Tag: culture


Localization & Race: Disney’s Dubbing Controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Canadian Brewery Muffs Beer Name

Language in the News

As part of our new geocultural series, InAppropriations, Bobb Drake examines what can happen when beer names go sour.

A Canadian brewery’s use of a Māori word has ruffled the feathers of at least one indigenous New Zealander. Māori television personality and advocate Te Hamua Nikora took to social media last week to call out Hell’s Basement Brewery over the name of their New Zealand hopped pale ale, Huruhuru.

In a statement to Radio New Zealand, Mike Patriquin, one of the Medicine Hat, Alberta, brewery’s co-founders, explained that the intended meaning of the name was “feather,” and that it was chosen to describe the beer as being “light as a feather.” Patriquin further clarified that the full name of the beer was in fact Huruhuru (the Feather) New Zealand Hopped Pale Ale.

However, according to Nikora, huruhuru — which, among other things, can mean “wool” and “hair” — is commonly used in Māori to refer to pubic hair, a fact that he expands upon in great detail over the course of a nearly six-minute Facebook video rant, during which he also assails Wellington, New Zealand, Huruhuru Authentic Leather, a shop which originally had planned on selling wool but didn’t bother to change its name when they switched products. 

In the video, Nikora delivers what might best be described as a verbal tar and feathering (Yes, feathers! Definitely feathers!), asking both companies, with an air of something between humor and indignation, “Huruhuru think you are?” 

“Some people call it appreciation. I call it appropriation,” Nikora continues. “So they just help themselves. It’s that entitlement disease that they got.” 

Continuing his unique, colorful monologue peppered with criticism, hyperbolic ridicule, and bits of sound advice for dealing with indigenous languages and cultures, the Māori advocate cautions such companies to, “Stop it. Just stop it. Just stop. Use you fellow’s own language.” 

“That’s my advice,” he concludes. “Take it or leave it.” He then suggests what might happen if they leave it. 

Patriquin apologized on behalf of Hell’s Basement Brewery, stating, “We did not realize the potential to offend through our artistic interpretation, and given the response we will attempt to do better in the future.” He admitted that the company should have consulted a Māori cultural representative and expert rather than relying on an online dictionary in order to avoid the accidental double-entendre. 

“We wish to make especially clear that it was not our intent to infringe upon, appropriate, or offend the Māori culture or people in any way,” the co-founder added. “To those who feel disrespected, we apologize.” The company is taking time to rebrand the beer.

On the flipside, Huruhuru Authentic Leather did in fact seek the approval of a Māori advisory committee at the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). 

Store owner Ercan Karakoch, who emigrated from Turkey in 2018, feels let down by IPONZ in light of the backlash, stating, “We trusted the Māori officials and IPONZ. We have done everything legally. […] There are rules and we followed the rules. Nobody wants to invest money into a business to get harassed and insulted.” Karakoch says they have no plans to change the name, which he does not regret choosing.

Part of the issue for the leather shop lies in their change of course in terms of products from wool to leather, and the subsequent modification of their logo. 

A spokesperson for IPONZ told news sources that “the applicant had applied to register a logo comprising the word huruhuru and an image of a sheep as a trade mark in relation to goods and services such as clothing […],” clarifying that, “taking into account the trade mark in its entirely (including the image of a sheep) and the goods and services in relation to which the trade mark was to be used, the Committee did not consider the trade mark was likely to offend Māori.”

The IPONZ spokesperson advised business owners who seek to use elements of Māori language or culture to consider consulting with Māori language, culture and/or design experts, pointing to further information available on the Māori advisory committee and Māori trademarks page of their website. 

And to not beat around the bush, we find that to be sound advice.

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


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Award Offers Over $200,000 for Arabic Translation


A prestigious and lucrative literary contest, The Sheikh Zayed Book Award, recognizes challenging and inspiring work coming out of the Arab world or engaging with its culture — including a translation category. Its deadline is approaching quickly.

This week, the award’s reading panel committee commenced its review of 2021’s eligible submissions, holding its first session for the current edition of the prize remotely. In the coming weeks, a series of further virtual meetings will be held to review the submissions received thus far, and evaluate how well they meet the criteria for the prize. These sessions will continue until October 1, marking the end of the submission phase.

The goal of the award is to recognize writers, translators, academics, and publishers from around the world for exceptional contributions to advancing Arabic literature and culture. In the words of this year’s Children’s Literature winner, Ibtisam Barakat, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is “the Arab world’s equivalent to the Nobel prize.”

The 2020 contest had a record-breaking number of submissions, with awards going to recipients from six nations — UK, US, Netherlands, Iraq, Tunisia, and Palestine. Each winner receives prize money of $204,000 (or more) to recognize and further enable their creative and cultural achievements.

The 2021 awards are still open for submissions across nine categories representing the range and breadth of Arab culture. Categories include Arabic Culture in Other Languages, which recognizes written works produced in languages other than the Arabic. Works could tackle any aspect of Arab civilization and culture, including humanities, fine arts, literature — novels, short stories, poems — and history. This is separate from the translation category, which recognizes a work translated either to or from Arabic, provided it maintains loyalty to the original source and context, and maintains linguistic accuracy as well. Other categories include Young Author, Publishing and Technology, and Literature.

The closing deadline is October 1, 2020. The submission process requires that five physical copies of the book in question be sent to Abu Dhabi, UAE, so planning ahead for mailing times is crucial. Winners will be announced in March and April of 2021.

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


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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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How to integrate cultural distance into your app development

Localization Basics, Technology

It is only natural for a company to focus on its home country when they start developing an app. It’s the market you are most familiar with, and it is where most of your current resources are deployed. However, if you want to continue to grow, and expand the relevance of your app, there may come a time when you need to consider moving into different regions and countries.

More than 5 billion people use mobile services and more than half of those devices are smartphones. When you consider the fact that only a fraction of the world’s smartphone users live in the US, you can see that there is massive potential for growth when you decide to start pushing your app into new markets.

If you are planning to market your app internationally, you have to consider the differences between the people in different markets. Beyond differences in language, people in different places have different cultural values and they respond to messages and imagery in different ways. This is what is known as “cultural distance” and it should be one of your top considerations when developing an app for different regions.


Internationalization is the process of creating an app in such a way that it can be adapted for users in different countries and regions. If you plan to market your app for an international audience, this should be a part of the development process. If you are working with an existing app that was not coded for internationalization, your development team will need to go through the app to separate the content portions of the app from the code that makes the app function.

Along with the internationalization of the app itself, you will need to globalize the efforts your company puts into supporting the application. You will need to look at how you want to position the app in different markets, your advertising efforts, the need for staff in different regions and the potential that there may be legal concerns that come with moving into new markets.


Under ideal conditions, localization will come after internationalization. This way, your app is adaptable for different countries and regions. You’ll be able to make it so things like text and other content can be switched out based on the international market of the user. Not only that, you will have laid the groundwork to move the app into these new markets.

Language is one of the more obvious concerns when it comes to app localization. While English is widely spoken throughout the world, it is not the native language of most people, and most app users prefer an experience that is in their native language.

While it may be tempting to use some type of machine translation, it is recommended that you hire human translators when you localize your app. Some of the machine services do work well, but they are also prone to mistakes. At best, these mistakes will be embarrassing; at worst, they could damage the reputation of your company.

Beyond language, you also need to consider cultural context when localizing an app. This is where cultural distance will play a role in app development.

Accounting for culture

Culture has a significant impact on how people view the world. Translating your app might put the words in the language of your target country, but that does not mean you are sending the same message or speaking to the audience in the most effective way.

Even when translated word for word, some content might have a very different meaning in different places. Obviously, a common turn of phrase in one country might seem like nonsense somewhere else. You also have situations where a translation retains its meaning, but the message might be received negatively in a different culture.

The same is also true for images. An image that evokes positive feelings in one culture might be negative in another. Furthermore, you might have images that work well in one culture, but they just don’t convey any kind of meaning in a new market.

When you are working to localize an app for a new market, you have to think beyond translation. How will the messaging carry over? Will the images have the right impact on the new audience? These cultural differences are important for businesses that want to operate in different countries.

Cultural distance examples

A good example of cultural distance is between those that are individualist as compared with those that are more collectivist. Individualist societies value being self-sufficient and favor the rights and needs of the individual over that of the broader society. In collectivist societies, the group takes priority over the individual and people are more reliant on each other. 

Another example of cultural distance is the acceptance of indulgence. In some societies, people feel freer to express and act on their desires. On the other hand, you have societies that are more restrained. In these societies, people are expected to have more control over their desires. 

These are just two examples of cultural distance, but there are many more that may need to be considered. As you assess a new market, consider the cultural differences and account for them by adapting your messaging and the imagery you use. You may even need to change the way your service functions to account for cultural differences in some places.

As a final tip, keep your eye on things like international downloads, engagement, app analytics, and user feedback. There is a chance your efforts at localization won’t be perfect for some regions. If you notice problems with the analytics, engagement, or user feedback, it can be the first sign that you got something wrong.


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Rae Steinbach is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined international relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to New York City to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food and writing.


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Ten Spanish expressions that don’t translate well into English

Terminology, Translation

Spanish is the world’s most widely spoken Romance language, and its proliferation in different countries and locales presents its own set of translation challenges. But setting intra-linguistic variations aside for a moment, even true romantics don’t love localizing these ten hard to translate terms and phrases into other languages. They’re common expressions that don’t have English equivalents. For the sake of simplicity, they all originate from Spain.

1. Puente

If you were ever a student, worker or perhaps just an architecture enthusiast in Spain, you no doubt rejoiced upon hearing this term. Used in a literal sense, puente simply means “bridge.” In other contexts, it refers to an extended weekend that arises when a public holiday falls near, but not directly next to a weekend. For example, if a holiday falls on a Thursday, workers might have a puente in which they are given Friday, as well as Thursday off work. A puente “bridges” the gap between the holiday and the weekend.

2. ¡Ojo!

Ojo is the Spanish word for “eye.” But look out! In certain contexts, it can mean “watch yourself because I’m watching you!”

3. Quedarse de piedra

Hispanophones use this expression to describe when someone is stunned or frozen from shock. Quedarse de piedra literally translates as “to stay like a stone.” For example, in order to say “I was shocked when I saw the car crash in front of me,” a Spanish speaker might say me quedé de piedra cuando vi el accidente de coche. “I stayed like a stone when I saw the car crash.”

4. Consuegro, consuegra

Explaining consuegro and consuegra in English requires multiple words and considerable mental calculation on the part of the translator. Most simply, it describes “the father/mother of one’s son/daughter-in-law.” This can make translation between the two languages challenging when a concise statement in Spanish like “That’s John; he is my consuegro” becomes “That’s John; he’s the father of my son/daughter-in-law.”

5. ¡El mundo es un pañuelo!

When you run into someone you don’t expect, the world isn’t just small, it’s un pañuelo — a handkerchief. Why a handkerchief? For a Spaniard, a handkerchief is something small enough to tuck in your pocket — and with only four corners to explore, there’s always a chance you’ll run into someone.

6. Empalagar

The Spanish language has one verb to illustrate the unpleasant feeling after eating too much of something sweet. Next time you go for that second piece of chocolate cake — and immediately regret it — you can say No debería haber comido ese pastel, es demasiado dulce y empalaga, or “I shouldn’t have eaten that cake; it’s too sugary and overly sweet-ed me.”

7. ¡Nada del otro mundo!

That news is nada del otro mundo, or literally, “nothing from the other world.” Often accompanied by a sarcastic tone, the speaker uses this phrase to convey that they are unsurprised by a particular piece of news. Apparently for Spanish speakers, news is only impressive when it comes from another world.

8. Estrenar

Estrenar is another case of the Spanish language containing verbs that don’t exist in English.

This term depicts the action of wearing or using something for the first time. For example, in the phrase “yesterday, I wore my new shoes for the first time,” Spanish-speakers can replace “wore for the first time” with estrenar. Ayer estrené mis zapatos nuevos. “Yesterday, I ‘first-time-wore’ my new shoes.”

9. Ponerse las botas

Ponerse las botas literally translates as “to put on the boots.” But don’t worry if a Spanish speaker says this after a meal. They’re not looking to leave in a hurry. Rather, it’s a way of expressing that they were well-fed. The origin of this phrase dates back to a time when boot-owners were wealthy and regularly enjoyed bountiful feasts.

10. Sobremesa

It’s not uncommon for the average Spaniard to spend hours at the dinner table, savoring a delicious meal and catching up with family or friends. The importance of this experience is reflected in their language. Sobremesa describes the time spent at the table chatting and digesting.

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Sophia Eakins is a marketing content specialist for Lionbridge, a global company delivering localization and AI training data services in 350+ languages. Her bachelor in linguistics comes from Wellesley College, with additional study at the Laboratoire Parole et Langage in Aix-en-Provence, France.


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Humor and AI: Does it travel?

Localization Technology, Personalization and Design

Conversational interfaces such as chatbots and voice assistants present many localization challenges — humor, for example. And that’s not even considering if the original content was all that funny to begin with.The secret to AI comedy must be in the data Click To Tweet

Humor: The final frontier

“Are there any Scottish people in the audience?”

Always a great start to a presentation at a conference. The response I received was, “You’re going to show that Scottish Elevator Voice UI video, right?”

I wasn’t.

Instead, I used the top jokes from the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe as my opener to a workshop at ConverCon 18 on the subject of artificial intelligence (AI), personality, and conversational UI.

Of course, humor is an integral dimension of human personality and therefore part of that natural, conversational human-machine dialog. But humor has been called the final barrier for AI for good reason. There are many challenges.

I began my ConverCon workshop by telling the best joke from the Fringe.

“Working at the Jobcentre has to be a tense job — knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day.”

As soon as I recited the joke, I realized that it may not have been that funny to my global audience. Had they any idea what a Jobcentre is? It’s a British public service. In Ireland, the equivalent, an Intreo Centre, is offered by the Department of Work Affairs and Social Protection. In the United States, it might be called a WorkForce Center or One-Stop Center.

Conversational UI and the secret to comedy

Real US English examples of conversational interfaces, chatbots and AI can be tricky when it comes to humor.

Take this processing message from the Meekan scheduling robot on Slack. It makes a “witty” reference to hacking into TSA servers and No Fly Lists. I really winced at that one. I know what the TSA and No Fly Lists are, and I still didn’t get the joke.

Meekan scheduling robot on Slack (Image by Ultan O'Broin)

Meekan scheduling robot on Slack (Image by Ultan O’Broin)

This got me thinking about the challenges of humor and AI. If the secret to human comedy is timing, then the secret to AI comedy must be in the data, as well as the context.

Humor does have a place in conversational interaction, even in the most seemingly unlikely interactions, for example, Woebot. But humor needs to be done right.

Humor is not only the final frontier for AI, it’s a human personality trait that is easily lost in translation. Worse still, even in the original language, humor is not always that funny to everyone in a native audience. Of course, you don’t have to be Geert Hofstede to realize that humor doesn’t travel across cultures, but machines don’t get that. Yet.

So, as the localization industry rises to the challenge of dealing with AI, personality, humor, and the realization that no UI is the best UI of all, we can expect new talents will flourish to ensure that the conversational user experience resonates with the target audience. Do today’s translators need to have performing arts backgrounds or be comedians to enhance that local conversational interaction? I think storytelling skills are about to become hot property in every language.

Do today's translators need to have performing arts backgrounds or be comedians to enhance that local conversational interaction? Click To Tweet

Your punchline?

You may have other examples of humor and localization challenges from the world of technology. If so, share them in the comments!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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Blue, Gorm, Elektrisches Blau: David Bowie in Irish and Transcreation

Localization Culture, Travel and Culture

Táimid ann sa mhóimint dhraíochtach seo
Sin é an stuif as a bhfitear brionglóidí  . . .  *

I’m mega-fan of the music of the late David Bowie. I love everything he did from Hunky Dory (1971) up to his Lodger (1979) album (you can keep the rest). His so-called Berlin Trilogy is amongst my favorite recordings; I always go to some of his old Berlin haunts whenever I find myself in the Hauptstadt.

Indeed, Berlin is the European city for David Bowie fans to visit, even more so than his native London.

Plaque outside Hauptstraße 155, Berlin commemorating David Bowie. (Image: Ultan Ó Broin)

Plaque outside Hauptstraße 155, Berlin commemorating David Bowie. (Image source: Ultan Ó Broin)

Yet, Bowie didn’t speak German and often seemed aloof from real words on the Berlin streets.

Much of the heavy language lifting of David Bowie’s time in Berlin was done for him by his long-time assistant Coco Schwab and I even recall an interview with the man himself a few years ago when we went on about living in Charlottenburg (he lived in Schöneberg). Then we have the goofed spelling of the song title Neuköln (it should be Neukölln) on the “Heroes” album, his pronunciation of KaDeWe on one of his last recordings Where Are We Now? (2013) is definitely not that of a Berliner, and the German language version (‘translated’ by Antonia Maaß) of his most iconic song “Heroes” (“Helden“) is regarded as “odd” (“Und die Scham fiel auf ihre Seite“?) by German Bowie fans, who generally much prefer the English language version.

That said, David Bowie’s ‘heroic’ contribution to Berlin was recognized on his passing.

German Foreign Office Tweet recognizing David Bowie's contribution to the end of Der Mauer (The Berlin Wall)

German Foreign Office Tweet recognizing David Bowie’s contribution to bringing down der Berliner Mauer (The Berlin Wall)

But, does David Bowie’s work even warrant any translation from English? And, if so, do we care how it is translated?

I recently attended a performance of David Bowie’s songs in Irish (Gaeilge) which was held in the Pavilion Theatre in my native Dún Laoghaire: Réaltnach: An Tionscadal DAVID BOWIE (Starman: The DAVID BOWIE Project). The performance was by Liam Ó Maonlaí  and the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra and friends.

Bowie Realtneach project. Source: IMRAN/Pavilion Theatre

The David Bowie Réaltneach project. Image source: IMRAM/Pavilion Theatre

On the BBC News, Liam Ó Maonlaí said, “(David) Bowie’s work is so perfect it doesn’t need translating, but as a Gaeilgeoir or Irish speaker . . . (I) couldn’t pass up on this opportunity.”

I had arrived back from Berlin that afternoon, and I wondered whether the Irish language project that evening would work or not.

It did.

David Bowie’s songs were crafted beautifully as Gaeilge by a skilled writer and linguist in his own right, Gabriel Rosenstock. You can read some of the Irish-language versions of the David Bowie’s songs by Gabriel Rosenstock on his blog here, including a version of Bowie’s last work Blackstar (Dúréalt).

I am not sure whether the term transcreation is completely correct to use to describe Gabriel Rosenstock’s work in this context (normally we think of it being about marketing and branding), but I think it’s reasonable to say Gabriel Rosenstock re-created something new yet immediately familiar using the skill and talent of a great translator and artist together.

True, at times I thought some stuff I heard sounded a little bit hokey, such as the version of Sound and Vision (Fuaim is Fís) from the Low album (1977):

Gorm, gorm, aibhléis-ghorm
Sin é dath mo sheomra
Im’ chónaí ann
Gorm, gorm

Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the color of my room
Where I will live
Blue, blue

(David Bowie / Gabriel Rosenstock)

But then, there’s hokey . . . and there’s hokey . . . 

However, when it came to Liam Ó Maonlaí’s performance of the Irish-language version of Win from the “plastic soul” Young Americans  album (1975) I could see tears in the eyes of audience members. You can listen to Liam Ó Maonlaí singing it here on RTÉ radio (about 6 minutes into the recording of the programme).

This was a simply astounding song in its own right. The emotion in the song, the lyrical flow of the words, and the passion put into the delivery by Liam Ó Maonlaí all resonated deeply with the audience, myself included. I came away feeling that the Irish version delivered this way might actually be better than the original English version on the album.

The performance also reminded me of what a beautiful language Irish can be, and the tragedy of how it has become something so difficult to use in even ordinary, human ways for most people in Ireland.

In the hands of culturally adept multilingual artists (Liam Ó Maonlaí and Gabriel Rosenstock are well qualified in this regard), I’d argue that even the most iconic songs, and perhaps other works of art, can be performed or communicated in any language. This is of course, a matter of much more than simply translation, but then when it comes to communicating human emotion, it always is, isn’t it?

Ultan Ó Broin outside the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin Ireland (#selfie)

Ultan Ó Broin outside the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin Ireland (#selfie)

A finer example of artistic transcreation I defy you to find. It’s the stuff of which dreams are woven.

That said, you may know of other great music translations or transcreations. Let us know in the comments.

* Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff

From where dreams are woven . . .


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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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Watch Your Audience: Cultural Nuances for WearableTech Whisperers

Localization Culture, Personalization and Design

I was demoing some smartwatch user experience in Central Europe recently and a couple of older members of the audience remarked that I reminded them of old-style Soviet soldiers.

I have a habit of wearing multiple smartwatches.

Smartwatch overload. Evokes memories in certain locales. #culturalsensitivity #fail

Smartwatch overload. Evokes memories in certain locales. #culturalsensitivity #fail

I get it now.

From now on I will only wear one smartwatch at a time in that locale.

Lesson learned: Know the history and culture of your audience!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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The Advent of Finnish Emojis: Happy Holidays, Headbangers

Language in the News, Personalization and Design, Travel and Culture

The Finnish government has released its own set of emojis (絵文字) that capture just what it means to be so Finnish. Reflecting the season that’s in it, you can view these emojis advent-calendar style on the web.

The emojis’ release was covered by National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Tech Considered radio program from the U.S. It’s worth listening to.

Headbanger emoji

Headbanger emoji: “In Finland, heavy metal is mainstream. There are more heavy metal bands in Finland per capita than anywhere else.” (Source: xmas.finland.fi)

These emojis capture a wide range of Finnish cultural nuances and emotional states across a spectrum of subjects: headbanging (there are more heavy metal bands in Finland per capita than anywhere else, apparently), saunas, woolly socks, legendary Nokia mobile phones, how Finnish people behave at the bus stop and that Finnish kids know not to lick metal things in the cold, it’s all there. And more.

Check out those Finnish emojis. What a great way to be at the forefront of technology and educating the world about culture at the same time. Let’s see more of this approach!

So, it remains for me to wish you all the happiest of seasonal greetings, where ever, and whatever, you are.

Here’s to 2016.

Suomi Mainittu!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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