Without a future tense, the thinking goes, the future no longer seems dim and misty, and has a perceived value equal to that of the present.

Chen analyzed lifestyle and savings data for speakers of different languages, and the results appear to back up this line of thinking. The Atlantic reports:

“Remarkably, he discovered that speakers with weak future tenses (e.g. German, Finnish and Estonian) were 30 percent more likely to save money, 24 percent more likely to avoid smoking, 29 percent more likely to exercise regularly, and 13 percent less likely to be obese, than speakers of languages with strong future tenses, like English.”

In an attempt to rule out cultural influences, Chen compared statistics between people from the same country, and found that the patterns held even among people who grew up in the same country speaking different languages.

The research is interesting…but what does it mean? Should we all start speaking German, or perhaps Estonian? Not so fast… many linguists question Chen’s conclusions. For example, Columbia University’s John McWhorter told the BBC:

“The extent to which the language shapes the thought is tiny. We’re talking about milliseconds of reaction. None of it has ever been proven to have anything to do with how people see the world or experience life.”

What do you think of this research?



The Milk Port Translation Fiasco

Faking an interview is always a poor journalistic practice, to say the least — but if you’re going to make up quotes, don’t rely on Google Translate. A Turkish newspaper learned that lesson the hard way this week after it fabricated a huge chunk of an interview with American scholar Noam Chomsky.

The interview, published in English in Yeni Safak, contained the following quotes, apparently translated into English using Google Translate.

“This complexity in the Middle East, do you think the Western states flapping because of this chaos? Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West. I’ve seen the plans works.”

What? Either you love Chomsky or you hate him, but either way you have to admit he’s more eloquent than that. Read more

Harvard Will Offer Classes in Breton Language

Once, the Breton language had the most speakers of any Celtic language.  Now, however, UNESCO classifies it as “severely endangered,” even while other Celtic languages have begun to recover.

Historically, Breton was spoken throughout the region of Brittany in northwest France.  It is most closely related to Cornish. Although it was replaced by French as the language of business and government in the 12th century, commoners continued to speak it as a first language for centuries more. Read more

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