The treasure of language
BY CAMERON RASMUSSON
Maynooth University and University of Portsmouth for my Masters
I did a podcast with a local podcaster in Ireland to talk about words and dialect that is used in my region. I was invited on for a second episode and several people who listened have mentioned it to me.
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I consider myself to be a linguist by trade but a businesswoman at heart. I love negotiating, risk-taking, and advocating for something I am passionate about. Plámassing is a word we use in Ireland when we need to “sweeten someone up” — this is what allowed me to buy my first house when I was 23. I think I must have plámassed the folks in the bank who gave me a mortgage!
Caroline Crushell remembers how, as a young girl learning Irish, her grandparents would tease her for her attraction to archaic or outdated words. Each new word learned was a discovery, like following a treasure map to unearth hidden gold. And what use is gold if you don’t have a little fun with it? Crushell found the fun of language learning through jokes and humor.
“My grannies on both sides used to laugh at me — or else their faces would light up — at me using words that their parents used to use and perhaps no longer were in use,” she said.
It’s one of those formative memories that, whether one knows it or not at the time, proved foundational to creating the person Crushell would become. Years later, and now a senior technical program manager working for Warner Bros. Discovery, Crushell still sees language as a treasure — one well worth cherishing and preserving.
“My love for Irish was immediate, and the same thing happened with French, and I have been lucky enough to become fluent in both,” she said. “I don’t consider myself to be good at maths or chemistry or any of those practical subjects, but I always picked up languages quickly.”
And there’s never been a better time to follow a love of language like a guiding star. It’s been a tumultuous year for video streaming platforms, which has kept Crushell busy in her position with Warner Bros. Discovery. Early this year, she and her colleagues coordinated the effort to rebrand the HBO Max and Discovery streaming platforms under the unified umbrella Max, then pivoted to preparing for launches in other global regions.
It all unfolded in a lively time for the entertainment industry, as labor strikes, technological development, and shifting consumer demands create an uncertain future for Hollywood. What is certain, from Crushell’s perspective, is that language workers will always be essential in presenting the stories that shape us.
“Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about AI in localization, but to me personally, when you are operating on a huge scale, with different teams, using different workflows and ways of handling localization, it’s a luxury to get to a place where you can use AI seamlessly and at scale,” Crushell said. “I think that we have great features in terms of project management and machine translation. But what about all the messiness that comes before that, and all of the human intervention that is needed?”
It’s the bright red question mark at the heart of the latest technological revolution — one coincidentally looming over both the language and entertainment industries. To what extent can present and future technologies replicate the creativity and insight of the human touch?
For Crushell, she sees the artistry and human decision-making in localization and translation as an irreplaceable element, and one machines may struggle to replicate — at least in the short term. And that’s to say nothing of the managerial requirements. How do you coordinate teams using different toolsets toward cohesive outcomes? Who is creating what, in what order, and do they have the necessary expertise and resources to be successful? When a product peer dislikes how a term sounds in the target language, who makes a final decision (“For larger companies with legally approved branding and terminology, this is why terminologists are so critical,” Crushell observed)? Is the translation management software up to handling cross-platform key referencing or pivot languages that introduce character limitations or other complications?
“I guess what I am trying to say is that we have lots of fancy features related to project management and to machine translation, but it’s the nitty gritty before that where I see the gaps, and that human intervention will be needed for the foreseeable future,” Crushell said.
That’s especially essential when dealing with a corporate project as sprawling and complicated as launching a streaming platform in multiple regions. Warner Bros. Discovery completed the rebranding and launch of Max in late May in the US, and work immediately pivoted to launching in other regions.
For Crushell, it’s a true pleasure to work each day in languages, one of her life’s true passions. But every so often, something truly special comes along. Such was the case when the critically acclaimed film The Quiet Girl, filmed primarily in the Irish language, released in 2022. Likewise, Crushell’s partner, Ryan Lincoln, acted in an Irish-language series called Kin. Crushell hopes these projects are an overture toward more Irish-language art in the future, both on the Max platform and elsewhere.
“The Irish language is so intriguing and such a descriptive language, with many words related to another world or something beyond the scope of our reality,” she said.
Lomas gréine, for instance, means the inspiration you get from the sun — an experience we all have likely had but perhaps lacked an elegant phrase to describe. And Irish Times travel writer Manchán Magan cites another memorable example.
“Cáithnín means a speck of dust, a snowflake, a subatomic particle, and a minuscule smidge of butter, or anything tiny that gets into the eye and irritates it,” he said. “But, most evocatively of all, it also means the goosebumps you feel in moments when you contemplate how everything is interrelated and how tiny we are in relation to the whole, like that feeling when you realize, or, maybe, remember, that we are all one — all unified.”
But all that beauty is in danger of disappearing if the language isn’t passed on and supported through artistic and journalistic works. According to Crushell, there are approximately 70,000 native speakers of Irish remaining, and if a 2007 academic study proves accurate, it will be dead as a community language by 2027.
“The work we do in languages is so important, and at times, we might not even realize that we are helping to keep a language alive,” Crushell said.
But the positive news is that there’s good reason to feel hopeful for the Irish language’s future.
“When Irish became a full official language in the European Union in January 2022, this spearheaded a campaign to get more people learning Irish and provoked more funding for language learning to be made available by the Irish government,” Crushell said. “Back in 2018, there were around 20 Irish language translators in the European Union, today there are more than 200.”
The upshot, to put it in the Irish language itself, is is i lámha na ndaoine atá an chumhacht, or, “Power rests in the hands of the people.”
A similar passion for Crushell is the preservation of regional accents and dialects, both of which add yet more layers and variety to the already-rich word of languages. Indeed, regional linguistic signifiers like accents and dialects were something people often tried to lose, worried anything perceived as lower-class or unfashionable would impede their lives and careers.
“To get a job in the media in Ireland, especially going back to the ‘50s, ’60s, or ’70s, you needed to lose any regional accent that you had and sound almost British,” Crushell said. “This is sometimes referred to as the BBC influence on Irish media. Even today, any voiceovers on the radio or TV for ads for financial products or cars sound more British or American than they do Irish.”
Crushell’s work in both localization and language preservation was honored earlier this year at LocWorld49 in Malmö, Sweden, where she was highlighted as a rising star in the profession. As humbled as Crushell was by the experience, she also recognizes the women who paved the way for a new generation of professionals. That includes Kathleen Bostick, who introduced the vote to recognize up-and-coming individuals in the language world.
“She also said something to me I remembered: In the localization industry, (Argos Multilingual CEO) Veronique Ozkaya is the only female CEO from the largest-grossing LSPs who did not start off as a founder,” Crushell said. “There is a high proportion of women working in the localization industry but very few female CEOs, something that we should all think about and ask why.”
Business aside, however, the primary element keeping Crushell in the language industry is, well, language itself. It’s an endless world of invention and beauty, one that touches people’s hearts and connects them together. Language is a treasure not to be taken for granted, and Crushell believes it should be treated with all the care, devotion, and guardianship that entails.
“The Irish person in me cannot properly accept a compliment or really believe myself to be a rising star of the industry, but if there is one thing that I have for this industry, it’s passion,” Crushell said. “The work we do in languages is so important, and I am proud to be a part of that.”
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