New Languages Take Tweets in Another Direction

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Twitter added four new language options to its translation repertoire last week: Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu. Like the other languages that the popular online messaging service has been translated into, the task was crowdsourced to volunteers via Twitter’s translation center, allowing it to be completed in just a couple of months. Twitter described the process on its blog:

“We first added these four languages to the Twitter Translation Center on January 25. Thirteen thousand volunteers around the globe immediately got to work, translating and localizing into these languages in record time.”

Unlike English (and most of the other languages Twitter has been translated into thus far), these languages are all written and read from right-to-left. Therefore, bringing them to Twitter posed special challenges, requiring more involvement from Twitter engineers and making the short turnaround time even more impressive. As Twitter localization manager Laura Gomez explained to the Los Angeles Times:

“The anatomy of a Tweet by nature can be complex since it often contains a mix of text, links and hashtags. Adding RTL to the mix raises its own technical and design challenges. For this launch, we had to make a number of improvements to ensure Tweets look and behave correctly RTL.”

Twitter is now available in 28 languages, further cementing its role in connecting people both within and across cultures and countries. Several of the countries that use the languages included in this most recent batch of translations have banned Twitter for its role in coordinating protests against authoritarian governments. Some of the volunteers who translated the site had to navigate past government blocks of the service to do so.

However, as Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communications at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, told the BBC, Twitter is an important tool for protesters but it isn’t the only or even the most important one:

“It is just one among a range of tools and platforms that people use. I think the parallel would be the making available of tools to help people blog in Persian in 2002-3 by Hossein Derakshan. His manual on how to blog in the language helped trigger a huge boom in Persian voices on the internet.”

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