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Biden Uses Arabic “Inshallah” during Presidential Debate

Language in the News

Responding to President Trump’s unfulfilled promise to release his tax returns, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden remarked, “Inshallah,” a common Arabic expression that can signal sarcasm and doubt, in the Presidential Debate Tuesday evening.

During the presidential debate this week, former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made a passing comment that caught the ears of viewers who speak Arabic. As President Trump repeated his long-unfulfilled promise to release his tax returns, Biden asked the president pointedly, “When? Inshallah?”

Biden made the remark in the middle of a heated dispute between debate mediator Chris Wallace Trump, causing many to doubt whether they heard correctly. One notable figure, Fadi Hilani, a linguistics professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey who has researched the use of “inshallah,” believed the term seemed too sophisticated for Biden, who does not speak the language, to use in a presidential debate.

Depending on the context, the common Arabic exclamation may indicate an earnest hope or that the speaker is hopeful for a certain result. However, in colloquial settings, speakers may use the word more sarcastically to show skepticism of an event’s outcome.

“If somebody says talks about passing a test, and you say, ‘inshallah,’ that means you’re hoping they pass,” Hilani said. “But if somebody says that, and you know they’re a lazy student, ‘inshallah’ means you don’t believe them at all.”

Regarding Trump’s tax returns, the vice president’s “inshallah” — spoken in passing and with a smirk — clearly suggested the latter, Hilani said. “He was casting doubt, in a sarcastic way, on Donald Trump saying he would release his tax returns,” he added. “What Trump is saying is too good to be true.”

Encouraged by Biden’s deft use of the word, some believe it signals Biden’s connection to Arabic communities. “The fact that Biden just casually tosses off an unplanned ‘inshallah’ reflects who he talks to and what he’s picked up from them,” wrote Yair Rosenberg, a senior writer at Tablet magazine. “Trump never does anything like this, because he doesn’t learn from people who are different than him.”

While many viewers saw the remark as a breakthrough moment for Arabic representation on the presidential debate stage, others interpreted the remark in a negative light, citing his poor pronunciation and suspecting Biden of “pandering.”

“It’s so disheartening that the best thing the Biden campaign seems to be able to offer Muslim Americans in the midst of an uptick in Islamophobic violence is an offhand, completely inappropriately applied ‘inshallah’ in the debate,” tweeted political activist Meriam Masmoudi.

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LA County Receives 70,000 Requests for Non-English Ballots

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The LA County Clerk Dean Logan announced that registered voters can still request to receive their voting materials for the November 3 election in one of 18 different languages by calling 800-815-2666, option 3.

As states prepare for the November 3 presidential election, LA County has seen requests in droves for voting ballots in languages other than English. According to Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, the office has received nearly 70,000 requests for non-English ballots, including mail-in ballots.

In 2006, federal legislation passed, extending the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. Any county with more than 10,000 residents whose native language is not English and who indicated on their U.S. Census form a lack of proficiency in English is required to provide election materials in the identified languages.

“In a jurisdiction with an electorate as richly diverse as Los Angeles County, it is essential that voters are aware they have options to receive election materials and their Vote by Mail ballot in their preferred language,” said Logan. “It’s critical for civic participation and the response to this mailer by close to 70,000 voters is a strong response to our voter outreach and education efforts.”

LA County currently provides fully translated voting materials in Armenian, Chinese, Cambodian/Khmer, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog/Filipino, Vietnamese, Hindi, Japanese, Thai and Russian. Additionally, facsimile ballots are available upon request in Burmese, Telugu, Gujarti, Indonesian, Mongolian and Bengali.

Despite the wide access to voting ballots in languages other than English, however, voters may miss out on important translation services. During the pandemic, some areas of LA County have faced criticism for insufficient translation services even in physical locations, so officials may need to increase awareness in communities that have less access to English materials.

“Sending a Vote by Mail ballot to every voter is a critical step for voter access in 2020, but it means that millions of California voters will lose that moment when a poll worker asks them what language they would like their ballot in,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, a non-profit, non-partisan citizens’ lobby. “Mailers like L.A. County’s help ensure language stands as a barrier to the ballot for as few voters as possible. Every county in the state should use their remaining mailings, before Vote by Mail ballots go out, to share language access information.

Registered voters can still request to receive their election materials in one of 18 different languages by calling 800-815-2666, option 3.

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Vaccine Language Rules in EU May Soften during COVID

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Fearing EU language-access requirements may slow vaccine development, drugmakers call on officials to soften rules. Some worry a rule change could hurt the effectiveness of a vaccine.

As drugmakers race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, lawmakers in the European Union face calls to loosen rules that require medicines sold in the bloc to include full documentation in 24 separate languages. Those calling for the exception fear that the current the current rules could slow the deployment of hundreds of millions of vaccines.

“We need an early agreement from EU authorities on the language to be used on the packs and labels for COVID-19 vaccines,” said Michel Stoffel, head of regulatory affairs at Vaccines Europe, which represents big vaccine makers including GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and AstraZeneca.

Although the criticism undermines calls worldwide for broader language access to COVID-19 information, the EU has considered temporarily softening language requirements for vaccines since June. In lieu of full inclusion on multilingual labels, an EU official said Brussels has considered alternatives, like printing a limited set of languages on the labels and publishing remaining versions online.

However, concerns have arisen that labels may not have enough space to include more than two versions. Furthermore, consumer groups have raised the warning that leaving any languages off packaging could have a negative impact on patients, especially those less computer literate.

“The urgency of getting a vaccine should not be an excuse for companies to cut corners on consumer protection,” said Monique Goyens, the head of BEUC, which represents major European consumer organizations. “Safety includes instructions of use in the user’s language and on paper about possible side effects of vaccines. That’s why we believe that online information can be an additional tool, but should never be the sole option.”

The dilemma raises questions about how to balance expedience with access during the pandemic, specifically relating to how best to disseminate life-saving information in an effective, inclusive way. The news comes after reports that the European Commission announced it would provide 400 million euros to an initiative led by the World Health Organization to buy COVID-19 vaccines.

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Beowulf Translated with a 2020-Style Makeover

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Following her 2018 novelized retelling of the epic poem, Maria Dahvana Headley has written a new translation of Beowulf that adopts a contemporary vernacular and political lens.

A new feminist translation of Beowulf by acclaimed author Maria Dahvana Headly has just been published to rave reviews. Mixing many of the classic poetic and narrative strategies with a 2020 lens, Maria Dahvana Headley has exploded into the age-old task of translating the English language’s oldest work of literature.

Joining in conversations with such notable translations as those by JRR Tolkien, Seamus Heaney, and Peter Liuzza, Headley follows in the tradition of determining a unique formal proposition for the behemoth undertaking. Where the others might rely on a classic formalism, Headley takes advantage of contemporary tools to depict a new take.

One of the most apparent differences that stand out is Headley’s angle on the Anglo-Saxon word “Hwæt,” which has received a great deal of interpretation over the centuries about how best to capture a modern equivalent. The term shows up often in the epic poem as a kind of linguistic interjection or call-to-attention, signaling a speaker has an important statement to make.

Heaney translated the word to “so,” as in, “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by / and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. / We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.” Headley, on the other hand, opted for the modern slang word “Bro,” for its wealth of connotations and frequent usage in today’s vernacular.

“Bro! Tell me we still know how to talk about kings!” Headley writes. “In the old days, / everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only / stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.”

The distinctive translation decisions did not stop there. Another notable revision had to do with the character known as Grendel’s Mother. Depicted in most earlier translations as a monster, Headley describes her version of Beowulf’s chief antagonist as “a formidable noblewoman, a warrior, as is accurate to the Old English words used to describe her.”

More of a transcreation than a straight translation — one might even say the work is localized for a modern audience — Headley’s version still uses alliteration and cadence, which were present in the Anglo-Saxon original.

The recent translation follows Headley’s 2018 work The Mere Wife, which is itself a retelling of Beowulf set in 21st century suburbia and place much more emphasis on Grendel’s mother’s story. With all the disputes over the years about which words and stories receive the greatest emphasis, Headley suspected something could have been missed in earlier translations.

“This translation actually came utterly out of the work I did to write The Mere Wife,” she said in a 2018 interview. “Initially, when I started working on Mere, I was certain that I’d find a popular translation in which Grendel’s mother isn’t a monster, but a warrior. Um, no. The scholarship on this point dates to the 70s, but it hasn’t made its way into most translations.”

Besides Heaney’s version, Headley cites a number of other translations that she relied on in this project, including Meghan Purvis’s translation and Beowulf By All’s translation. However, like any translation, Headley admits, even with these texts to rely on, she still had a vision for a deep project that was all her own.

“Language is a living thing,” she writes in her introduction. “And when it dies, it leaves bones. I dropped some fossils here, next to some newborns. I’m as interested in contemporary idiom and slang as I am in the archaic. There are other translations if you’re looking for the courtly romance and knights.”

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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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Krypton Hospitality App Now Supports 12 Indian Languages

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Developed in-house at OYO Hotels & Homes, the Krypton app will now have further language functionality at OYO properties across India, as OYO aims to capture the hospitality industry’s technological niche.

OYO Hotels & Homes hotel chain startup announced recently-updated language support for the in-house developed hospitality app Krypton. Now supporting 12 Indian languages, the app carries out audits, building communication, interactions, and performance monitoring of property managers.

Now supporting English, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Odia, Punjabi, Gujrati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada, the app represents about half of India’s 22 official languages. OYO also has plans to launch several more vernacular languages, which they hope will allow them to expand globally.

“With the help of internally developed ‘Krypton’ app technology,” said OYO founder and CEO Ritesh Agarwal, “Captains engage with properties right from the time of on-boarding, training staff of the property, ensuring right asset quality and conducting weekly audits of the rooms ensuring OYO’s standards of hygiene and other promises are maintained.”

With many property managers operating remotely or in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, the Krypton app enables them to oversee property operations and communicate with “Captains,” the local representatives, in their native language.

Speaking this week with The Tech Panda, OYO Group Chief Technology and Product Officer Anil Goel expressed confidence in the app’s functionality and capacity to maintain easier communications among employees, customers, and asset partners.

“Since OYO is present across hundreds of cities in India, with most property managers being fluent and comfortable to speak in their local dialects,” Goel explains, “The availability of Krypton in vernacular languages will bolster higher adoption of learning videos and increase participation of property managers in maintaining regular communication with the central team.”

Maintaining communications among so many languages through an app requires several variables, not least of which the localization process for each respective region. Nevertheless, OYO has shown commitment to keep all its employees and customers up-to-date with the latest information. Recently, OYO even launched its “Sanitised Stays” initiative, which promotes digital check-ins and check-outs through the app, offering consumers the flexibility of digital payments and online feedback opportunities.

Financially backed by the SoftBank Group, Sequoia Capital, Huazhu Group, and other investors, OYO was able to raise $450 million in 2018 as it developed ways to leverage technological solutions for the hospitality and real estate industries.

“Globally, we’ve seen marketplace models pivoting from plain discovery to fully managed and leased services. The future is a brand with distribution and full management capabilities — OYO being a full stack hospitality company is at the forefront of this innovation,” says Agarwal.

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Chinese-Language Curriculum Designated As Diplomatic Mission

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In a rebuke from American officials, a Chinese-language education group will now be designated as a diplomatic mission. The new measures follow years of controversy surrounding the group.

When it comes to learning a new language, vocabulary memorization and grammar rules make up part of the learning process. Depending on the instructor, textbook, and even political environment, language instruction can have ulterior motives. At least, that is what many academic institutions and the current administration believe of the Confucius Institutes.

In recent years, the Chinese language education group operating in the US has drawn criticism over its curriculum, which has led dozens of universities to close institutes hosted on campus. The accusations center around the organization ties to the Chinese Communist Government and suspicions that the language program is responsible for spreading Chinese Communist propaganda.

Pressure against Confucius Institutes has ramped up recently with the US announcing that it now designates the group a diplomatic mission, according to a report by the New York Times.

“The goal of these actions is simple: to ensure that American educators and school administrators can make informed choices about whether these CCP-backed programs should be allowed to continue, and if so, in what fashion,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a press statement last week. “The United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.”

Though the move will change the status of the Confucius Institutes, the new designation does not mean that academic institutions still hosting the programs will need to close them. However, the organization will now be required to give the State Department lists of employees and property holdings, along with information on all its institutes and centers.

Still, the Chinese Communist Party responded to the move, accusing the administration of further aggravating tensions between the two countries. In a daily briefing, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed the accusations had no basis. “The relevant US approach is to demonize and stigmatize the normal operation of China-U.S. cooperation projects. We strongly deplore and oppose it,” Zhao said at a daily briefing. He said China would “reserve the right to make further responses to this matter.”

Currently, the Confucius Institutes operate in about 500 K-12 classrooms and 65 US university campuses, though those numbers are shrinking due to concerns over propaganda and the interference in academic independence over issues like Hong Kong and Tibet. China considers the institutes in the same class as related organizations in the west, like the British Institute, the Alliance Françaises, and Germany’s Goethe Institutes. A notable difference, critics contend, is that those entities are not housed in universities.

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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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Bahrain IKEA Mistranslates Ad, Makes Smooth Recovery

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In eloquent fashion, Ikea in Bahrain rebounded from what could have been either a clerical error or a clever marketing tactic. The Twittersphere took notice.

When advertising globally, companies occasionally make mistakes in translation, as seen by IKEA’s latest gaffe in its Bahrain location. On a mural painted outside the store’s parking garage, an advertisement for bedding materials read, “Create your perfect night’s sleep,” in English. The Arabic version, however, read, “The same as written, but in Arabic.”

Taking notice of the strange translation, locals in Bahrain reported the advertisement to news agencies, which broadcast the news all over the region. In response to the widespread news coverage, IKEA updated the display, painting a strikethrough across the original mistranslation and writing another couple lines in Arabic below, which said, “This is what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. Enjoy your perfect sleep.”

After speaking to Sneha Sharma, the Twitter user who brought attention to the mistake on Twitter, Adweek reported that while she believes that it was a mistake, she acknowledges how adroitly the company handled the mistake.

“I think it was an honest mistake. The team approving the final ads and those printing it could have been non-Arabic speakers. So, there is a chance this is a genuine slip,” she said. “Most of us have been in such a situation where many eyes have gone through the ads, yet we have missed out on the mistakes only to realize when they go live. So we know, such slips can happen.”

Sharma is a senior social media manager and conceptual creative at agency Memac Ogilvy Bahrain, which has worked with Ikea in Dubai — though not at the Bahrain location. While she acknowledges IKEA’s smooth landing by its willingness to poke fun at itself, she also recognizes the possibility that it was not a planned error. Instead, it could have been an intentional blunder meant to spark discussion in Bahrain for the Sweden-based retailer.

“There is a slight possibility that this could have been intentional. Their revised ads, after the original went viral, as well their media responses, certainly make it seem so,” she said. “The whole episode stays within the Ikea vibe and sounds almost believable. I still think it is a clever cover-up for an honest mistake.”

Whether a ploy to garner media attention or simply a human error, IKEA’s mistranslation has performed the functions of an advertisement at an impressive level both for the Bahrain location and IKEA as a whole. Not only did the mistake spread IKEA’s name around Twitter through the discussion that followed, it also attracted many in Bahrain to witness it for themselves.

“Many drove to Ikea to check if it indeed happen,” Sharma said. “So, without spending a penny, this went viral in the country and got everyone talking about you. To me, that’s pretty impressive, even for an honest mistake.”

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