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Linguistic Nemesis of Word Count Savings
Thread poster: Özden Arıkan

Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:19
English to Turkish
Mar 17, 2006

Hi all,

Recently, I worked in a rather ambitious project, a new product was being localized into 50+ languages, and the work included the translation of software strings, as well as website texts. All work was checked by third-party proofreaders, we controlled everything against checklists provided, signed a form to assure them that we did control everything against checklists provided, etc. etc...

And today, surprise! I checked the website and found a horrible grammatical mistake. It was such a basic one that a school kid wouldn't make it, but still neither me, nor the proofreader or PMs could have helped it. The mistake was in a heading (and, OMG, was it in large fonts!) that proudly declared that the website was available in 50+ languages. The problem is, in Turkish, when a plural word takes an adjective that makes it clear that it is plural, you just don't add the plural suffix. That is, we never say "50+ languages" or "many/several/few languages" in Turkish, but it has to be "50+ language". However, as you might guess, the string I had for translation was "Languages". The client saved the cost of "50+", and needless to say, they did save from the costs of online review, too

Just wanted to share this experience, which, in my opinion, may bring up many issues like client education, pricing a work like translation by the unit of word, and maybe more than everything else, how all this strings business will eventually effect the evolution of languages. I'm sure many of you have similar experiences to share. Would appreciate accounts of them, as well as your comments.

Many thank & best regard

[Edited at 2006-03-17 01:59]

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Heike Behl, Ph.D.  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:19
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Mix-and-match approach Mar 17, 2006

A direct client of mine used an online tool to localize his website. just strings, no specific context whatsoever. I was able to locate most of the strings on the original website, but for a lot of them some guesswork was involved.

However, when you are presented with the isolated string "Top" in a website context, it's probably a good guess that this means "back to the top of the page", isn't it?

I found my translation again on the first page in the combination of "The Top 10 xyz....", and the translation made of course no sense at all. (I don't even know from which strings they got the other words...)

I wrote many e-mails to the client pointing out the problematic approach of just combining strings and that this would probably be not the only error. I more or less begged them to get access to all pages for a thorough proofreading... To no avail. Instead they forwarded me an e-mail from somebody in Germany who praised the quality of the translation.

Apparently, they believed this guy in Germany (how could he not have noticed this glaring problem on the first page?) more than a professional translator with a degree in linguistcs... And it was not that they just didn't want to spend any more money; I was paid a fixed price, no matter how many hours I would spend on the project.

Ah well...

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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:19
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Its Henry Ford again Mar 17, 2006

Our industry is going through a stage where employers (customers) believe in cost cutting at all price. Translators are fed chunks of text and get paid for each word, but a message is not a string of words. Even the habit of feeding text as sentence-units (translation segments) is very often less than optimal.
Lets wait and hope, that a counter movement will set in soon.
Because human translators delivering small chunks can deliver worse results than pure machine translation.

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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:19
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Tech Writers and software engineers just love concatenated strings Mar 17, 2006

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

employers (customers) believe in cost cutting at all price.

The problem is much worse than just cost cutting. The real problem is that English speaking software engineers, and English speaking tech writers just love concatenating strings to create conditional text.

Since they usually don't know any other language but their own, they don't realize that the fact that a concatenated string makes sense only in English, and only causes trouble in most other languages.

The just see the time saings in their work by reducing the number of strings or re-using sentences to create different paragraphs.

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