Travel and Culture


Federal police presence in Portland highlights fragmented American cultures

Travel and Culture

Portland, Oregon, is known for its bicycle culture, its book culture, and its general funkiness. It has a reputation among many of its residents and visitors as a safe city — and indeed, its violent crime rate (5.27 per 1,000 residents) is lower than Dallas, Texas (7.76 per 1,000) and less than half that of Anchorage, Alaska (13.13 per 1,000).

The city is often painted differently in right-leaning media, however — Fox News, for example, recently described the city in terms of “violent protest” that is “destroying businesses, infrastructure and quality of life in Portland.”

This doesn’t sit well with many residents of the city. “I am consistently confused by the Fox News narrative every time they talk about my city because it’s literally never unsafe here. I could walk my kids down every single street in downtown at any time,” said longtime Portland resident Tori Douglass of the protests.

On Monday, President Trump claimed that Portland had become so violent that he’d had to send federal forces to quell protests. However, nationally-shown videos of “riots” are localized to a small portion of the downtown, according to Portland residents like singer-songwriter Asher Nathan Weinbaum.

The impact of protest on businesses has been virtually nil, said Weinbaum — Portland looks like any other US city in the middle of a pandemic. Many businesses had been working from home for months, given the situation with COVID-19. Localization company Welocalize has a substantial workforce in Portland, for example. The company had already moved to working from home, and is currently operating as business as usual.

Although Portland protests have been ongoing since May, the oft-overbearing local police tactics did not contain them. Residents said the protests, which encompassed tens of thousands of people, were largely peaceful until unbadged federal forces showed up in fatigues, started beating people, deploying teargas, and even grabbing protestors off the streets — and then, said residents, Portland started fighting back for real. On Sunday, the state’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, announced that she had filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies that had descended on Portland. Rosenblum said the tactics of this ad hoc occupying police force infringe on the civil rights of protesters.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has additionally requested that the federal forces vacate the city, but the White House ignored that request. “What they are doing is sharply escalating the situation,” Wheeler told CNN. “We want them to leave.”

Protests have indeed escalated since federal agents started fighting civilians. Some protesters lit the Portland Police union headquarters on fire, and the protests grew to 2,000 people Monday night. “As a Monday tradition, we are all waiting to be assaulted by federal agents,” conflict journalist Robert Evans, who covered the war in Iraq, quipped on Twitter.

The question remains: if the city was relatively safe, why did President Trump choose Portland as a testing ground for the deployment of federal troops against civilians?

The long history of protest in Portland

Quite separate from its crime scene, Portland has a long history of protest, and specifically, protesting Republican policy. In the 1990s, it earned the nickname “Little Beruit” for the protests against the First Gulf War that greeted George Bush Sr. upon his visit to the city. The city gentrified extensively in the following decades, trading punk music venues for whacky donuts and swank coffeeshops. But an underlying leftist streak remained. In the national mind, the city still represented an upstart, anti-authoritarian ethos that had been blunted in other coastal cities like Seattle and San Francisco when the tech giants moved in. Where Portlandia celebrated the weirdness of Portland, Frasier toasted the intelligentsia of Seattle.

And importantly to Republican leadership, anarchy, as a belief system, was alive and well in Portland. Anarchists believe that society should ultimately be free from the rule of any government, and for Portland, that took the form of shared housing, activism for the houseless, and resistance to neo-Nazi presence. Evans, a gun-rights activist and journalist who has trained federal agents, has written about how cozy far-right groups are with Portland police, and how this has led to clashes between police and Portland residents.

A small riot in 1993 helped set the stage for what is currently happening in Portland. Protesters from the scene described tactics that have become familiar in many viral videos in recent months: police in riot gear surrounding a crowd they deemed suspicious — in the 1993 case, concert-goers who had exited the once-famous X-Ray Cafe music venue — refusing to let them leave, and then arresting them en masse when chaos ensued. Many of the concert-goers were self-described anarchists. Five were charged with felony riot.

Oregon law states that “A person commits the crime of riot if while participating with five or more other persons the person engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.”

The riot case was dismissed in 1994 because the judge deemed the statute to be overbroad — “a grave risk of causing public alarm” could mean just about anything, including the current actions of police themselves. However, the decision was reversed on appeal, and the statute is still in place in Oregon.

Being charged with rioting does not necessitate that participants engaged in otherwise illegal activity. Merely being in the vicinity of other people who vandalize property, for example, is enough for a riot charge, legally speaking. In Portland, protesters snatched off the street by federal police describe not knowing why they were being held, and not even necessarily being charged with anything.

The language of political opinion

The presence of federal agents in Portland cuts to the heart of a growing divide in America — a divide so deep, the factions speak different languages. For example, the claim that “Portland is full of anarchists” is true in one sense, and untrue in another. Language does not exist outside of historical precedent, and historically, worldwide, anarchists of various persuasions have been committed to fighting fascists — perhaps most notably during the Spanish Civil War, when they fought against dictator Francisco Franco. Most anarchists define their propensity for violence in the same terms that the average American would define it: fighting is only appropriate if it’s against tyranny or in defense of the vulnerable.

If you define anarchism as a belief system protected by the First Amendment, Portland is indeed full of anarchists. But if you mean that Portland has committed itself to crime, lawlessness and burning down businesses, this is untrue. The challenge lies in the different cultural meanings of “anarchy,” and the way language such as this is used to justify political policy.

“Our city has not been decimated by anarchy and violent upheaval. And for those of you outside Portland that believe that it has, you are being fed a repulsive and profoundly dangerous false narrative,” said Portland resident Johnna Wells. “My city is under siege by a federal ‘army’ that the President of the United States has unleashed. A fascist move that I fear will carry forth into other cities as well.”

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Katie Botkin, Editor-in-Chief at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing. She has extensive experience with niche American microcultures across the political spectrum.


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SDL Tados 2021

Latvia’s linguistic journey

Language, Travel and Culture

Tourism is popular the world over, as MultiLingual’s new issue on tourism can attest to. And Latvia is no exception.

Once, at a resort in Whistler, British Columbia, I was surprised to meet a trainer with AirBaltic, the flag-carrying airline of Latvia. The trainer told me that when AirBaltic started flying in 1995, its flight attendants only knew Latvian and Russian. This was unfortunate when it started expanding its route system throughout Europe. Additionally, the seat-back pocket safety instruction was in Latvian and Cyrillic Russian, which did little good for a Frenchman traveling to Latvia for the first time.

“To survive, Latvia had to become more than a bilingual society,” the trainer told me. Before Latvia’s independence in the early 1990s, you needed Russian to get ahead — and aside from Latvian-Russian schools, all other bilingual schools were shut down under the Soviet regime. But after independence, English became the second language in Latvia, especially for the younger generation. And then Latvia joined the EU, and with the adoption of the euro it could attract tourists from all over.

The translation issue to promote tourism became apparent during my first trip back to Latvia in 1989. There were no translation companies and most translation was done by Baltic speakers in their countries. I know — I translated the franchise agreements for Coca Cola and others into Latvian while living in the US.

The OECD now reports that tourism is booming in Latvia. In 2012, for example, “The top source markets for international tourist arrivals were the Russian Federation, Lithuania, Sweden, Germany, Estonia and Finland, together generating nearly 70% of the total overnight count.”

Latvia finally realized that tourism means economic development, and a Latvian tourist development agency was formed in 1997. The tourism campaign came up with the recent slogan “Explore Latvia slowly,” focusing on road trips. I like this slogan better than that of neighboring Vilnius, Lithuania: “Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing.” You can use your imagination as to what this latter slogan is referencing, or you could watch the John Oliver clip about it.

My two favorite places in Riga, Latvia, are the Riga Central Market and the Occupation Museum. The Occupation Museum shows what happened to Latvia during two totalitarian regimes: Nazi Germany and then the USSR. Its mission, explained in Latvian, English, Russian and German, “is to remember those who perished, were forcefully deported, or fled the terror of the occupation regime.”

Latvia Translation tourism

Interactive map of Latvia from Latvia’s tourism site.

Today, translations are everywhere in Latvia. To attract foreign investment, the Latvia development agency where I served as the US representative for 16 years has a website ( in Latvian, English, Russian, Japanese and Chinese. Russian firms are coming to Latvia, and perhaps the most notable is Stolichnaya Vodka (Stoli), which now makes much of its vodka in Latvia.

To deal with some of the issues that researchers found in foreign language availability, the Latvian government set up a travel portal that provides maps and booklets in a variety of languages for each of the four regions of Latvia. This is pretty amazing given that Latvia is not a huge country — and the documents are localized for different demographics. For example, Booklet about Latvia is in Korean and Chinese, and Cycling Routes in Latvia is in Latvian, English, German, Russian and Dutch.

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John Freivalds runs an international communications firm and is the Honorary Consul for Latvia in the US State of Minnesota.


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Nuances and niceties

Travel and Culture

It’s been at least five years since I traveled to a place where I did not know the language, but the upcoming LocWorld40 has taken me to the west coast of Portugal for ten days.

I grew up in the Netherlands and traveled to 20 countries between 2006 and 2016. I am now settled in Sandpoint, Idaho, as part of the MultiLingual team. Before heading to the LocWorld conference center in Estoril, I stay in Parede for a few days, a small town lodged between Lisbon and Estoril. The Airbnb housecat is named Puski, which I’m pretty sure is funny in any language, and the Russian women in the room adjacent to mine hang their underwear to dry in the shared bathroom.

Just a few hours after getting off a plane and 30 hours after leaving my house, the rain stops and I go for an evening run. In Idaho it is early afternoon, so I don’t feel quite like a zombie. I run a few miles along the promenade. I then follow the railroad to the Parede station, dip through the tunnel and pop out in the shopping center. I decide to get some food at the store while I’m here. It’s the kind of store that makes me miss Europe — it has everything I need, but is only a fraction of the size of an American store.

Quickly, the produce department air conditioning and having stopped running cools me down. I self-consciously undo my sweater from my waist to put it on. I feel painfully aware only because I know a proper European wouldn’t even be in this situation. They would have thought to get fully dressed before they walked into the grocery store. In fact, they would never be wearing their running clothes here in the first place! Running clothes are to be worn for one occasion only: running. You then go home, shower and put on your normal clothes to get a bag of lettuce. I awkwardly pull my Icebreaker over my head among the kiwis and bok choi. Two old ladies who stood chatting fall silent.

Pretending to be oblivious, I stare sheepishly at Portuguese food labels, the sheep-effect of which is only enhanced by my not wearing my glasses.

The checkout lady says “boa noite” in greeting. I repeat it back as best I can, only to be sized up from over her rims, followed with a blank stare and a cold “hee-ello”. Guess I didn’t quite get it right. Besides the running clothes, I now carry the confident swagger of an American, complete with near-permanent smile. I wish I could simply flip the switch and localize my body language back to Europe, but having been away for so long, that is hard to do.

I need a bag to take all the things I got excited about (like the box of fresh olives for 78 cents). Portuguese quite often reads a lot like Spanish, but sometimes not at all. In pronunciation I’ve noticed the “s” and “c” become a prominent “sh,” making the language sound less Latino and more Slavic. I imagine a bag might be bolsa and sound like bolshia. I give it a go. Another dead stare. I sweetly ask what the name for bag is and realize too late that I am only adding to the American stereotype. It’s “saca.” People in line begin to sigh. Bing translator later tells be “bolsa” was just fine.

I want them to know I am not an American. I want to look everyone in the eye and explain I grew up in the Netherlands and unabashedly beg for their approval — not because I am ashamed but because I am cursed to understand the feelings they have toward Americans. At the same time I ache to explain what an amazing place I live in, not a MAGA trailer park next to a gun range.

I want Europeans to understand there are pockets of amazing people who have gathered to live their unique subculture of passions. That we move about the country freely, mostly between age 18 and 35, to find a place that fits us best. This freedom paired with an inherited thirst for exploration creates an entire continent of people who localize themselves according to passion, age, heritage and belief.

Part of me wants to point out their silly superiority complex an how much they complain and ask why they don’t like it when people over 55 go dancing in a silly costume if they happen to feel like it. That bullying is not OK and catcalling is very 2006. That, maybe when they would look farther than the tips of their nose, they could develop a better understanding of what goes on across the big pond beyond what they see on Jersey Shore and The Apprentice. The average person from the United States does not make it onto television.

So here I find myself lost between two shores, as Neil Diamond put it. I will continue to talk about nuances in all cultures and how important it is to understand these. Europe is not a utopian place where everyone is gorgeous, gets along and all are accepted. In turn America is not a filthy bunch of trigger-happy hillbillies represented by one person in an oval office.

The thing I love so much about our industry is that it is precisely about that effort to understand each other. Most of us straddle more than one culture and are able to see the subtleties of other ways of life. See you at LocWorld!


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Marjolein realized early on that the Netherlands was too small for her. After traveling to 30+ countries over the span of 10 years she moved to the United States in 2014. She holds a degree in Communication from the University of Rotterdam and has long had an affinity for creative writing.

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Nyepi and global internet

Travel and Culture

The entire island of Bali, Indonesia, grinds to a halt one day a year. No planes may arrive or depart from the airport, and all commerce ceases. Even checking in and out of hotels is forbidden. The streets are deserted aside from patrols ensuring that everyone stays inside. The holiday takes place in March and sometimes April, depending on the lunar calendar. It is Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, a Hindu holiday and the national day of silence and self-reflection.

Inside their homes, people nap, pray and sometimes fast, resting from the festivities of the night before. On the eve of Nyepi, villagers parade ominous paper mâché giants through the streets, carried by grids of young men holding bamboo poles.

The giants are called Ogoh Ogoh, and often represent characters from Hindu mythology, particularly demons. However, each team of locals has their own take, collaborating together to produce creatures that can easily reach over 30 feet. One Ogoh Ogoh in a small village not far from the picturesque Tegallalang rice terraces is a giant “monkey king,” according to its creators, with prominent muscles and fur made from plant fibers. A tattered tarp protects it from the rain while the villagers wait for the festivities to begin.

Oogh Oogh nyepi
Villagers direct traffic around an Oogh Oogh north of Ubud, Bali.

In the town of Tampaksiring, known for producing intricate bone carvings, local artists have gone all-out, elaborate creations on every corner. One Ogoh Ogoh gives the crowd a gilded middle finger, snarl fixed on its painted face. In Ubud, a cartoonish topless woman careens out of control on her yellow moped — a different kind of monster.

The Ogoh Ogoh are believed to represent the evil spirits and malevolent forces plaguing human beings. Building them, ceremoniously presenting them throughout the town and finally burning them is thought to purify the natural environment in preparation for the new year. As the villagers carry Ogoh Ogoh through the streets, musicians play percussion and gongs in a traditional gamelan Baleganjur style, the same eerie cadence across all the villages in the region.

The parade is a community affair, often requiring careful navigation of power lines, which villagers prop up with long forked poles. Locals follow the Ogoh Ogoh or watch from the sidelines dressed for the occasion in sarongs, with long-sleeved lace shirts for the women and white head wraps for the men. Girls may carry torches in twin lines behind the paper mache creations. Officials direct traffic, waving lone mopeds through the crowd or stopping cars on the main road for long periods of time — roads with parades may be closed to traffic, and for some villages, this can be a significant portion of the town.

Girls pause during a Nyepi parade in Ubud, Bali.
Girls pause during a Nyepi parade in Ubud, Bali.

The actual date of Nyepi changes every year, being based on the Balinese lunar calendar. This year, it fell on March 8, ending at 6 am March 9. Next year, it will fall on March 25 and similarly continue throughout the night.

On Nyepi itself, tourists hole up in their homestays and resorts. Some resorts offer food services, and otherwise guests will (hopefully) have been warned in advance to stock up on snacks.

The air is clean, free from the smog of traffic. Because lights are also forbidden, when night falls, the sky is resplendent with stars — unless, like this year, the sky is cloudy.

Internet outages around the world

There are few instances when the internet of an entire island, region or country is deliberately shut down. Most of the time, the action is taken to silence dissent, or potentially even to stop cheating on tests. But limited, slow internet in certain locales has similar effects — one reason John Yunker, in our upcoming issue of MultiLingual magazine, advises global websites to slim down so pages can load quickly during times or places of poor connectivity.

Whatever the reason they’re happening, internet delays and outages can become a localization issue. Much of what we talk about in our industry is internet-dependent, with the underlying assumption that in this day and age, the internet is available to everyone all the time. I had been in the industry for a decade before I learned that one day a year, on the regular, the internet disappears in Bali. And I didn’t learn that until the actual day the internet was shutting down, as I was trying to send work email and getting a mysterious message in Indonesian.

At the least, Indonesia, in the interest of localization, maybe consider translating this message into English for the poor tourists text time — maybe even give them a heads-up the day before the outage so they can send any imperative emails.

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Katie Botkin, Editor-in-Chief at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing. She has extensive experience with niche American microcultures across the political spectrum.

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What the localization of travel websites can tell us about the future of tourism

Localization, Travel and Culture

localization of travel websitesWe all know that North America, Western Europe and East Asia have long been popular markets for the tourism industry. But we also know that people living in these places aren’t the only ones who want to explore the world. Companies are recognizing the value in marketing to emerging markets and lesser-known regions. Where else in the world is tourism expected to grow?

We thought of an interesting way to answer this question. Our team conducted a study of ten leading tourism websites to determine which of these companies make the most effort to the localize their website in different languages, and what that can tell us about where the tourism industry is headed.

We took a look at a variety of tourism websites to try to get a good feel for the market. We could not consider every tourism website out there, so these are the results for the sample we selected. The results of the study are as follows:

  • Leading the pack in our sample is travel fare aggregator and lodging reservation website with 43 languages, including Thai, Polish and Malay.
  • In second place is Agoda, Asia’s leading online hotel reservation service, which operates in 36 languages and has a site localized in Brazilian Portuguese.
  • com comes in third with 34 languages.
  • Trivago comes in fourth with 32 languages.
  • Tripadvisor and Skyscanner both fly in at fifth place, with 28 languages each. Skyscanner also has three localized websites in British English, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
  • Seventh place belongs to Kayak with 22 languages.
  • Expedia and Accor Hotels are in eighth place with 18 languages.
  • Couchsurfing, a website that connects travelers and hosts for homestays and events, comes in at tenth place with nine languages.

Not surprisingly, the study revealed that the most popular languages appearing on each of the ten sites were English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Mandarin. However, what’s interesting is looking at which other languages appeared on the websites.

The next most popular languages are Russian, Dutch, Japanese, Polish, Indonesian, Korean, Swedish and Thai, with nine translated sites. On eight websites you’ll find Turkish, Traditional Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish. Seven sites are localized in Vietnamese and Greek. Six are localized in Czech, Hungarian, Arabic and Hebrew. Five sites are translated into Ukrainian and Malay. Romanian, Croatian and Slovak appear on four websites. Three sites were translated into Catalan, Bulgarian, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Slovenian and Serbian. Only two are translated into Filipino and Icelandic.

What does this mean for the tourism industry?

Our test data shows that the popular sites are noticeably present in the developed markets of Western Europe, North America and East Asia. However, digital tourism giants are identifying growth engines and are beginning to show their presence in the emerging markets of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc countries, along with East Asia and the Middle East. According to our estimation, this phenomenon will only increase.

Thanks to a growing middle class in developing countries enjoying rapid economic growth — due in large part to technological advancements — more people are able to spend their time and money on travel. This was either an unlikely or impossible reality for people living in these regions 20 to 30 years ago. Furthermore, customers are reaping the cost benefits of technological innovations in the aviation and tourism markets as companies continue to lower their prices.

What does this mean for the translation industry?

There’s a good reason why all of these companies (and they’re not the only ones) are localizing their websites. Localization can help an entity greatly expand their market reach, whether they operate in the tourism space or not. Furthermore, it can be done at relatively low costs.

Many businesses translate large quantities of content with hybrid translation, which combines neural machine translation (NMT) with the expertise of human editors and testers. In some cases, hybrid translation can lower traditional translation costs by 50% — theoretically, without compromising quality.

We’ve developed a translation quality score (ONEs) which evaluates NMT systems on a quarterly basis. The Q3 2018 score rates the translations for the travel and tourism sector above 90%. With such a high score, it’s evident that the need for human post editors is reduced to a minimum, and only minor fixes are required to bring texts to human-level quality.

We estimate that within 6 to 12 months, most of the travel and tourism industry, starting with the high-volume travel websites, will stop using traditional human-only translation services.

MultiLingual will devote the last issue of 2019 to tourism, so if you have direct experience with emerging trends in tourism localization, get in touch!


Yaron Kaufman is a cofounder and CMO of One Hour Translation. His main interests are localization technologies, online advertising, SAAS and entrepreneurship.

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Kicking off the Year of Indigenous Languages with Endangered Alphabets

Language, Travel and Culture

The United Nations has declared 2019 to be the Year of Indigenous Languages, with an official launch event taking place at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on January 28.

The world does not have a great track record on indigenous languages. More than 90% of the indigenous languages of both the United States and Australia, for example, are extinct or endangered.

We don’t even have a great track record on committing to support indigenous languages. In 1996, for example, a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was drafted at a major conference in Barcelona, proposing that all languages should have equal status and rejecting terms such as “official,” “regional” or “minority” languages, but despite widespread support, it was never adopted by UNESCO.

So 2019 represents an opportunity, or perhaps a challenge.

It especially represents a challenge to me as the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project, a nonprofit based in the US state of Vermont — I exhibited some of my carvings at LocWorld in 2016 in Montreal, 2017 in Barcelona and 2018 in Seattle.

As a way of kicking off 2019, I approached the Vermont State House and proposed an exhibition of my work that would run through the month of January, ending February 1. The state’s curator agreed, and I began planning which carvings to include. I’ve carved pieces of text (poems, proverbs, phrases and even individual letters and words) from indigenous and minority writing systems from more than 50 countries, so which ones made the most sense for the Year of Indigenous Languages?

Endangered Alphabets
Article 1 in Tifinagh, a script used to write Berber languages.

Given the fact that this exhibition would be in a venue of lawmakers, I assembled 14 carvings that each quoted, in different languages, Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Even as I started getting these pieces ready for installation, though, I realized I was about to make a common and serious mistake. I was about to show people what was going on elsewhere in the world, but nothing about what is going on in their own back yard.

The fact is, it’s far easier to complain about someone else’s treatment of indigenous peoples than to do something for one’s own. Virtually every country makes sure its own indigenous population is out of line of sight, out of the news and out of the history books.

Two years ago it struck me that, despite my work on a global scale, I had been guilty of the same partial blindness. I had not carved anything in Abenaki.

The Abenaki are indigenous to Vermont — and in fact to an area spreading from modern-day upstate New York to Maine, and across the border in Canada. Decimated and scattered by colonization, infectious disease, warfare and, in the 20th century, enforced sterilization, they are largely ignored and almost invisible. There are almost no college courses in Abenaki history, language or culture, for example. Their language is one of the most endangered in the country.

I was ashamed to know so little and to have done nothing about what was happening in my own back yard. So over the past two years, with the permission and encouragement of some of the tribe, I’ve done several carvings that are on display in regional tribal headquarters and I’ve done one for presentation to, and display in, the State House.

Even the design of the letters to be carved was an issue. Just as a number of sub-Saharan African nations have developed post-colonial non-Latin scripts of their own, it didn’t seem right to carve Abenaki words in someone else’s graphic tradition.

Luckily, my designer Alec Julien and I were able to work with Elnu Abenaki member Melody Walker Brook, former chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. She in turn reached out to a team of representatives from the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, Mohegan and Elnu, as well as other Abenaki, for input. The result is a font that incorporates Abenaki motifs from traditional artwork and beading — a custom Abenaki font.

“We’re a living, breathing culture — and there’s a message here that we have been able to translate that oral tradition to a script,” Brook explained to our local paper. “Your culture is your language — when you lose your language you lose much more than words.”

indigenous languages
The carving now in the State House exhibition says “W8banakiak” — that is, “People of the Dawn Land,” the Abenaki description of themselves.

The carving now in the State House exhibition says “W8banakiak” — that is, “People of the Dawn Land,” the Abenaki description of themselves.

As the focal point of the exhibition at the Vermont State House, I’m going to be giving a talk there at 4 p.m. about the Endangered Alphabets on January 17, accompanied by members of the Abenaki people.

The event is also going to be the occasion for the unveiling of my online Atlas of Endangered Alphabets. For the past six months, my tiny team has been researching more than 120 indigenous or minority writing systems that are struggling to survive, and the Atlas, at, introduces these scripts and, more importantly, the organizations and individuals working to preserve or revive them.

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Tim Brookes is the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project. Born in England, he now lives in Vermont with an outspoken cat, a fearless rabbit and a lot of wood.

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Terminology Glosses: Hikikomori and Ikigai

Localization, Travel and Culture

Let’s talk about Japanese terminology. In Japanese, the personal pronoun 私 (watashi, I) becomes 私たち (watashitachi, we) thanks to the suffix たち (tachi, mark of the plural). The linguistic phenomenon of adding suffixes and particles so as to adjust words to the structural needs of a language is called agglutination and, more specifically, it belongs to the broader sphere of morphology.

Moving up one level towards syntax, we then realize that the word order in Japanese is subject-object-verb. These two features alone should suffice to give an idea of the complexity linguists and other practitioners face when they set out to translate a text from or into Japanese. Every aspect of the language needs detailed care: from the quest for a meaningful rendering to providing the correct segmentation and choosing the right register for the intended readership.

Every aspect of the Japanese language needs detailed care. Click To Tweet

If we focus, in particular, on terminology management, an intriguing grammatical aspect comes into play that cannot be overlooked: nouns have no grammatical gender or number in Japanese. A few years ago, a Japanese colleague pointed out how a seemingly irreproachable, ISO-compliant termbase designed with extreme care presented, in fact, aspects of redundancy and even uselessness when analyzed from his perspective. The termbase designers had diligently chosen all the grammatical categories: feminine, masculine, singular, plural and had duly applied them to source and target languages alike, basically adding sets of categories that did not have a reason to exist in some languages. As terminologists, we should routinely include the target language customization in the list of elements to be checked when we perform the health analysis of existing termbases. Not only that, we should also take into account the needs of the various target languages when creating new termbases, and even add those criteria to our best practices. Needless to say, in the discovery steps we will need to keep in mind the corresponding functionality, or lack thereof, of the terminology management tool.

If we then consider preparing a text for translation, we need to remember that Japanese has a system of characters that, when typed, have the same width — even the period. This needs to be kept in mind for space-constrained text such as software strings. For sure, developers need to know and use good internationalization practices when they compose their strings. Translators and localizers, on their end, need to uncheck the “Automatically add empty space after a period” option when working with a Japanese text. Similarly, the use of placeholders that may work well in the source language may very quickly create untranslatable chunks of text in the target languages. Japanese is no exception. Think for example of dates. The following is a short explanation taken from Wikipedia: “The most commonly used date format in Japan is: year month day (weekday), with the Japanese characters meaning “year,” “month” and “day” inserted after the numerals. Example: 2008年12月31日 (水) for Wednesday, December 31, 2008. In addition to the Gregorian calendar, the Japanese Imperial calendar is also used, which bases the year count on the current era, which in turn is based on the current emperor.

Moving up another step to the level of semantics, we will then notice that many concepts are unique to Japanese. How to render them correctly in another language is an endeavor that requires moving away from a literal translation approach in favor of a semantic method capable of capturing the essence of a text. Of all the culture-bound terms the English language has borrowed from Japanese: anime, manga, tsunami, emoji, and others, two recently stood out: hikikomori and ikigai. These are the two concepts I am adding today to the sociology and anthropology domain of our ideal termbase. They remind us of how translation happens at the crossroads between language and culture, but whereas languages have the tools to forge new words and incorporate new concepts in a world that runs fast, culture is slower in adjusting to change, especially when change impacts deeply rooted values such as, for example, moving from a group-oriented society to a more individualistic world.

Hikikomori or 引きこもり refers to “reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement.” The phenomenon exploded around the year 2000 and at present hikikomori is a word that almost every Japanese person knows. Hikikomori are present around the world, and Japan itself counts more than 540,000. Literally, the word means “to pull inward” and it applies mainly to people aged between 15 and 39 who have decided to drop out of school and completely withdraw from society. Frequently, technology plays a major role in their lives as they spend most of their time in their bedrooms playing video-games, reading manga, looking at anime, sometimes immerged in virtual reality and often inverting the day and night cycle.

Ikigai, 生き甲斐, on the other end, is defined as “the source of value in one’s life.” Professor Sue Shinomiya of Portland State University explains that one of the longest living populations resides in a certain area of Okinawa, Japan. When these elderly people were asked what they did to live well, the idea of ikigai, of finding a purpose in life and in the community, came across. Strictly related to the idea of ikigai is also the idea of wa, 平和, the search for peace and harmony. In a holistic perception of the world, harmony is key and the way wa reflects in our domain is that a translation, to be complete, also needs to be presented well: the right fonts and layout are, often, not a secondary choice.

Moving up one last level, we find the context, the situation in which our translation is expected to operate and the audience it is expected to reach. The situational context determines the level of politeness, if any, to be used in the translation.

MultiLingual’s latest issue, on Asia, just went live. In my regular column there, I often look at terminology, technology and educational advances in the translation and localization world. Here, in this online-exclusive column, we can actually have a clear idea of how our domain is in fact indissolubly, deeply intertwined with culture.

MultiLingual’s latest issue, on Asia, just went live. #multilingualmag #asia #l10n Click To Tweet
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Laura Di Tullio is a terminology management consultant who has developed termbases and managed enterprise terminology for large multinationals. She has been in the localization industry for over 20 years, holds an MA in terminology management and a degree in translation studies.

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The perfume of bad translation, part 2

Translation, Travel and Culture

Apparently my new favorite hobby on small airlines is to read their in-flight shopping catalogues — specifically what appear to be their worst and most amusing translations. I discovered this pastime a year ago, as some of you may remember. In this case, I was flying Aegean with a flightload of Greeks, nearly all of whom were engaged in loud conversation with someone behind them or across the aisle; the aisle itself was clogged with happy people standing around chatting. I personally had nobody to talk to except the in-flight literature. Fortunately, it did not disappoint.


Watches, your first accessory for hunting wooly mammoths

perfume of bad translationReminder: Cavemen don’t wear watches. Buy this watch because you’re a Northern caveman, hunting Ice Age creatures, unconcerned with time.


Matt Sylicon is the best

Sssh, we totally didn’t mean “matte silicone” or whatever the heck this is made of; Matt Sylicon is actually the name of the inventor.


The iconic misguided brand

I always like using memo-style ad copy. Key fragrance notes include:

  1. sensual
  2. essence
  3. pear
  4. musky
  5. desire

This perfume comes with its own parental advisory for adult content

I think it’s called “cool water” because that’s what you turn to in order to pretend that this copy does not make you strangely uncomfortable as you read it next to strangers.


Attracting one of the most memorable senses, the scent

The first sentence of the ad copy seems like it came straight off a neural machine translation engine with no post editing. It has all the pretense of English and none of its sense… and the sense is scent, obviously.

The first sentence of the ad copy seems like it came straight off a neural machine translation engine with no post editing. Click To Tweet
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Katie Botkin, Editor-in-Chief at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing. She has extensive experience with niche American microcultures across the political spectrum.

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Multimedia synonyms explored

Multimedia Translation, Translation, Travel and Culture

We regularly feature one free article for every printed issue we do, and this time, we chose Jeff Edward’s article on Cherokee and technology. The publicly-available link is now live.

This issue, we have an additional free article because one of our regular columns — Terminology Glosses — is here online rather than in the print magazine. For all the rest, our issue on multimedia has shipped from the printer and is on its way to our subscribers — or you can access it via the web here.

Terminology Glosses

surtitle and supertitle

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Opera house in Nice, France for the first time. I saw L’elixir d’amour (L’elisir d’amore), an operetta in Italian by Gaetano Donizetti. The efficient little theater had a screen in place above the stage, with French subtitles running for the entire length of the performance. I could hear the opera singers sing in Italian and, at the same time, I could read the French version on screen. Because the memories of that evening in Nice are so vivid in my mind, the term I am adding to our ideal termbase today is surtitle.

A lot has happened in translation in the last few years, including significant advances in multimedia translation. A quick search resulted in a whole list of neologisms corresponding to new techniques and approaches in translation. The term surtitle in particular is a neo-formation (from Latin prefix super via the French sur and titulum, also from Latin) coined following the same pattern as its cognate word subtitle. The concept of surtitle is defined as a translation in “one continuous line displayed with no interruption” (from Wikipedia). This new term is now codified in the language with others like free commentary, partial dubbing, narration, live subtitling, audio description, double version and more solidly established words in the multimedia language, such as voiceover or dubbing.

Following the same prefixation path, the English language also coined the word supertitle, always from Latin roots super and titulum. From a terminology management perspective, surtitle and supertitle are synonyms and both are actively used in the language. Time will tell us if both survive and how each of them further specializes or retires. For the time being, though, both have their place in our ideal termbase.

Synonymy is dealt with quite successfully in terminology management thanks to concept orientation, which is defined in ISO standards 16642, 30042 and 26162. Any terminological entry represents one concept. All the terms that express a concept are included in the same entry. Synonyms, abbreviations, other variants and translation equivalents, which are all representations of the same concept, are all included in the same entry. At the level of termbase design, the concept level nests the language level which, in turn, regroups the terms. Each of these sections is repeatable and searchable. In this way, no doublettes are created in the termbase and each language can be used as the source language. Here is how our synonyms might look in a terminological entry:

Definition: A translation in one continuous line displayed with no interruption on a screen that is often positioned above a stage.

English: surtitle

Part of speech: noun

Term type: full form

Usage status: preferred

Process status: approved

English: supertitle

Part of speech: noun

Term type: full form

Usage status: deprecated

Process status: approved

Besides providing a solid and manageable framework to our termbase, concept orientation is also necessary for controlled authoring, where terms are flagged as approved, admitted, deprecated and so on in dedicated software. The violation of the concept orientation principle creates confusion and redundancy in the termbase and does not work in favor of consistent and seamless integration with other tools.

In Nice, as I was watching the singers moving on stage, I was also following the surtitles. I sometimes got the feeling that some verses — at times long verses — were left out. However, the ambience and the rendering on stage completely balanced any potential shortcoming of the translation. In an article called “How Opera Challenges Translators” by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times points out that in surtitles “translations can be as literal or free as the translator wants. But of necessity the lines are cut to the essentials, so as not to distract the audience’s attention from what is happening onstage. Titles are distracting, of course, but most operagoers find the tradeoff worth it.”

Translators are constantly making choices and strive to find the right balance in the rendering of a text. The multimedia factor adds an extra layer of complexity. Click To Tweet

Translators are constantly making choices and strive to find the right balance in the rendering of a text. The multimedia factor adds an extra layer of complexity. By going beyond the written and spoken word, multimedia create meanings that involve the senses and a complex interrelation of communicative elements. At their extreme, figurative expressions superimpose on figurative language; think for instance of visual puns, visual metaphors, visual transitions, and other dynamics used in the figurative arts that are as important as the actual textual narration.

A question also came to mind: who translates librettos? What are the best practices in the field? Who prepares translators for the task? The ATA Chronicle recently published a very insightful interview with Ronnie Apter and Mark Herman, “Translators and Librettists” on the art of translating librettos and the skills that are required to perform the task successfully. Competence in the source language is not necessarily ranked first!

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Laura Di Tullio is a terminology management consultant who has developed termbases and managed enterprise terminology for large multinationals. She has been in the localization industry for over 20 years, holds an MA in terminology management and a degree in translation studies.

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