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Localization & Race: Disney’s Dubbing Controversy

freelancing, Geopolitics, Language in the News, Localization, Localization Culture, Localization Strategy, Multimedia Translation, Personalization and Design, Uncategorized

Disney/Pixar’s localization of the movie Soul has generated some race-related controversy, according to The Independent. Released in 41 different countries, the film is about a Black jazz player who tries to reunite his body and his soul after the two accidentally split apart. It’s only the fourth animated movie in the history of American cinema to feature a Black character in the leading role.

The film hasn’t gone without criticism in the United States, where cultural news sites like Gizmodo, Screen Rant, and Insider have pointed out that Soul seems to lean into Black stereotypes. In its original English version, the film uses a white actor to voice the main, Black character’s soul — something Gizmodo and others claim removes Black agency.

In Denmark and Germany, white actors voice the character’s body as well, sparking the Danish controversy. (If German cinema-goers are upset, the media is yet to report it.) “A number of activists and scholars suggested that [the] casting was an example of structural racism,” reports The Independent. Nikolaj Lie Kaas — the voice actor who received the lead Danish part — said, “My position with regards to any job is very simple. Let the man or woman who can perform the work in the best possible way get the job.”

The language industry, however, has long considered non-qualification related factors in “who gets the job.” In interpreting especially, US providers often pair limited-English proficients (LEP) with interpreters of the same gender for assignments, based on language and topic. If an LEP has been raped, for example, crisis centers may require a same gender interpreter as a way to help minimize trauma. For religious reasons, female Arabic and Somali speakers also may require female interpreters for medical visits. In these instances, a man very well may be the best interpreter in town, but other factors must be considered in awarding the job. That said, film localization is a different field and appears to adhere to different standards in at least some cases.

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Weekly Shorts | January 15, 2021

Business News, Geopolitics, Interpretation, Language in the News, Language Industry News and Events, Localization, Multimedia Translation, Personalization and Design, Technology, Terminology, Translation, Uncategorized, Weekly Shorts

Translation error says Spanish speakers don’t need vaccine

A localization error on the Virginia Department of Health’s website told Spanish speakers they don’t need coronavirus vaccines, according to Norfolk, Virginia newspaper The Virginian-Pilot. Medical students at George Mason University discovered the mistake, which may have stemmed from unclear source text: “Before the faulty translation, the English passage simply meant the vaccine wasn’t mandatory,” the paper reports.

TransPerfect opens Istanbul office

New York-based translation company TransPerfect has opened a new outpost in Istanbul, Turkey. N Can Okay will oversee the office, dealing primarily with talent recruitment, according to a company release.

Neural interpretation from TikTok?

ByteDance, the parent company of international social media platform TikTok, has gotten in the interpreting game, releasing an open source tool named NeurST: Neural Speech Translation Toolkit. Note this is a misnomer, as the tech does not translate written language — rather interprets verbal speech. Full code is available on collaboration portal GitHub.

Nieman Lab predicts non-English news

American journalism think tank The Nieman Lab anticipates the United States will see more non-English news content in 2021 as both translated and in-language reporting increase. “Additionally, we foresee more substantive and equitable partnerships developing between mainstream and ethnic media organizations,” write Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula.

ATA accepting conference proposals

The American Translators Association has issued its call for presentation proposals for the association’s October 27-30, 2021 conference. The event will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota with virtual attendance options. Proposals are accepted through March 1.

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Vaccine Saves Language and Lives, NPR Reports

Geopolitics, Language, Language in the News, Travel and Culture

Getting vaccinated against covid-19 may do more than save your life. It could also save your language. That’s what Cherokee schoolteacher Meda Nix told National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview last week.

A member of the Cherokee Nation — a sovereign tribal government within the geographic boundaries of the United States — Nix grew up in an English and Cherokee speaking home, then studied Cherokee later as an adult. She is one of only around 2500 people who speak the language fluently today.

Native Americans — including the Cherokee — have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the US Center for Disease Control, contracting the disease at a rate 3.5 times higher than white Americans. The Cherokee Nation specifically has seen more than 11,000 coronavirus cases and 63 deaths. At least 20 of those who passed were Cherokee speakers, per NPR.

Initially, Nix had not planned on being vaccinated. Then tribal leaders held a Zoom call with covid-19 specialists, urging Cherokees to step up — not just for their lives but for their culture.

Cherokee is a member of the Iroquoian language family. Its writing system does not use an alphabet. Rather, 85 distinct characters represent the sounds used for speaking the language with one character assigned to each discrete syllable found in a word. For this and other reasons, the US Secretary of State considers Cherokee to be a Class IV language. Language classifications refer to the average amount of time required for English speakers to achieve proficiency when studying full time. At 88 weeks, Class IV languages are the most difficult group.

Nix teaches Cherokee to fifth graders, starting with vocabulary she learned from her mother about the natural world — such as the names for trees and birds. NPR reports that “by preserving her language, she is really preserving ‘everything. Our culture. Our beliefs. Our ways.'”

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Belgian Translation Error Could Result in Travel Fines

Geopolitics, Language in the News, Technology, Translation, Uncategorized

English-speaking visitors to Belgium may have arrived under a misunderstood set of coronavirus-related travel rules, according to national newspaper The Brussels Times.

“According to the English version of the official info-coronavirus.be website,” journalists Maïthé Chini and Jules Johnston reported on January 4th, “travelers must complete the form ‘within 48 hours of [their] arrival in Belgium.'” Trick is, that information is not correct. In its original French, Dutch and German — the country’s three official languages — the government states Passenger Locator Forms (PLF) must be completed before people arrive — not after.

Fortunately, the Belgian government corrected the mistake not long after The Brussels Times called to request comment. “It was a wrong translation of the text and it has now been corrected,” Yves Stevens, spokesperson for the country’s coronavirus crisis center, told the paper. It’s unclear, however, how many travelers entered the country before the correction was provided. Fines for those who do not complete the forms as instructed are €250 per person.

According to Reuters, Belgium has seen 650,011 covid-19 infections and 19,701 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the global pandemic back in March. Travelers and residents are encouraged to use Coronalert, a contact tracing app available in English, French, Dutch and German for iPhone and Android. According to the frequently asked questions page of the Coronalert website, “The language of the app is automatically matched to the default language configured in your smartphone’s language settings. If your phone is set up in another language than these four, Coronalert will by default be installed in English.”

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Gender Inclusive or Just Bad Hebrew?

Geopolitics, Language, Language in the News, Terminology, Uncategorized

It’s traditional for the United States House of Representatives to open each new session with a prayer, but that prayer typically doesn’t end with “a-women.”

On Sunday, January 3rd — right before the members of the 117th session were sworn in — Missouri representative Emanuel Cleaver used the interesting turn of phrase together with “amen,” saying “May the lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace — peace in our families, peace in this land and there I ask, oh lord, peace even in this chamber. We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths, amen and a-women.”

Since the swearing in, Cleaver’s usage has fallen under criticism from the international press with UK outlets The Independent and Daily Mail reporting.

In addition to serving in Congress, Cleaver is ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church, a denomination of the Christian faith. Brahma, however, is a Hindu god.

The word amen itself derives from the Hebrew, meaning “certainty,” “truth,” or “verily.” In English, it is a declaration of affirmation typically used at the end of a prayer or used on its own as a form of agreement or sign of support. While Hebrew is a highly gendered language — in addition to number agreement, verbs also agree with subject noun gender — “amen” is non-gendered.

In other words, Cleaver’s usage is more politically than grammatically driven. January 1st, House speaker and fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi proposed new rules for the body that require members use “gender-inclusive language,” citing examples such as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father” and “sibling” instead of “brother” or “sister.” These rules also require members to substitute verbs for gendered English nouns — “strike ‘’submit his or her resignation’ and insert ‘’resign’’’ — as well as use common nouns in place of pronouns: “Strike ‘’he or she serves’’ and insert ‘such Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner serves.’’’

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Anja Jones Translation Goes Fully Virtual

Business News, Geopolitics, Language Industry News and Events, Translation, Uncategorized

Anja Jones Translation (AJT), a British language services provider (LSP), has gone completely virtual. Staff’s last day in the company’s physical Newquay, England office was December 31st. AJT’s 20 person team will now work remotely from home, connecting through Slack and other tools.

Founded in 2014, AJT is a midsize agency that translates 1.5 million words a month for an annual revenue of 1.5 million GBP. Cloud-based translation management provider Smartling is its largest client.

During coronavirus lockdowns, virtual LSP’s have become more common — or at least virtual employees have, according to an October 2020 report from Common Sense Advisory (CSA). Before last spring’s quarantines, 78 to 83 percent of global LSP employees worked in a physical office. By the pandemic’s height, though, that number had dropped as low as three percent. In western Europe — including the United Kingdom, where AJT is based — 49 percent of LSP staffers had returned to physical offices by October, with 63 percent hoping to come back once the pandemic is over. AJT is simply among those not returning.

Company owner Anja Jones is quite clear, though, that the move to virtual LSP would have happened with or without covid. AJT began planning the shift around two years ago — when Jones realized Brexit-related visa changes would make it more costly for AJT to hire translators from the continent. Covid lockdowns simply forced AJT’s employees into the home environment, speeding up the company’s timeline. Having already worked remotely the bulk of the year, Jones decided to stay there.

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MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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State of German Industry Report Released

Business News, Geopolitics, Globalization, Internationalization, Language in Business, Language Industry News and Events, Localization, Localization Strategy, Localization Technology, Technology, Translation Technology

Qualitätssprachendienste Deutschlands (QSD) has released its first report on the state of the German language industry. Compiled from national statistics authority data and the responses of more than 100 companies, the report reviews market size, translation and interpreting prices, common client verticals, machine translation (MT) adoption strategies and technology development. It also lists Germany’s top language services providers and analyzes industry growth over a nine year period, as well as job creation. An additional section takes a look at how the global covid-19 pandemic has affected the sector.

According to the organization — which is a conglomerate of DIN EN ISO 9001 and ISO 17100 certified translation providers — the German market is unique in that it is even more highly fragmented “at the top” than in other western European countries. To show this fragmentation, the report maps multi-language vendors (MLVs), estimating market shares for each. It also claims foreign companies win more translation business in Germany than national leaders combined — which QSD believes will eventually lead to the sale of many of these providers.

The QSD report also discusses local translation providers’ strong focus on technology as digital native clients come into buying power. Much of this development is redundant, writes the group: “Very similar classic client portals. terminology management products, REST APIs for Plunet and [quality assurance] QA checkers will compete for buyer attention.”

More information is available at https://www.qsd.de/en/language-services-in-germany-2020/.

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What Languages Will the New Constitution of Chile Reflect?

Geopolitics

After this week’s vote to compose a new constitution, a debate is occurring in Chile about whether Indigenous groups will be represented in the upcoming Constitutional Convention, and in what capacity. How will language play a part?

In a landmark vote about whether to compose a new national constitution, the people of Chile have spoken. After a year of protest, police violence, and resistance from President Sebastián Piñera, the people have decided to vote on an assembly of 155 delegates for next year’s constitutional convention.

Responding initially to a rise in public transportation fees, the protests evolved into a larger critique of Chile’s structural inequalities and widening income disparities, turning demands to the constitution. Written in 1980, Chile’s constitution was composed in secret by the Pinochet government, cementing into Chilean society a neoliberal, market-driven philosophy that valued economy over people.

In contrast, this week’s vote has made clear that the people demand the constitutional re-write promote a transparent, democratic process, as well as a commitment to serve all Chilean people.

Some of the issues expected to be covered in the constitution will be health care, education, pensions, water rights, and the expanded autonomy of Indigenous groups. Additionally, representation will play an important role in determining who will actually write the document. The process aims to ensure a binary gender parity, and negotiations are currently considering Indigenous representation.

However, reports are inconclusive about what further measures the convention will take beyond numerical representation. Questions arise, then, about what that representation looks like not just in the composition of delegates, but also in the substance of the constitution.

For example, what role will language play in the crafting of this new constitution?

This is a broad question, but one that could have notable implications in the debates during the convention, particularly in terms of the languages representatives speak during debate, the languages used to compose the document, and how the document aims to promote Chilean languages.

Though Chile recognizes Spanish as its official language, speakers of Indigenous languages number the hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, Indigenous groups — the Mapuche peoples making up the largest groups — make up well over 10% of the Chilean population. Despite their significant numbers and linguistic diversity, however, the current constitution makes no mention of Indigenous peoples, let alone their rights and languages.

The constitutional convention will begin in April next year and will extend as far as April 2022. At that time, it will be presented to a plebiscite to consider the reforms. As the story develops, we will continue digging into how, or if, the languages of Chile’s Indigenous groups will play a role in this historic moment.

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MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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Chinese Project Promotes Local Dialects, but in What Capacity?

Geopolitics

Surveying a wide swath of regions, Chinese officials aim to preserve and promote local dialects. The country’s human rights record, however, stands at odds with the recent measures.

Home to hundreds of dialects and ethnic minority languages, China has begun a project to preserve language resources and protect the record of the region’s rich linguistic history. The Chinese Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission began conducting surveys in 2015 to determine the state of local dialects around China. The survey has found that at least 100 local dialects are endangered, prompting the National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy to put forth proposals to protect endangered languages and promote inheritance of dialects.

The project stands to become the largest language preservation project in the world. As of this month, the project has collected more than 10 million entries for 123 Chinese dialects and ethnic minority languages after surveying the language resources of over 1,700 locations. Along with the language surveys, the NPC has made a call to promote local dialects in schools, though apparently in the form of

In terms of the spoken languages, much of the world associates Chinese language with either Mandarin — often referred to as “Putonghua,” or common tongue, in Mainland China — or possibly Cantonese, the predominant language spoken in the southern Guangdong province. The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the rise of television and film media prompted the Chinese Government to enact policies that would make Mandarin the predominant language for mass broadcasts, most mainstream media, and most educational disciplines. Mandarin is often a second language, and an increasingly necessary language to learn. 

However, while Mandarin is the official language of the country, the linguistic diversity of China is immensely diverse. Besides Mandarin and Cantonese, both distinct from one another, 14 million people speak a dialect commonly referred to as Shanghainese, and Shanghai is made up of even more languages. Language is not tethered to region, either. Hakka is a cultural language of the Hakka people, who live among several provinces. 

In statements for a 2005 New York Times article, one linguist from the Fujian province in China said, “We have an expression, that if you drive five miles in Fujian the culture changes, and if you drive 10 miles, the language does.”

Similarly, a professor of linguistics said in the same article, “No one can clearly answer the question how many dialects there are in China. The degree of difference among dialects is much higher than the degree of difference among European languages. In Europe they call them languages, but in China we share a culture, so the central government would like to consider that one language is shared by many different peoples. It is simply a different definition.”

Needless to say, the project of collecting records of all these languages will be a massive undertaking, not to mention pressing. Many of the measures to promote Mandarin since the Cultural Revolution have resulted in a sharp decreases in opportunities for speakers of local languages to maintain their own dialects, especially with laws requiring Mandarin instruction in many K-12 educational disciplines. In fact, just in August this year, ethnic Mongolian communities in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (IMAR) — located in China’s north border with Mongolia — staged mass school boycotts in response to a new curriculum that would scale back education in the local Mongolian language.

Likewise, in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), many of the local dialects are in danger due to similar educational policies as those in IMAR. In its report on China’s “Bilingual Education” in TAR earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch suggested that “TAR authorities are using a strategy of cultivated ambiguity in their public statements while using indirect pressure to push primary schools, where an increasing number of ethnic Chinese teachers are teaching, to adopt Chinese-medium instruction at the expense of Tibetan, such as allocating increasing numbers of ethnic Chinese teachers who do not speak Tibetan to positions in Tibetan schools.”

Considering the threat many of these languages face due to Chinese language policies, one might see the creation of a language preservation project as an attempt to make up for human rights abuses that necessitated such preservation measures in the first place. Furthermore, the cultural erasure occurring in many of the autonomous regions begs the question of whether these recent measures are meant to protect people, or rather simply to preserve language as artifact while the cultures themselves go extinct.

While the project to survey, protect, and promote local dialects in China is still new and will likely evolve in upcoming years, human rights advocates stress that such measures must be complemented with active cultural preservation as well. In her Atlantic story on Chinese repression of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, Yasmeen Serhan writes, “Safeguarding a culture requires more than simply maintaining a historical record of its existence. Cultures, after all, can’t be placed behind glass like museum artifacts; much like the people who inhabit them, cultures are meant to grow, adapt, and evolve.”

Preserving and promoting local dialects and ethnic minority languages will thus require not merely the collection of documents, but an even more more massive undertaking: promoting the cultures themselves. The project has so far resulted in a rich collection of language data and resources, and likely a better understanding of China’s broad swath of cultures and languages. How this information will translate to policy, or reform, still remains a question.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Turkish Social Media Law set to Gobble up Dissent

Geopolitics

The Turkish parliament swiftly approved a new law regulating social media at the end of July, after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned earlier in the month that he would shut down social media platforms over “immoral content.” The law takes effect today, October 1, and has implications for the localization industry and its social media clients.

According to the law, foreign social media platforms with over one million daily active users are required to open offices in Turkey, with legal representatives appointed to field concerns around content that Turkish authorities take exception to. Companies will have 48 hours to comply with requests to remove content that is deemed unsavory. The law also requires user data to be stored in Turkey.

Companies that run afoul of the law risk severe penalties, including fines of up to more than $700,000, the blocking of advertisements, or having bandwidth slashed by as much as 90%.

The Turkish government claims that the new law is necessary to fight cybercrime and protect social media users, particularly women, from harassment and bullying. Critics fear, however, that the law will allow the state to increase censorship, target individuals, and silence dissent. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the law “would give the state powerful tools for asserting even more control over the media landscape.” 

This is just the latest move toward more sweeping media restrictions and censorship in a country where over 90% of conventional media is now controlled by conglomerates with close ties to the government. Last September, legislation came into effect placing streaming services such as Netflix under the regulatory control of Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council, whose rules state that programming cannot be contrary to the national and moral values of Turkish society.

Might foreign social media companies simply opt to leave the Turkish market rather than comply with requests to enforce restrictive censorship laws that are at odds with their own corporate values and the values of their home markets? Such a decision would not be without precedent. Wikipedia refused requests from Turkish authorities to edit several English-language articles that described Turkey as a sponsor country for ISIS and Al-Qaeda, resulting in a three-year ban of the site that lasted until January of this year. And, in July of this year, when Netflix was denied permission to produce their original Turkish drama If Only in the country because one of the characters was gay, they chose to cancel production rather than modifying the script.

Even for companies that do wish to comply with the new regulations, the bureaucracy, expense, and risk involved in doing so may greatly outweigh any gains from remaining in an under-monetized or non-monetized emerging market such as Turkey under such draconian rules. 

Turks are already aware that holding views in opposition to the government can have harsh consequences, as detailed in a recent MultiLingual magazine story. The greatest question in the end is not how the new law will affect social media companies themselves, but how it may erode the last bastion of freedom of expression and dissent online, and move many Turks to self-censor.

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Bobb Drake is a foodie, book hoarder, and curator of fine and interesting information and artifacts. A long-time language services veteran, Bobb has spent much of his career exploring the secret depths and furthest reaches of the industry’s cultural underbelly. He is currently director of Geocultural Research at Nimdzi Insights.

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