The Paper

In this section of The Paper we are not looking for the fidelity of translation but for achieving a betweenness, in which ideas, languages can be shared, interpreted, re-interpreted and retranslated. Practicing translation acts against enclosure – in the school, university or nation-state – and opens it up to making practical and theoretical connections. A hyper-textual space composed by many languages, for linking with other experiences to reshape our everyday politics in the urgent moment of the here and now.

The Paper. Quote.

LISA is insolvent

The Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) declared itself insolvent on 28 February this year. According to a very short message on their front page:

In spite of the financial constraints LISA faces as an organization, we are exploring ways to continue the association’s good works for the industry.

I think this is a sad turn of events. Industry standards are important, and TMX and TBX and all the others are a good goal – they always have been, just like ODT in document creation or mp3 in music compression.

Unfortunately though, I can’t say I’m that surprised. It’s obvious from their name what LISA should be doing, but as of this moment for example, the current TMX standard is still at version 1.4b which was let loose in October 2004 – six and a half years ago. For reference, Youtube was launched 5 months later. Let’s hope their line “TMX 2.0 is currently in development” hasn’t also been up since then.

The LISA website is confusing and old fashioned – there’s no “news” section for instance, nor any RSS feeds.  There seems to be a lot of information that isn’t really relevant to the job at hand – taking a strong lead on localisation standards – but there does seem to be a lot of junket style info.

Translation and localisation technologies have come a long way in the last six years. Sure, Trados/SDL still has a nice strangle hold on the community, but the OmegaT mailing list shows that there is no need for that to be a reality – providing better, smarter support, faster; being open to standards instead of trying to force their own standard on the industry. When a company forces a standard, it makes us all poorer – the only software that can use it is their own, or knock off software must pay a license fee – it reduces our freedom.

I wonder how dominant the big translation companies were on the LISA board – was it left to die by forces that didn’t want it around? Like I said – it’s a sad day and we will be poorer for it – but their inaction has been glaring.

Django Localisation Sprint

Django version 1.3 will be released next week and Jannis Leidel, the localisation coordinator, is calling for a final sprint to get it done.

Additionally, we are still seeking translation coordinators for the following languages:

- cy (Welsh)
- fy_NL (Frisian)
- hi (Hindi)
- km (Khmer)
- ko (Korean)
- vi (Vietnamese)

If you’re interested in becoming a translation coordinator for one of these languages, you can sign up and join the Django translation project at Transifex.


Sign Language of science

Maggie Koerth-Baker is quickly becoming my new favourite journalist at – last week she posted this interesting story about sign language interpreters at science conventions – could you even translate “epidural electrocorticography”? I can’t imagine there’s a big call for it in sign languages…but it gets done.

I’m glad that Maggie gave the time to the interpreter too – Australia has recently seen how it can all go horribly wrong when corporate interests are the melodrama of nightly news is being infringed upon.

Literary translation and transmogrification

Through /dev/null I learnt of a re-telling of The Lord of the Rings by a Russian author:

Kiril Yeskov’s The Last Ringbearer specifically repudiates Tolkien’s oft-noted agrarian romanticism; in it, Sauron and the land of Mordor represent progress and rationalism, and are destroyed in a war of aggression by Gandalf and his lackeys, reinforcing a backward, feudal order in thrall to superstition and hereditary privilege

Originally written in Russian, the official English translation has only just been made available. It’s a free download available here (in odt, mobi and pdf), which also has a link to an (translated) essay written by the author shortly after it’s publication:

The Last Ring-bearer was written for a very specific audience, too – it’s just another “fairy tale for junior scientists” of which I am one. It is meant for skeptics and agnostics brought up on Hemingway and brothers Strugatzky, for whom Tolkien is only a charming, albeit slightly tedious, writer of children’s books. Those were the people who got the biggest kick out of the novel; theirs were the reviews that used the expression “sleepless night,” dear to any writer’s heart, most often.

In conclusion, a few words about my personal take on the Professor. It is of a dual nature: I bow before Demiurge Tolkien who had created an amazing Universe, but am rather cool toward Tolkien the Storyteller, author of the tale of four Hobbits and their quest. In other words, to me the theatrical backdrop is way more majestic and interesting than the play itself. Terry Pratchett said it well: “Tolkien’s mountains have more personality than characters.” So I’ll bet that mine is far from the last Game that will be played in the Professor’s world. Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead – long live Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern!


Fun in Dutch

TIL* that fun in Dutch is LOL. I think that’s funny. This was sourced from this reddit thread that somewhat predictably descends into puerility before bouncing back with another wonderful collection of web-based intelligence, including the eventual reality check:

A better translation would be “plezier”. Or “leute” if your Flemish ;)

* “Today I Learnt” for those not up to speed with all the webs newest terms.

The Culture Wire

A good friend of mine, Nova has started a new blog to go with her business The Culture Wire offering translation, planning and logistics help for those wanting to visit Indonesia. Earlier this week she posted a wonderful riff on Java:

I the west, Java is simply coffee. You will hear people say, “let’s go get some Java”. It means get some coffee. But not all of them who say that understand where and what is Java. In your tourist book, whatever the tittle is, lonely or crowded planet, Java is an island near Bali. In Brooklyn, Java is the name of a street. In your computer and phone cell, Java is a script that every operating system can read (and the logo is a cup of coffee). In Indonesia, there is “gula Jawa” means Java sugar, “kopi Jawa” means Java coffee and “beras Jawa” means Java rice.

But what people rarely understand is that Java also an attitude. Java or Javanese is not all about where you from and what your skin color. To be honest, there is no perfect word to translate Java. All I know being a Javanese is as simple as understand the harmony and the balance of live. Javanese says, “do not pinch if you don’t want to get pinched”. Java is universal. Javanese are universalist. Everyone can be a Javanese and a Javanese can be anyone and able to live anywhere. Java is not a label and it might be as simple as “good”.
If someday I met you, I might say that you are a Javanese and your good coffee is Java coffee :)

Back to n-grams

Recently a co-worker of mine sent this email to our internal trivia list:

this is what you get for doing contextual rather than plain word/phrase machine translation…

> By the way, how frickin’ awesome is Google Translate?  If you type “АЭС ‘Бушер’ (Иран),” it generates “Bushehr nuclear power plant (Iran).”  That’s impressive — the algorithm not only knows that the Russian acronym атомная электростанция (АЭС) — literally “atomic electro station” — is rendered “nuclear power plant (NPP)” in English, but also understands that the Russian style of “NPP Bushehr” should be translated into “Bushehr nuclear power plant.”  Try it!

from a press release by the Russian nuclear regulator on the defueling of the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran - news

and analysis of that by some wonks I read -

Which apart from being interesting in itself, reminded me of the flurry of articles that we had on n-grams earlier last year (Google and Semantics, NYTimes on Google Translate) that I had to go searching for to share with my colleagues.

While I was searching, I discovered that Google Labs announced late last year a new project called ngrams:

Google Books has scanned over 10% of all books ever published, and now you can graph the occurrence of phrases up to five words in length from 1400 through the present day right in your browser.

It’s available in six languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, and Russian. You can run your own tests at Books Ngram viewer, with more information about the data set (corpora) on the info page. Not especially useful in my hands on a hazy Saturday morning, but I’m sure there are scholars who will find it interesting. I can’t imagine what it’s uses are and I’m finding it hard to think of useful examples to show, but here are a few that I’ve whipped up. Note that the searches are case sensitive, and that having a percentage on the vertical axis doesn’t really give much information unless you go digging for those numbers yourself.

translating, interpreting: Interesting to see that interpreting made a big jump in usage from 1890s.

translating, interpreting,translation: Ah! “translation” wins.

I tried quite a few, with little information of interest. My favourite example of New York, New York Times and New York Times Square is interesting however – remove a term from the front and repeat the search. It quickly becomes obvious that New York at a supposed 387 years, has been around a lot longer than the New York Times at 160 years, and both have been around longer than New York Times Square at the relatively young age of 107 years. I’d imagine that this result is also a function of the size of the signifier – New York represents a whole city, the New York Times is a journalistic reflection of that city that expands beyond the city in content and distribution, yet has less cultural significance than New York – certainly no one has written a New York Times State of MindNew York Times, New York Times or The Only Living Boy in New York Times Square, although that last one could make some good gangsta Hip Hop I guess. And we find that New York Times Square occurs less again – it’s smaller than New York in size, and smaller than the NYT in our imaginations.