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, March 3rd, 2020
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).
Friday, October 31st, 2008
An automated e-mail response reading in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment" is mistakenly put on a road sign.
Thursday, May 8th, 2008
Ni Hao, Monde: Connecting Communities Across Cultural and Linguistic Boundaries
Simon Batistoni is responsible for Flickr’s internationalisation and he’s going to share his knowledge here at XTech. Flickr is in a lucky position; its core content is pictures. Pictures of cute kittens are relatively universal.
We, especially the people at this conference, are becoming hyperconnected with lots of different ways of communicating. But we tend to forget that there is this brick wall that many of us never run into; we are divided.
In the beginning was the Babelfish. When some people think of translation, this is what they think of. We’ve all played the round-trip translation game, right?
Oh my, that’s a tasty salad becomes
that’s my OH — this one is insalata of tasty pleasure. It’s funny but you can actually trace the moment where
of tasty pleasure (it’s
de beun gusto in Spanish). Language is subtle.
It cannot really be encoded into rules. It evolves over time. Even 20 years ago if you came into the office and said
I had a good weekend surfing it may have meant something different. Human beings can parse and disambiguate very well but machines can’t.
Apocraphyl story alert. In 1945, the terms for Japanese surrender were drawn up using a word which was intended to convey
no comment. But the Japanese news agency interpreted this as
we ignore and reported it as such. When this was picked up by the Allies, they interpreted this as a rejection of the terms of surrender and so an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Simon plugs The Language Instinct, that excellent Steven Pinker book. Pinker nails the idea of ungrammatically but it’s essentially a gut instinct. This is why reading machine translations is uncomfortable. Luckily we have access to language processors that are far better than machines …human brains.
Here’s an example from Flickr’s groups feature. The goal was to provide a simple interface for group members to translate their own content: titles and descriptions. A group about abandoned trains and railways was originally Spanish but a week after internationalisation, the group exploded in size.
Here’s another example: 43 Things. The units of content are nice and succinct;
fall in love, etc. So when you provide an interface for people to translate these granular bits, the whole thing snowballs.
Dopplr is another example. They have a “tips” feature. That unit of content is nice and small and so it’s relatively easy to internationalise. Because Dopplr is location-based, you could bubble up local knowledge.
So look out for some discrete chunks of content that you can allow the community to translate. But there’s no magic recipe because each site is different.
Google Translate is the great white hope of translation — a mixture of machine analysis on human translations. The interface allows you to see the original text and offers you the opportunity to correct translations. So it’s self-correcting by encouraging human intervention. If it actually works, it will be great.
Wait, they don’t love you like I love you… Maaa-aa-a-aa-aa-a-aa-aaps.
Maps are awesome, says Simon. Flickr places, created by Kellan who is sitting in front of me, is a great example of exposing the size and variation of the world. It’s kind of like the Dopplr Raumzeitgeist map. Both give you an exciting sense of the larger, international community that you are a part of. They open our minds. Twittervision is much the same; just look at this amazing multicultural world we live in.
Maps are one form of international communication. Gestures are similar. We can order beers in a foreign country by pointing. Careful about what assumptions you make about gestures though. The thumbs up gesture means something different in Corsica. There are perhaps six universal facial expressions. The game Phantasy Star Online allowed users to communicate using a limited range of facial expressions. You could also construct very basic sentences by using drop downs of verbs and nouns.
Simon says he just wants to provide a toolbox of things that we can think about.
Road signs are quite universal. The roots of this communication stretches back years. In a way, they have rudimentary verbs: yellow triangles (“be careful of”), red circles (“don’t”).
Star ratings have become quite ubiquitous. Music is universal so why does Apple segment the star rating portion of reviews between different nationality stores? People they come together, people they fall apart, no one can stop us now ‘cause we are all made of stars.
- We don’t have phasers and transporters and we certainly don’t have universal translators. It’s AI hard.
- Think about the little bits of textual content that you can break down and translate.
Grab the slides of this talk at hitherto.net/talks.
It’s question time and I ask whether there’s a danger in internationalisation of thinking about language in a binary way. Most people don’t have a single language, they have a hierarchy of languages that they speak to a greater or lesser degree of fluency. Why not allow people to set a preference of language hierarchy? Simon says that Flickr don’t allow that kind of preference setting but they do something simpler; so if you are on a group page and it isn’t available in your language of choice, it will default to the language of that group. Also, Kellan points out, there’s a link at the bottom of each page to take you to different language versions. Crucially, that link will take you to a different version of the current page you’re on, not take you back to the front of the site. Some sites get this wrong and it really pisses Jessica off.
Someone asks about the percentage of users who are from a non-English speaking country but who speak English. I jump in to warn of thinking about speaking English in such a binary way — there are different levels of fluency. Simon also warns about taking a culturally imperialist attitude to developing applications.
There are more questions but I’m too busy getting involved with the discussion to write everything down here. Great talk; great discussion.