Thursday, August 13th, 2020
Saturday, June 13th, 2020
I sometimes watch programmes on TG4, the Irish language broadcaster that posts most shows online. Even though I’m watching with subtitles on, I figure it can’t be bad for keeping my very rudimentary Irish from atrophying completely.
I’m usually watching music programmes but occassionally I’ll catch a bit of the news (or “nuacht”). Their coverage of the protests in America reminded me of a peculiar quirk of the Irish language. The Black community would be described as “daoine gorm” (pronunced “deenee gurum”), which literally translated would mean “blue people”. In Irish, the skin colour is referred to as “gorm”—blue.
This isn’t one of those linguistic colour differences like the way the Japanese word ao means blue and green. Irish has a perfectly serviceable word for the colour black, “dubh” (pronounced “duv”). But the term “fear dubh” (“far duv”) which literally means “black man” was already taken. It’s used to describe the devil. Not ideal.
In any case, this blue/black confusion in Irish reminded me of a delicious tale of schadenfreude. When I was writing about the difference between intentions and actions, I said:
Sometimes bad outcomes are the result of good intentions. Less often, good outcomes can be the result of bad intentions.
Back in 2017, the Geeky Gaeilgeoir wrote a post called Even Racists Got the Blues. In it, she disects the terrible translation job done by an Irish-American racist sporting a T-shirt that reads:
Gorm Chónaí Ábhar.
That’s completely nonsensical in Irish, but the intent behind the words was to say “Blue Lives Matter.” Except… even if it made grammatical sense, what this idiot actually wrote would translate as:
Black Lives Matter.
What a wonderful chef’s kiss of an own goal!
If only it were a tattoo.
Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020
I can see this coming in very handy at Codebar—pop any CSS selector in here and get a plain English explanation of what it’s doing.
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
A handy translation of git commands into English.
Sunday, February 24th, 2019
Programming lessons from Umberto Eco and Emily Wilson.
Converting the analog into the digital requires discretization, leaving things out. What we filter out—or what we focus on—depends on our biases. How do conventional translators handle issues of bias? What can programmers learn from them?
Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
Practical advice from Ire on localising web pages.
Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
This forthcoming sci-fi quarterly publication looks intriguing:
Each issue contains a part of a previously untranslated novel as well as essays looking at the world through the lens of different writers.
I’m loving their typeface. It’s called Marvin. It was specially made for the magazine, and available to download and use for personal use for free.
Marvin gets its distinctive voice not only from its Art Nouveau vibe but also from its almost geometrically perfect construction. Its roundness and familiarity with Bauhaus typefaces shows its roots in geometric sans serifs at the same time.
Friday, September 8th, 2017
The perils of self-translation.
I’m often baffled by the number of people who seem to think that you can translate from one language to another simply by pulling the words of one language from a dictionary and plugging them into the syntax of the other. It just doesn’t work that way, friends.
Read to the end for a wonderfully delicious twist in the tale.
Monday, July 10th, 2017
I like words. I like the way they can be tethered together to produce a satisfying sentence.
Jessica likes words even more than I do (that’s why her website is called “wordridden”). She studied linguistics and she’s a translator by trade—German into English. Have a read of her post about translating Victor Klemperer to get an inkling of how much thought and care she puts into it.
Given the depth of enquiry required for a good translation, I was particularly pleased to read this remark by John Le Carré:
No wonder then that the most conscientious editors of my novels are not those for whom English is their first language, but the foreign translators who bring their relentless eye to the tautological phrase or factual inaccuracy – of which there are far too many. My German translator is particularly infuriating.
That’s from an article called Why we should learn German, but it’s really about why we should strive for clarity in our use of language:
Clear language — lucid, rational language — to a man at war with both truth and reason, is an existential threat. Clear language to such a man is a direct assault on his obfuscations, contradictions and lies. To him, it is the voice of the enemy. To him, it is fake news. Because he knows, if only intuitively, what we know to our cost: that without clear language, there is no standard of truth.
It reminds me of one of my favourite Orwell essays, Politics and the English Language:
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
But however much I agree with Le Carré’s reprise of Orwell’s call for clarity, I was brought up short by this:
Every time I hear a British politician utter the fatal words, “Let me be very clear”, these days I reach for my revolver.
Le Carré’s text was part of a speech given in Berlin, where everyone would get the reference to the infamous Nazi quote—
Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning—and I’m sure it was meant with a sly wink. But words matter.
Words are powerful. Words can be love and comfort — and words can be weapons.
Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
This is what Jessica has been working on for the past year—working very hard, I can attest.
This wrap-up post is a fascinating insight into the translation process.
Monday, December 12th, 2016
A profile of Stanisław Lem and his work, much of which is still untranslated.
Sunday, March 6th, 2016
This is truly a book apart.
Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages Alex Dally MacFarlane | Interfictions Online
A fascinating look into the challenges encountered translating Anne Leckie’s excellent Radchaai novels into Bulgarian, German, Hebrew, Japanese, and Hungarian.
What is clear in all of these responses is that by examining the notions of ‘neutral’ and ‘feminine’ in grammar and gender through the lens of translation, we reveal their complexity – and some of their possible futures in languages, in both literature and speech.
Saturday, April 12th, 2014
This is a wonderful piece of writing and thinking from Frank. A wonderful piece of design, then.
A personal view on generalists and trans-media design
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
Richard gives the lowdown on the new translate attribute in HTML.
Monday, April 25th, 2011
My trip to Shanghai went swimmingly. It kicked off with W3C Tech, which was a thoroughly lovely event.
I gave my talk—The Design Of HTML5—with the help of an excellent interpreter performing consecutive interpretation. It was my first time experiencing that—I had previously experienced simultaneous interpretation in Spain and Japan—and it was quite a good exercise in helping me speak in complete, well-formed sentences (the translation usually occurred at the end of a sentence).
Once my talk was done, I took some questions from the audience and was then showered with good wishes and tea-related gifts. They really made me feel like a rockstar there; I’ve never had so many people want to have their picture taken with me or have me sign their copies of my books—the publishers of the Chinese translations of DOM Scripting and Bulletproof Ajax were also at the conference.
W3C Tech was held on the east side of the river so I spent the first few days in the futuristic surroundings of Pudong. Once the event wrapped up, myself and Jessica moved across to a more central location just off Nanjing road. I quite liked the hustle and bustle, especially once I remembered the cheat code of “bu yao!” to ward off the overly-enthusiastic street merchants. I wish there were something similar for the chuggers here in the UK, but I have the feeling that the literal translation—“do not want!”—will just make me sound like a lolcat.
Anyway, I had a great time in Shanghai, doing touristy things and taking lots of pictures. I particularly enjoyed getting stuck in at street-level exploring the markets, whether it was electronics or food. The fried dumplings—sheng xian bao—were particularly wonderful. I plan to deliver a full report over at Principia Gastronomica.
So long, Shanghai. ‘Till the next time.
Monday, April 18th, 2011
Translation From MS-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Dean Hachamovitch’s “Native HTML5″ announcement [dive into mark]
Mark Pilgrim translates Dean Hachamovitch’s utterly bizarre and nonsensical announcement of IE10 that kept talking about “native HTML5.”
Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Melville’s masterpiece, translated into Japanese emoticons. All 6438 sentences. Made possible with Kickstarter and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Saturday, July 11th, 2009
Garfield, translated into Japanese and then translated back into English.
Monday, March 2nd, 2009
Andy Baio gets his first by-line in a national newspaper (based on an article from Waxy.org).