|Issue #26||News and Tips for a Multilingual World||March 2009|
A Gift of Poison Fish|
Translators' false friends
Another story has it that, after World War II, the U.S. distributed food packages to the Germans. To make sure that the Germans appreciated the magnanimity of their former enemies, the Americans labeled the packages "Gift of the U.S." The problem was that the U.S. officials had not taken the time to check the label with a German-speaker. In German, gift means poison. Not surprisingly, there were few takers for the packages.
Both these stories illustrate the linguistic concept of "false friends" – words that look similar or the same in two languages, but mean different things. The existence of these false friends is one reason for the often hilarious results that you find on menus, signs and other materials translated by the one employee who "speaks (a little) English."
False Cognates and False Friends
True false friends, however, can be a problem for any translator who is not very well versed in both the source and target languages. Translation problems caused by false friends can crop up anywhere. For instance, a plaque on the observation platform at the top of the Eiffel Tower refers to Thomas Edison as a "physician," apparently a bad translation of physicien (physicist).
Since English has borrowed freely from so many languages, false friends can be a constant problem. This is especially true in translations between English and romance languages like French, Spanish and Italian, because those languages, as well as many English words, derive from the same Latin roots. Actuellement (fr.), actualmente (sp.) and attualmente (it.) all mean "currently." They should not be translated into English as "actually," but they frequently are.
Ordinarily translators works from one or more languages into their native language – the language they know best. But translators still need a very good grasp of the nuances of the source languages. Otherwise, false friends will get them every time.
The BBC website has a page of often humorous examples, sent in by their readers, of real life problems caused by false friends.
Meet the Staff
In this newsletter we begin a new series of profiles designed to introduce our clients and friends to the growing staff of MTM LinguaSoft. We start with the newest member of the team, Enas Ibrahim.
Enas grew up in Baghdad, where she trained as an English-to-Arabic translator. Unfortunately, by the time she completed her training in 2006, traveling around Baghdad for work was all but impossible. Instead she and her parents left Iraq for Amman, Jordan, where they were later joined by her one brother. Enas and her family could not get legal residency, but Enas applied to the office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees for protection. She stayed in Amman for over a year, working for one year as a translator for Integrated Management and Information Consultants.
Eventually, Enas was contacted with the news that the US was interested in giving her a visa under a special program for Iraqi refugees. She applied for the visa and she and her family ended up coming to Philadelphia in May of 2008.
An Iraqi acquaintance notified us that Enas needed a job and her background seemed like the perfect fit. In September of last year, Enas started work on a trial basis and is now employed full-time managing translation projects, screening freelance translators and occasionally doing some translation or proofreading in Arabic.
In her free time, Enas has been enjoying immersing herself in American culture. She says she wants to know as much about this country as she can and expects to eventually become a naturalized citizen. We're all enjoying having her smiling face around.
Employee Manual in Record Time
In February, MTM LinguaSoft translated a 30,000-word employee manual for an engineering firm into both Arabic and Simplified Chinese. The whole project, from receipt through translation, proofreading and final quality check, was turned around within 7 business days!
Can't Pay, Won't Buy
If you sell products or accept payments for services on line, translating your website is only one important step in welcoming customers in other countries. You also have to make sure that your website supports the payment options that those customers favor. According to a 2008 report by Common Sense Advisory, people won't buy unless they can use their preferred method of payment and, in many countries, that's not PayPal. The report suggests questions you should be asking when choosing your payment handler, as well as various options.
MLA Maps Languages in U.S.
The Modern Language Association has developed an interactive language map that uses data from the 2000 United States census to display the locations and numbers of speakers of thirty languages and three groups of less commonly spoken languages in the United States. You can even generate maps that compare two languages in the same state or concentrations of the same language in two different states. Zoom in to focus on regions, counties or individual zip codes.
Free Language Widgets
Brush up on a language with free flashcard widgets available from Language Bear that you can keep on your computer desktop to use whenever you have a minute. The widgets are currently available in French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese but others are supposed to be coming soon.
The Branding of Nations