If you think it’s hard to translate concepts like ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’, what about the challenges of making smartphone operating systems understandable for minority language speakers? In a fascinating article from the Economist, we are introduced to the challenges mainstream developers are facing as they try to translate terms like ‘cookies’, ‘caches’ and ‘crash’. Working with local language speakers, you’ll be amazed at the solutions they are coming up with.
Firefox for a computer uses about 40,000 words; for the phone OS, 16,000. Translators must express technological terms in languages shaped by livestock, farming and fishing, and choose alternatives for culture-specific words such as “cookie”, “file” and “mouse”.
Ibrahima Sarr, a Senegalese coder, led the translation of Firefox into Fulah, which is spoken by 20m people from Senegal to Nigeria. “Crash” became hookii (a cow falling over but not dying); “timeout” became a honaama (your fish has got away). “Aspect ratio” became jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven. In Malawi’s Chichewa language, which has 10m speakers, “cached pages” became mfutso wa tsamba, or bits of leftover food. The windowless houses of the 440,000 speakers of Zapotec, a family of indigenous languages in Mexico, meant that computer “windows” became “eyes”.
The world speaks nearly 7,000 languages. Mali, with a population of 15m, has 13 national languages and 40-60 smaller ones, depending on where the border between language and dialect is drawn. Firefox is available in 90 languages, which serve almost all of the 40% of the global population already online… But some languages spoken by millions are excluded, including Tibetan (3m-4m speakers) and Bambara (10m, including those for whom it is a second tongue). Bringing the rest of the world online is not just a technical challenge, but a linguistic one. (Read full article here)
Speaking the customer’s language
Major Internet companies are seeing the need to make web content accessible to a wider market. They’re prepared to invest heavily to make sure minority language speakers can access their content. But what about the worldwide church? Are we as committed to seeing God’s life-changing words made accessible to every language group that needs it?
Wycliffe Bible Translators and partners worldwide are already being part of that solution. Find out how you can play your part too.