Sunday, April 04, 2010

Predicting the Nakba in an Israeli Novel

A book I would love to translate (are you listening, Alon?) into Arabic. A book that MUST be translated into Arabic, and translated well.

House of Rajani (Harvill Secker - Random House UK), takes place in 1895 Jaffa. It records the diaries of Salah Rajani, a 12-year old Moslem child cursed with prophetical powers who foresees the rising of the Jewish state; and of a 27 year old Jewish colonist, new to the city of Jaffa, who takes both Salah's mother and their house.

Arab Israelis – among them Radio Cairo correspondent Khamis Abulafia and politician Ahmed Tibi – have called the book "riveting" and claim to find an echo of the Palestinian narrative embedded within.

The House of Rajani was awarded the Sapir prize in 2009, but two weeks after the public announcement on Television, the award was withdrawn due to allegations of a conflict of interest.

Alon says that the main catalyst to write the book came from a deja vu feeling: "The initial catalyst for writing it came from a scene I envisioned one day as I sat in a Tel Aviv cafĂ©: all at once I stripped the present reality of its clothes – the Bauhaus buildings, the uniquely Israeli window blinds, the ugly air-conditioning units, the ficus trees, the asphalt sidewalks, the low stone walls – and I could picture the orchards and groves and prickly pear cactuses of the Palestinians who had lived there in the past. I shuddered, and at that moment I decided to try to pass that feeling along to my readers in a historical novel about Tel Aviv's Palestinian past and about the first wave of Jewish immigration."

An expert from the novel can be read here.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Being Fast

Ken of the 1-800 Translate company is blogging about Speed.. not the kind that makes you unwell, but the kind that makes you productive.

"You’ve got to do it right, but you’ve got to do it fast too. How fast? It all depends. Most translators in most languages can do somewhere between 2500 and 3000 words per day. That works out to about 300 words per hour. That’s unique words, now, so if the materials to be translated have a lot of repetition (say 50%), then the translator is effectively translating 5000 words instead of 2500 (...) Terminology management, machine pre-translation, and lots of other stuff can push those numbers much higher (...) Edit and proof take more time, say around 1000 words per hour, each, depending on the quality of the original and the talents and diligence of the editors. Traffic becomes a concern, too, in that the document has to be scheduled and assigned to the appropriate linguist by the appropriate project manager or language manager. So all the expectations we have for words per hour get tossed out the window if the one-and-only language manager is backed up or simply having a bad day. "

When all else fails, Ken throws in more translators, but complains that we are like cats, that is, there is more than one way to skin us. Thanks, Ken. I agree that as a bunch of professionals, we find it difficult to agree on anything, starting from translation theory and ending with which style manual is best to use. Don't worry, though - if the automation market keeps growing at the speed it does currently, our own productivity will kill all cats in the linguistic neighbourhood. That achieved, your only worry will be software crashes.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Weaving Trust

Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with Mark Tappling, the CEO of Language Weaver, a venture-backed firm which develops language translation software:

"What we've discovered on the commercial business side, is that there is a massive need for translation of digital content on the Internet. But, because of the large volume of digital content out there, most of it simply is not being considered for translation, because there's just not enough money, people, or time. That said, we made an entry into the commercial market in the digital content space. In order for that to be credible, we found that there was a lack of trust--most people do not think translation software works well enough to be commercially viable. Our strategy was twofold--one, was to go out and get brand name customers, and to translate their content to such a high quality, with no human oversight, that they'd be willing to post that on the internet. We've been able to achieve that (...) The second thing we needed to do, was to engage our users trust. In order to do that, they needed to know when a translation was good or bad. So, we established a patented algorithm--a trust score--which automatically ranks a translation from 1 to 5, five being great, one being poor, so that a customer can determine the trust of that. We calibrated that to our customers own, native speakers, who scored them, so that everyone has trust in the score. That has taken the risk out of the conversation, because we only ask customers to pay when the translations are good."

Is that bit about "no human oversight" giving anyone a chill? If their MT is such high quality, how come Google is struggling? Something is telling me that their average score is around 3/5 and that they sort of provide a tiered system: if it is mediocre, we will get it reviewed by humans, unless of course you are happy with being mediocre in language X (which most of their clients would be, since any language other than English is an enigma and for a pragmatic English-speakers, enigmas are best left at mediocre levels). So close enough is good enough, and if their algorithm produced "3" is 30% better than the "5"s of other MTs, they aren't doing bad.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Marian Schwartz Interview

Boston Globe interviewed Marian Schwartz, the Austin-based acclaimed translator of Russian fiction, history, biography, and criticism. Her most recent translations include Ivan Goncharov’s 19th-century novel “Oblomov” and Olga Slavnikova’s futuristic novel “2017.” Schwartz is also the principal English translator of the works of Nina Berberova.

Schwartz started by defining a "good" translation as one which "readers like". With my due respect to all readers of various temperaments, IQs and levels of intelligence - the fact that I love fries does not make the fries a health food item. I read Bulgakov's books both in Polish (which is a close relative of Russian) and Arabic, so I knew a bit about the hazards of translations before I landed the Glenny English version - and so I can say that the English boo in question shares a title with Bulgakov, and that's where the story ends.

Schwartz also states that in her opinion a translation cannot be bad when it gives people access to works that they would never otherwise have read. But are they actually reading the book they would have read if they could, say, read French, or Spanish, or Arabic? Or is it a book written by the translator and passed under the pseudonym of some foreign dude with a literary reputation? If I say "I am hungry" and Ms Schwartz translates it as "Sam is experiencing stomach pain and would like a steak" - is that representing faithfully what I said? I know she wouldn't - she is too brilliant a translator for that. It is just a rhetorical question, and I hope Marian was not watering down her IQ because this was a newspaper interview!


For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

When a PC Validates Your Language...

Back to Dr. David Harrison and endangered languages - Harrison believes language revitalization will be one of the most important trends in linguistics over the next couple of decades, and he believes companies need to get on board.

He is calling on technology companies, such as Microsoft, to help kids engender language. "The Microsoft Local Language Program can empower indigenous communities from the very moment when children in those communities first encounter a technology. It is a powerful thing for children to see their native language on a computer or on cell phone in a high tech medium. It validates the language and encourages them not to abandon the language. It shows them that their language is neither backwards nor obsolete and that it has use in the modern world and has value.”

It used to be different.

When I was growing up, the value of my language and its prestige came automatically as the result of the culture enshrined in it. I had Polish, Yiddish, English and Arabic spoken at home, then picked up a bit of Russian at school. None of the speakers of these languages needed the worth of their language validated by some PC.

It worries me immensely that kids now need to see their lingo on a hand-held phone screen to believe that it is OK to learn it. Amidst the many extinctions I am surrounded with - species of plants and animals, human languages, humanities subject at undergraduate level, common sense and politeness - here comes the extinction of the human wetware.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Open Source Corpora from Meedan

I wrote about the Meedan Project just a few weeks ago. The site has been launched, and although the translations are not brilliant, they are readable and make sense.

Meedan had originally planned to use the Worldwide Lexicon (WWL) project's open source system, but right now we're using IBM's Machine Translation engine and the IBM Transbrowser" -- a browser-based tool for creating a translation layer on the web.

Meedan's data -- its 'translation memory' of over 3m words -- is available to other translators. George Weyman, Meedan's content and community manager, says: "the translations that are done with the Transbrowser are part of our agreement with IBM that makes sure all those translations are open source."

The 'translation memory' is important because having a corpus of texts in two languages allows you to apply statistical techniques to improve a translation engine. The whole translation memory is downloadable from

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Arabic Kaput in the Gulf?

Hard to believe, but it seems that it could be true. In United Arab Emirates, 80% of the population are expats, and Arabic is trailing behind English and Hindi in the fields of business, finance and education.

Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait are all in the same boat, with governments bewailing poor Arabic language skills on one hand, and funding higher education in English on the other. Is that a smart move?

Blame is also placed on the primary and secondary education, with students arriving in uni incapable of writing in any language whatsoever.

To read more, visit the Global Post.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Revisiting Sacred Texts

The British Guardian asks if the spirit of the original religious text can be adequately conveyed in a different language.

Alexander Goldberg compares this seeking for the original to translate to interpreting art. And since "G-d is good at Hebrew", the knowledge of the original Torah is of paramount importance to Jews - except that Biblical Hebrew is sort of dead, and Aramaic is best spoken by the Iraqi Christians - not the best candidates for translating the Torah into English! The question then becomes who has the sufficient knowledge or who has the power to interpret.

Dr Usama Hasan, a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, tells a story of misrepresentation that made me smile: "When I first participated in electronic discussions about religion as an undergraduate about 20 years ago, I began all my posts with, "In the name of God." This was the standard translation of bismillah, a phrase that prefixes all 114 chapters of the Qur'an bar one, and by which Muslims start all kinds of daily activities (...) One of the other students responded with, "In the name of myself, since I can't speak for God … " Whilst other colleagues asked him to apologise, fearing that another humourless Muslim would be offended and disengage, I was creased with laughter. But I took his point, and ever since that exchange I have tended to use the prayer-like "With the name of God" for my own correspondence, reserving "In the name of God" for translations of the Qur'an. This illustrates the difficulty of dealing with nuanced religious texts."

Language is a vehicle of meanings, and one of the arguments cited to support the disputed existence of mentalese, in which we allegedly think, is precisely the possibility of translation between languages. For Dr. Hasan, "the best translation of the Qur'an is in the language of action."

Heather McDougall, a music teacher with interest in comparative religions, maintains that in the beginning was Logos, and then it got translated into "word", "reason" or "intellect". Logos is a difficult concept to translate, a bit like the Na'avi "I see you". She then talks about mistranslations of the Revelation of St. John by certain door-knocking groups. But any translation is an interpretation, and any interpretation is by default subjective. Some see the Lamb. Some see the FBI. Some see Bin Laden.

I tend to see Bedlam. That, too, is subjective.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Translating Surveys

Jeffrey Henning of VoVici has a series of excellent articles about preparing multilingual surveys and questionnaires. He does not start at the translation process, but goes further back and concentrates on designing. His advice:

(1)The biggest mistake you can make is to assume that you simply have to translate the English questionnaire into other languages.

(2) When you think about the problem as one of localization, you realize that you need different editions of the questionnaire for different markets.

(3) Write the master questionnaire with translation in mind.

(4) Design the questionnaire up front to minimize open-ended questions.

(5) A survey translation is not just a translation of the survey itself.

(6) Don't submit the master questionnaire for translation until it is "final final".

(7) Back translate the survey into the native language of the survey author.

And the DON'Ts?

(1) Do not use free translation software.

(2) Don't give it to someone who is not a professional translator.

(3) Don't be in a hurry. Give it plenty of time.

(4) Don't be stingy on back-translating.

(5) Don't under-budget. It costs.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

The importance of Multilingualism

"Multilingualism, which can be defined as the harmonious accommodation of different languages spoken within a common space, therefore becomes an essential component of educational and cultural policies, to which attention must increasingly be paid," said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, in a statement on the occasion of International Mother Day Language 2010.

"At the same time, the learning of foreign languages and, as a result, the individual ability to use several languages encourages openness towards diversity and understanding of other cultures. As such, it must be promoted as a constructive and structural element of modern education."

Because of the increased pace of communication in our globalized world, translation is enjoying a level of growth unprecedented in the history of humanity, Bokova said. "For it to become a genuine tool for reciprocal dialogue and knowledge, we must promote a more diversified and even more balanced context of cultural and scientific exchange.

"Multilingualism, the learning of foreign languages and translation are three strategic axes for the language policies of tomorrow. On the occasion of this 11th International Mother Language Day, I am appealing to the international community to give the mother language, in each of these three axes, its rightful, fundamental place, in a spirit of respect and tolerance which paves the way for peace," Bokova said.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

An Introduction to Literature in Arabic

L.D. Mitchell (book collector, professional librarian, author, photographer) did everyone a great favour by posting a ten part introduction about the literature in Arabic that any serious reader should have on their shelves.

Given the enormous debt that Western Europe owes to Arab scholarship, it is puzzling why the Arab world's own native literary traditions remain so poorly known and understood in the West.

I have written often about contemporary Arab writers whose works are being translated into English (Humphrey Does It Again, Darwish Celebrated in Film, Arab Literature Breaks Taboos - in Translation, On Translating Arabic Literature, Taha and Adina - Translating the Other, From "Religion Dispatches" - Translating Rumi], but Mitchell takes us on a journey from 1001 Nights to Naguib Mahfouz, touching on folklore, religious texts and science, then stopping long at poetry, moving on to compilations of Jahiz, Maqdisi and the globe-trotter Ibn Battuta, biographies of the Prophet and other greats, Ibn Khaldun's seminal work on sociology and the histories of Tabari.

Mitchell says that his mini-introduction would not improve the general ignorance of the subject much, partly because of the frustrating lack of English translations. rest assured, my dear librarian, that there is a similar frustration among the Arabic-speaking generation Y and Z who no longer use classical Arabic and cannot comfortably link to Tabari, Ibn Battuta or Jahiz. Modern translations from 7th-12th century Arabic to Modern Standard are either non-existent, or very few and far between. Add to that high levels of illiteracy, censorship, and rote-learning. I read my first 1001 Nights in Burton's translation, not in the original Arabic, although the whole set was adorning our bookshelves when I was growing up.

What books in Arabic get to see the light of the English presses also depends on which political buttons are pushed, as Youssef Rakha writes in his article "A literary prize fight: politics and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction".

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Google Translates Pictures into Information

To learn more about the newest gadgeting Google is doing, read their blog!

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Measures to Protect Arabic in ME Media - and what it means

(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) Media figures and field experts called Wednesday for protecting the elements of the Arabic language, as a basis for the region's identity and culture.

Participants in the seminar on 'The Role of Media in Serving the Arabic Language', held by the Arab Center for Educational Research for the Gulf States, said in their recommendations at the conclusion of the three-day event that classical Arabic should be used in official letters and communication between government bodies.

Moreover, they called for making the Arabic language a primary subject taught at all school levels, and to make it compulsory in all mass media colleges, whether in public or private universities.

It also called for selecting editors based on their competence in the language, and for media institutions to coordinate efforts to create programs that focused on the Arabic language.

It also encouraged making children's programs in classical but simple Arabic.

The event saw the participation of media figures, as well as language experts and representatives of education ministries from around the Arab world.

What this means is that if you have been dealing with the Arab Gulf countries, or you are planning to, you will meet with more stringent demands on having your transactions (legal, business, financial) done bilingually, if not fully in Arabic. And because the mood in the Gulf has been very "linguistically and culturally sensitive" over the past few months, cutting corners in the quality of your paperwork by using online translation tools or bilingual non-specialist might just land you in more trouble.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

One more language goes the way of the dodo..

Very sad indeed.

CNN reported on February 5th the death of Boa Sr, 85, the last speaker of Bo. the language which she grew up with, which is said to have evolved over 65,000 years on Andaman islands is officially extinct.

Stephen Corry, the Director of Survival International - a London-based group, which works to protect indigenous peoples - said Boa's loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman islands.

According to UNESCO, at least 240 languages have died since 1950. That's a cultural extinction rate of one language every three months over the last 60 years. Worse news is that the language mortality rate may be accelerating dramatically: worst-case scenario is an extinction rate of a language death every ten days between now and the year 2100.

Greg Rosner writes about this and the similarity between human DNA and languages. There are 6700 languages spoken today, he says, half of which will become extinct in about 25 years. While all humans have 99.9% the exact same DNA, that point one percent carries billions of variations which make up all our different physical (and possibly other) traits as humans. Those differences have been mutating and diverging in modern humans for only about 150,000 years. Which means that the Bo language evolved prior to modern humanity. Fossil record and DNA evidence seems to indicate that all hominids died out 60,000 years ago, with the exception of a small population of humans living in eastern Africa, some 65,000 years ago!!

Language and DNA both evolve, mutate and in many cases, die out. When populations of people live in isolation for long periods of time, (say, a thousand years) their language changes and so does their DNA.While languages and DNA change with different rates of time, it has been natural for both to evolve and adapt into amazing differences. Grammar, syntax, style, spelling. Dialects evolve.

Every time we lose a language we lose human experience, creativity, and a unique perspective of ourselves and the world. We are all weaker every time it happens.
There is something we can do about it--and it's not only a matter of protecting and promoting our own mother tongue. Language and cultural experts tell us that the best way to protect human cultural diversity is to celebrate and share it. Celebrate our own language, yes, but also learn and respect the languages of others.

There is a website where you could learn more about endangered languages.


For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Kill the Russians??

From the Globalisation Group - a hooter as usual:

A few months ago, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released and began setting numerous world records for video game sales. Unfortunately, the game also received negative publicity for including some frustrating mistranslations.

At the center of the issues is the "No Russian" scene, in which [the character] Vladimir Makarov is supposed to tell the player "Remember, no Russian." In the story, this is a straight-forward message: as a Russian nationalist, he doesn't want his men speaking Russian as they kill civilians. But in Japanese, it was apparently translated to, "Kill them; they are Russians."
The result was that Japanese players were shooting the wrong characters in the game, causing the players to prematurely see "game over" flash on the screen. Note translator: be a little extra cautious whenever translating an order to kill or "game over" may not be the worst consequence of your actions. Fortunately, Modern Warfare 2 has been very highly anticipated, so all the publicity enabled confused Japanese players to quickly identify the problem and adjust accordingly. If only everyone could recover so quickly from such translation errors...

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Proz responds to ridiculous translation offers from agencies

Changes to be made to the job posting system

"Huge movement, the biggest yet seen in this profession.. thousands of people supporting the petition.."

A petition concerning the job posting system ("A Translators' Petition Concerning's Job Policies" was hosted online at in February 2010. The stated purpose of the petition was to urge to revise its job-posting policies. In the space of less than four days, 844 translators and interpreters signed the petition.

In response to the petition, staff announced that changes would be made to the job posting system:

"1. The pricing field will be removed from the job posting form.
This change is consistent with the fact that the individual translator is in the best position to determine what he or she needs to charge to deliver the quality required on a particular job.

2. When consistent with member preference, posters will be given an opportunity to specify a budget range (after having posted).
An option to enter budget information will appear, with a suitable explanation, when among those who meet the specified criteria there are one or more members who prefer to take budget information into consideration when deciding whether or not to quote.

3. Even when a client budget range has been specified, it will not be published by default.
Client budget ranges will be accessible only to members who (1) have expressed a preference to consider client budgets, and (2) meet the specified job criteria. (This eliminates the possibility for the job posting system to be used to "popularize" low rates.)

4. More information -- supplied by the community -- will be made available concerning the price of professional translation.
In the void left by the decreased publication of poster positions on rates, guides entitled "Determining what service you need and what it will cost" and "Determining your rates and fees as a translator", will be introduced. These guides, linked to from the job posting and job quoting forms, are already being built by the community in the wiki. (Please consider contributing.)
Together with the guides, real-time data on rates charged by members will be made available for reference by job posters and those quoting. (This will be the topic of further notices in this site area.)

5. A means will be provided, and job posters will be encouraged, to enter more detailed information in job postings.
To quote accurately, jobs have to be posted in sufficient detail. Encouraging job posters to enter as much detail as possible becomes more important with these changes.

6. A means will be provided to enter more detailed rates information in profiles.
Profile owners will be given a means of entering more detailed rates information, such as premiums for rush jobs, etc.

7. The prominence of the job posting system will be reduced overall, with higher priority given to the directory.
The directory has proven to be a much better source of new clients for professional translators.

8. An addition will be made to the professional guidelines on the topic of rates.
Proposed addition: "Professionals: ... set their rates at levels that allow them to deliver, on an ongoing basis, the quality levels that their clients require"

9. Efforts will be made to stimulate industry-wide cooperation to support the livelihood of professional translators.
Several ideas for how to approach this have been considered, but at a minimum, links to groups that are active in this area will be maintained. Please share information related to any groups or individuals that you know that are active in this area.
Of particular interest would be those active in the following areas:
  • differentiation on the basis of quality
  • establishing a more direct correlation between quality and price
  • techniques for boosting productivity
  • marketing / negotiation / business skills for translators
Note that although these have been areas of focus in events and trainings for some time, there is ongoing demand for training on these topics in various areas and languages. If you have developed programs in these areas, and would like to deliver trainings or sessions on these topics, please make a proposal via support ticket.

10. A host of other steps, both technical and social, will be undertaken. Updates will be posted here.

Note: The above changes will be implemented as soon as development can be carried out. More detail on each of these points, and notice of additional measures, will be posted on an ongoing basis. To be notified when changes are made to this page, subscribe below.

The Proz Founder and CEO, Henry Dotterer, has responded to the petition. You can watch the response here.


For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at