Translation musings: Synthesized jam or why I am wary of machine translation

“Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.”

Quote from 1984 by George Orwell

translate with the click of a buttonMachine translation is awesome, right? With a click of a button you get work done that a human translator would possibly need weeks for. A few teething problems – such as completely ungrammatical sentences, wrong terminology and nonsensical target texts? Never mind! Thousands of engineers are working on ultra-intelligent AI systems that will untangle all those nasty little glitches. Machine translation is the future. Machine translation is our destiny.

Well… to be honest, I don’t actually believe this. Continue reading Translation musings: Synthesized jam or why I am wary of machine translation

Musings about the past year, paperwork and new challenges…

paperwork end of the yearThe end of the year usually finds us organising, alphabetising, categorising and filing our paperwork for the whole year.

I think most people would regard this as a rather dull task but I actually quite enjoy it: first of all, there is that same nice feeling you get after finishing your spring cleaning; when you create order and arrange things. It can be pretty meditative as you focus on sorting out the papers and put away the old in preparation for something new. Continue reading Musings about the past year, paperwork and new challenges…

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time…

Danish Christmas decoration
Traditional Danish decorations

It’s only a few more days to go till Christmas!
Are you all set for the festivities, feasts and family gatherings? Here, at the First Edition and Cintra offices we are more than ready for that Christmas pudding. Or a chat with Santa on the phone…!
Join us on a quick tour around Europe to see how our colleagues celebrate Christmas with their families in their countries. Continue reading Simply having a wonderful Christmas time…

Translation musings: Roman secrets

Althofen_Pfarrkirche_hl_Thomas_von_Canterbury_Grabara_Commodius_24062015_5227Last weekend I visited a friend of mine in Oxford. We had a great time with lots of laughter, good food and we also popped in to the Ashmolean Museum. (Actually, it was more than a short pop-in, we spent half a day in there.)

Among many wonders of the world in the museum, I also found an interesting section about ancient Roman tombstones. It might sound morbid but it was truly fascinating! Did you know that Romans wrote in some kind of code on tombstones to save some space? Just like modern day texting or tweeting! Continue reading Translation musings: Roman secrets

Translation musings: Languages of the world (wide web)

website languagesThere are about 6500-7000 languages spoken in the world and according to some estimates, about half of them don’t have any written form whatsoever. And did you know that of all the languages of the world, only about 2-5% is represented online? Continue reading Translation musings: Languages of the world (wide web)

Translation musings: O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou… what?

William Shakespeare First FolioThis year is the 400th anniversary of the death of the “Bard of Avon”, William Shakespeare. Everyone knows the name of this prolific poet, playwright and actor and we can all quote some of his immortal lines. You probably met some of his plays or poems at school, even if you spent your school years outside the UK. And most likely you were able to enjoy his plays in your mother tongue as his works have been translated into more than 80 languages. (Including Klingon and Esperanto, by the way.)

Did you really enjoy reading them though? Continue reading Translation musings: O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou… what?

Translation musings: What’s with all the capital letters? – The mysterious case of the German noun

When you look at a German text, one of the first things you might notice is that some words are capitalised in a (seemingly) random fashion. If you don’t know any German, you might think that it is a mistake or some madman just went ahead and capitalised every third or fourth word.

Don’t worry, this is not the case at all. There are no crazies involved and there is actually reason behind this! Capitalisation is not at all random in German, on the other hand, it follows a simple rule: all nouns are to start with a capital letter.

While in English we tend to leave capitalisation to proper nouns, such as people’s names or countries, in German all nouns must start with a capital letter. This is a great help for language learners who can tell if they are dealing with a noun on their first day of learning the language. How handy!

Grimm brothers
The Grimms. (They might be discussing capitalisation.)

The rule is all logical, however, there is one crucial point that is not quite clear: why? Why is it that you have to write all German nouns with an initial capital letter? The answer to this is “no one knows”. The tendency of capitalising the first few letters of words in German started in the 13-14th century, however, at that point there weren’t clear-cut rules for it and not only nouns were capitalised. It was popular especially in religious texts where the word for God, i.e. Gott would begin with a capital letter. Capitalisation became more common in the beginning of the Baroque era, and became standard in the 17th century. Not everyone accepted the rule, for example Jacob Grimm wanted to have a spelling reform and write his nouns in lower case. (Interestingly enough, his brother, Wilhelm didn’t mind the capitals.)

German isn’t the only language that capitalises or had capitalised nouns at some point in the past. In Luxembourgish the same rules apply and until 1948, Danish also used nouns with capital letters. This is not surprising as the language has close connections with German. There was a short period in the 18th century when nouns were written this way even in English, although it wasn’t common practice. If you look at an early edition of Gulliver’s Travels, you can see this!

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Translation musings: Oh, the bronze skies…!

coloursBelieve it or not, in Ancient Greece the sky was not bright blue. It was bronze. Ancient Greeks were not colour blind, but instead of thinking in colours, they thought in a scale of brightness – and to them the sky seemed incredibly bright, just like shiny bronze plates.

However, we don’t have to go back to the ancient times in order to find different ways of looking at and naming colours. Many modern languages divide the colour spectrum up by different principles, which means that sometimes it’s not easy to find an equivalent for a given colour in another language. Continue reading Translation musings: Oh, the bronze skies…!

Translation musings: Beware of your false friends!

false friendsLanguage learners are usually thrilled when they meet a new word that sounds or reads the same as in their mother tongue. Hurray, one less word to worry about! It’s easy to remember that “dangereoux” means “dangerous” in French. Or, in Portuguese, “arquivos” is the same as “archives”. “Stazione” is Italian for “station”… Continue reading Translation musings: Beware of your false friends!

Translation musings: Hangul, the Korean alphabet

Korean textAt a quick glance, Korean texts might seem like they consist of several hundred (if not thousand) different, complicated blocks of characters, like Chinese or Japanese. One might think that it must take years of hard study to master the Korean writing system… But this is not the case at all! The Korean alphabet is actually really simple and logical. According to its creator, “a wise man can acquaint himself with [it] before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn [it] in the space of ten days”. Continue reading Translation musings: Hangul, the Korean alphabet