Terminology Glosses: Numbers and startups

While preparing for his own small business startup adventure, a friend described how pleased he was with all the help he got from different US organizations that would probably not have been available in his country. From the local chapters of Score (www.score.org) to the Small Business Development Centers (www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc), an army of former managers, practitioners and experts introduced him to an equally important number of business puzzle pieces: strategic business planning, marketing planning, business mentoring, legal advising, accounting, payroll and the like.

My friend’s startup was going to be a traditional LLC in logistics. Even though evolving fast, the logistics domain still answers to the classical rules of business prospected by Score: it starts locally and then grows. It can also, probably, be confined within the borders of a single country or nation. What my friend could not find as much in the otherwise encompassing view of Score was the international grasp, the point of view that would be, on the contrary, essential from the get-go in a localization and translation business.

For this reason, the entry I am adding today to our ideal termbase is internationalization, a term that is often abbreviated as i18n, where 18 is the number of letters between i and n in the English word. Of interest from a terminological and linguistic perspective is the use of a numeronym, an abbreviation formed using a number. Typical examples of numeronyms are those words where the letters and number sound like the corresponding full form, as in K9 for canine, or the French K7 (ka sept) for cassette. Other cases in which numbers are used instead of words could be using the term 911 instead of the word emergency, or the 101 utilized to express the concept of basic overview of a topic.

The case of i18n is slightly different, in that it involves a newer way of forming numeronyms that dates to the 1980s. The legend has it that a software company employee was given an email account of S12n because his name was too long for the system. This type of abbreviation became generalized in that company and, from there, to the whole software industry where, for instance, localization is often spelled l10n, and g11n is the abbreviation of globalization. For the sake of completeness, other modified spellings involving numbers have had some forms of success on the web and in IT in general. Think for instance of the leetspeak (from élite speak), a spelling system in which characters are replaced by numbers with a similar shape, for example, the number 4 for the letter A or the number 3 for the letter E. 

As for internationalization, the W3C defines it as “the design and development of a product, application or document content that enables easy localization for target audiences that vary in culture, region, or language.” A global startup must solve the challenges of time zone gaps, different languages, varied communication styles and access to remote users from the get-go. “But it isn’t impossible” state the authors of Global UX. Design and research in a connected world, especially if a company starts on the right foot from day one. “This requires the underlying technical structures for internationalization.” So, for those who are just starting out, the best option is to envisage internationalization from the beginning.

In the language industry, internationalization is almost implied and this endeavor itself comes with a plethora of variables, a subset of different challenges within the already encompassing task of starting up a company. Just recently, I was looking at different tools directly related to translation, and came up with an impressive list of CAT tools, translation management software programs, terminology management programs, project management software, editors, QA applications, localization platforms, solutions for multilingual websites, online translation management applications, free translation management and localization software tools, cloud-based translation technologies, authoring programs, controlled language plug-ins, content creation platforms, video creation products, file formats, file exchange languages, conversion routines, and a whole series of other tools that are in one way or the other related to the language industry.

Each of the above has its own characteristics and specificities, with a corresponding learning curve. To make things even more complex and fascinating, there is the increasing availability of machine translation and neural machine translation tools: Google Translate, Omniscien, tauyou, GeoFluent, CrossLang, Lingo24, SmartMATE, SYSTRAN, Amazon Translate MT and AWS, DeepL and Microsoft Translator, just to name a few.

Going back to my friend, he spent quite some time educating himself on the ups and downs and the potential risks of his domain. His mentor at Score was certainly very clear in reminding him that he should carefully establish the overall goal for his company: did he want to remain in business for a long time or did he want to create a company that he would sell in the next few years? His strategy should vary accordingly. That was certainly a point that struck a chord with my friend because it is corroborated by statistical evidence: most startups fail within the first five years. Even in a domain like the language industry, which has experienced some degree of growth in the last few years.