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Paper Mario’s Controversial Translation

Localization Culture

Nintendo’s Paper Mario video game localization team has sparked a dispute about how it translated sensitive language from Japanese to Traditional Chinese.

Even without the pressure COVID-19 has put on game developers, video game localization requires several considerations. From redesigning food graphics or fashion choices, to adapting jokes to better communicate humor through culture, a video game localization team can stumble into sensitive content without even realizing it.

Nintendo’s July 2020 release of its newest game Paper Mario: The Origami King has sparked a dispute on social media about its localization process, specifically related to its translation into Traditional Chinese.

The argument centered around the translation of a conversation between game characters Toad and Mario. In the Japanese version of the exchange, Toad says he wants “human rights” and “freedom,” but the traditional Chinese version translates to “plain outlook” and a “peaceful life,” according to social media activist ShawTim.

The Japanese words for “human rights,” 人権, and “freedom,” 自由 are both part of the Japanese Kanji characters, many of which derive directly from Traditional Chinese. In fact, the only difference in the two words would be that the second character in “human rights” would look like this: 權.

With such a direct translation clearly available to the translation team, ShawTim’s believes the changes might shed light on pressure from the Chinese government, or at least the Paper Mario Chinese localization team’s proactive measures to avoid making waves in Mainland China.

Still, Niko Partners Senior Analyst Daniel Ahmad pushed back on any conjecture that the change was forced by the Chinese government. In a twitter thread, Ahmad questions the claim that the Chinese government exerted any direct influence, adding that the game has not yet been released in Mainland China.

He goes on to retweet an explanation that points out how the Chinese translation uses puns to make a statement about both better governance and origami. The tweet says that the joke is about toads not being forcibly folded into origami. “Toad needs a neat appearance” and “Toad needs a peaceful life” are puns — the pun is that 平整 (neat) and 平静 (peaceful) both have the component word 平 in it, which is a Chinese word for flat.

Along with the punning that occurs in the Chinese translation, the two end-words reflect linguistic play. Pronounced “Ping Zheng” and “Ping Jing” using Pinyin phonetics of Mandarin Chinese, respectively, the second character in each phrase carries a “J” and “Ng” sound to create a slant rhyme. In this way, the translation might elicit more of a jocular tone than a politically indignant tone, even while insinuating heavy subject-matter.

Whatever the video game localization team’s intentions on the translation, this dispute reflects a natural response to the sensitive nature of localization. Even in the absence of geopolitical disputes like that between Mainland China and Hong Kong, the process of translating from one language or region to another could unleash a world of unintended connotations.

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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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iFLYTEK Signs Agreement with Egyptian Ministry

Language in the News

Last month, iFLYTEK signed the Chinese-Arabic Language Translation Research Agreement with the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (EMCIT). The EMCIT’s AI and high-performance computing applications center will now work with iFLYTEK to develop research projects in Arabic speech recognition, speech synthesis, and Chinese-Arabic translation.

As China looks to expand its Belt and Road Initiative, the agreement will strengthen an infrastructure for further partnerships in the Arab-speaking world through the research and development generated in coming years.

Founded in 1999, iFLYTEK focuses on technological research in speech and languages, natural language understanding, machine learning, and adaptive learning. The company has won several prestigious awards, including the Super AI Applicative Award at the World AI Conference, and was listed on the MIT Technology Review as one of the world’s 50 Smartest Company in 2017 and 2019.

The company also agreed to a five-year collaboration with MIT in 2018 for a resource and development project around human-computer interaction, new approaches to machine learning, and applied voice recognition. However, MIT cancelled the partnership due to iFLYTEK’s implications in the Chinese government’s ongoing genocide of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other chiefly Muslim ethnic minorities in China’s northwest region.

Despite the cancellation of the agreement, along with the techno-trade war between the US and China, iFLYTEK — like many other AI companies during the COVID-19 pandemic — has experienced positive growth this year.

The Chinese-Arabic Language Translation Research Agreement will help both parties finalize construction of a Chinese-Arabic automatic translation system. Furthermore, iFLYTEK will provide speech and language technology training and share successful experiences with Egyptian researchers and engineers.

Under former President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government implemented the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to facilitate the country’s participation in the global information society. Currently headed by Amr Talaat, the ministry aims to implement strategic projects that will develop and secure the country’s information technology and telecommunications infrastructure.

At the Chinese-Arabic Language Translation Research Agreement signing ceremony, the minister spoke about the significance of using translation software to increase the exchange and distribution of knowledge and science and promote economic growth in Egypt and China. Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Liao Liqiang expressed excitement about the opportunity to establish its first diplomatic relations with an African country, and to cultivate a strong relationship with a continent that includes a significant portion of the world’s population.

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Translation App Now Features Auto Mode

Translation Technology

Translation app companies are continually developing new features that will better facilitate experiences abroad for users. Microsoft Translator’s Auto mode is the latest addition to its UX design.

two man chatting white sitting on brown wooden chairFor travelers and expatriates planning their post-COVID journeys abroad, using the right translation app will play a major role in communicating for directions, housing arrangements, contracts, conversations with new friends, and just about anything involving language.

Choosing which translation app will work best for communicating is a very personal choice that depends on several variables and necessities. Among considerations like number of languages, ability to translate both audio and text, and user interface, user expedience often takes precedence. After all, conversations rarely seem worth the effort when each party needs to spend time waiting for the app to process speech or literature.

With convenience one of the keys to successful translation apps, many companies are seeking the best ways to create and update their translation app with the new features and machine translation software to aid in the process. Some translation apps like Google Translate have special features that allow users to snap pictures of text that the app will then translate.

Microsoft Translator also recently announced a new functionality called Auto mode that will remove a step in the translation process. The app’s designers recognized that for many relying on their phones to translate conversations, the phone can create as many problems as it solves.

For example, users often must speak into a translation app, tap translate, and await the results. The process leaves users obsessing over the functionality of the app, rather than keeping the focus on the conversation itself.

The new Auto mode feature will allow users to choose the languages and tap the microphone only once. Auto mode will then register each party’s speech, and turn green to signal it is ready for a response. Removing the need to tap translate with each new statement, the app may provide conversational users a more convenient way to make friends or ask for directions while traveling abroad.

While the update is currently available only for iOS users, Microsoft is working on a version that will be compatible for Android users as well.

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An Interview With Christoffer Nilsson

Business News, Localization Technology, Multimedia Translation

By the looks of his LinkedIn profile, Christoffer Nilsson is nothing short of a true startup success story. Christoffer NilssonEven before graduating from Lund University, Sweden, he had co-founded Atod AB and Keyfactor AB, both game-related companies. Chris went on to become CEO of Warthog Sweden, managing director of Eidos Studios, and has managed the development of 20+ commercial video game projects. Since 2009, he has been managing director of LocalizeDirect, currently developing localization tools for the games industry.

We reached out to hear more about Gridly, a new CMS for digital games that is now running in beta and recently drew a $1.1 million investment from IKEA Family Foundation and other venture capitalists.

Gridly aims to become a competitive CMS for multilingual game projects. How do you foresee distinguishing Gridly from other systems?
The main differentiator is that we built a headless CMS tailor-made for the games industry. There are great tools to help developers with version control of simple files, like for your 3D meshes and textures. Gridly manages structured data, say an in-app purchase object that requires a combination of data types such as a name, a price, an image showing the item, and a description that needs translation into multiple languages. Gridly can then give business analysts access to change the price, and have translators and proofreaders edit the target languages, as well as keep track if any translation needs to be updated due to changes in the source string.

What is behind Gridly’s focus on game localization?
We chose to build localization into Gridly at the core, as localization is such a key element in the update cycle of games. It is also very hard to manage with a conventional file-based version control system. Gridly actually version controls every single string separately, making it easy to roll back to an earlier version. For more than ten years, we’ve been offering a localization management system to game developers called LocDirect. Many of the best game developers in the world are using LocDirect. So with Gridly, we took all the learnings and best practices from LocDirect and built into Gridly.

Besides the games industry specialty, are you trying to focus on a specific geographic area with this new CMS?
No, we have clients in more than 60 countries, so it is a global product.

Will Gridly offer anything innovative with regards to workflow?
Yes, we’re making it very easy for developers to customize Gridly and set up their workflows. We also offer strong support for multi-step localization, where you may start translating from Chinese to English, and then from English, go global. We also have support for managing audio in the localization flow.

How was the connection made with Entreprenörinvest? What is their interest in the language or gaming industry?
We went out to look for a partner who could provide “smart money” and be part of our journey onward. About 12 months ago, we started discussions with Jan Andersson, who is on the board of directors of both Entreprenörinvest and Innovum Invest. Jan had previously founded and exited a large software company in our region, so he had been on our radar for quite a while. They liked the combination of being part of the growing game sector with a de-risked entity. One could say that we’re selling the shovels to the game gold-diggers.


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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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Automated Localization AI to Join Kaltura REACH

Translation Technology

Kaltura REACH will integrate SyncWords’ automated localization to improve Kaltura’s video AI captioning accuracy and speed with hopes of increasing viewership.

automated localizationSyncWords announced recently that it has joined the Kaltura Video Technology Marketplace. SyncWords provides video captioning and subtitling in 100+ languages, and will now provide Kaltura customers with automated translation of both live and on-demand video.

The news comes at a time when multimedia localization is on the rise.

As automated localization has become increasingly foundational in reaching a global audience and increasing viewership, the partnership will reduce significant barriers like high costs and long turnaround times for content creators. With machine translated subtitles, organizations that caption videos could now order translations and see them automatically in the Kaltura player.

Throughout the translation process, SyncWords’ media localization AI analyzes content and metadata, assembling the translations into UX-optimized subtitles — theoretically while assigning word-level speech pace for timing accuracy. SyncWords’ automated subtitles are currently used in the corporate and academic worlds as well as by broadcasters and over-the-top providers. Over-the-top service offers streaming media directly to viewers via the internet.

Kaltura created the REACH video captioning and enrichment suite in order to combine automatic machine-generated transcription with professional human captioning and translations. Using automated speech recognition, an algorithm will determine language and provide machine-based captions for indexing and search.

“Our main goal is to offer our customers best-of-breed technology that is served directly from their trusted video platform,” says Liad Eshkar, VP of business development at Kaltura. “We see growing demand for affordable solutions for localization and personalization of videos.”





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