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From the Philosopher¹s Stone to the Deathly Hallows, J K Rowling used the English language to introduce us to a world of magic and introduced us to characters and ideas using words that have now become a part of our day-to-day vocabulary. Unsurprisingly, this creation of a whole new world led to a number of obstacles for the translators responsible for recreating the novels into a staggering 73 languages.

Often overlooked by all except the most eagle-eyed reader, the choice of proper names often gives a hint to the personality of the characters. Take Albus Dumbledore. Albus is the Latin for white, while Dumbledore is an archaic word for bumblebee (Rowling explained that she imagined Albus

Dumbledore as someone who hummed while he walked around). Readers have speculated that Albus refers to Dumbledore¹s standing as a ³good² wizard, playing on the connotations between white and good, black and evil.

The translation of proper names can be a tricky business in literature, especially in a such a well-known franchise with character names that are recognisable across the globe. To deal with this, most of the translators decided to reproduce the name Albus Dumbledore in their own versions.

Some, however, chose to play with similar ideas that gave a nod to Dumbledore¹s character. Czech also used an archaic term for bumblebee in the name Albus Brumbál, while Brazilian Portuguese changes Dumbledore¹s first name to Alvi, which also means white or clean. Rather bafflingly, the Italian translation plumps for Albus Silente but the translation of Madame Pomfrey as Madama Poppy Chips more than makes up for this odd choice.

Rowling coins a number of new words throughout her work. The remembrall is an obvious portmanteau formed from the words remember and ball and similar words are used in the French (rapeltout) and the German (Errinnermich) translations. She also created a number of acronyms that have a magical spin to them. School examinations go by OWLs (Ordinary Wizarding Levels) and NEWTs (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests). Many of the translators take some creative twists and turns to create a similar effect in their own languages with highlights like the Dutch SLIJMBAL (slimeball) and PUIST (pimple) exams.

Wordplay is even used to reveal a major plotline when Tom Marvolo Riddle¹s name is revealed to be an anagram for I am Lord Voldemort. As the name Voldemort was generally reproduced in translated works, translators had to find first and middle names that would create a similar revelatory anagram. Tom Elvis Jedusor (French) and Trevor Délgome (Icelandic) fit the bill nicely while the Swedish Tom Gus Mervolo Dolder creates the Latin anagram of Ego Sum Lord Voldemort.

There are so many, many more examples of Rowling¹s fantastic use of language and, while we can¹t examine them all here, we hope that this blog has inspired you to revisit the wizarding word of Harry Potter and maybe even to see it through new eyes by reading one of the translations.

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Treating MTPE as just a brief manual revision of the automatically generated translation before the end user delivery would never let us achieve the results mentioned by eBay’s Senior Director of Machine Translation and Geo Expansion, Hassan Sawaf: “As we’ve rolled out our MT capabilities, and even before a lot of the education and outreach we plan to do, we’ve quickly increased the number of Russian users we see using these features by 50 %”.

For Russian, which is an inflectional language with a complex structure and high morphological demands, every single MT segment has to undergo a multi-stage processing sequence with several linguists working on it in turns.

- Together with the client we developed a comprehensive guideline on the language specific conventions of MTPE, and made sure that each member of the team was adhering to it. This guide was continuously being updated.

- Each MT-segment was processed with a usual 4-step TEP+QA worfkflow, modified for the project: MT-editor/2nd editor/proofreader/QA specialist performing automated checks.

- Resources for each of these steps were tested through a special procedure, adapted for the project specifics. (The content we worked on was meant not for human users, but for the MT engine’s training.)

So this ride was even more complex than a standard localization cycle. Then why bother complicating time-tested processes, get paid less, and not just “translate from scratch”, as usual? The answer is, MT is not as black as it is sometimes painted. Judging from the experience with such major accounts as eBay, Cisco and Dell, we do believe that MT is good. But it is certainly not yet capable of replacing HT: if our goal is the client’s satisfaction, there’s always a job to do for human experts. 

We especially doubt that any MT engine can be trained well enough to produce a near final-quality translation for Russian and other complex languages. As recent article by Memsource states, “Russian, Polish and Korean have lower MT leverage rates, below 40% or even 20% fuzzy matches and 5% complete matches.”

Back to the eBay case, we think the 50% increase in the number of Russian users was achieved mostly because the content was translated. And although MT is not a universal remedy, implementing it played the key role in the success of this particular case.

In many other cases, it’s better to have no translation than a poor one (which raw MT output usually constitutes).

For a lower standard often referred to as “fit for purpose”, light PE may suffice, which aims to make the MT output “simply understandable”. However, in our 5+ years of MTPE practice we’ve never faced an actual project with Light MTPE demands. On the contrary, those of our clients who utilise MT, tend to present some of the highest quality expectations. This is probably because they’re putting so much effort into MT deployment, including engine training, output evaluation, analytics, statistics, not to mention the actual PE work for each language involved. Consequently, highest quality is expected.

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Whether you provide business translations, certified translations, localisation services, or medical interpreting, you¹ll need more than just a team of qualified language professionals to get the job done properly and accurately. To translate a complex and lengthy legal document from Spanish to English, for example, requires more than just a bilingual translator.
To accurately localise a witty and catchy marketing campaign from English into Swahili, you¹ll need a marketing professional first and a linguist second. In short, in an increasingly demanding and competitive world, to secure any major translation contract, you¹ll need a team with specialisations. Why?

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Many of us are still in a state of mourning after the shock of the UK's EU referendum result. Others in the language industry have started to look beyond the immediate horizon and can only see more negative consequences facing the language profession.

Most alarming for many has been the posturing of one of the leading contenders in the Conservative Party race for its leadership and the position of Prime Minister.  

Theresa May, the front runner, if she succeeds David Cameron as First Lord of the Treasury, is prepared to use the status of 3.3 million EU citizens currently living and working in the UK as bargaining chips in negotiations with European Union member states.  Not content with that she has pronounced that 1.2 million UK citizens living and working in other EU countries will be thrown into the mix too.  

Setting aside the morality of such a negotiating tactic, it has set alarm bells ringing throughout the UK's language industry.  Ours is a sector heavily reliant on mother-tongue linguists for translation and interpreting. Many thousands of those professionals are resident in the UK and members of either the Chartered Institute of Linguists or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.  Many are practitioners who have gone on to form companies.  Those companies not only rely of the freelance community, but need to have certainty about the ability to recruit in-house linguists too. 

Meanwhile, the vote to leave is creating just as much uncertainty around the development of future linguists too.  UK universities offering translation and interpreting courses are already under pressure with some high profile casualties, such as Westminster and Salford.  With the future of the Erasmus Programme up in the air, the viability of more courses could come under increasing pressure and some may not survive.

The uncertainty being faced by the whole of the language profession demands that all the professional bodies come together to form a united front. We need a strong united voice to speak directly to those who ultimately will lead our negotiations, so they carefully consider the future of the UK's £1 billion language industry, which is the hidden lubricant in UK plc's ability to trade successfully with the rest of the world.

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  • Verónica
    Verónica says #
    i agree completely with you
    i agree completely with you

For the overwhelming majority of the UK language industry leaders the outcome of the referendum vote has been utter bewilderment and disappointment.

Many of us are feeling shame that such a decision should have been taken by the electorate. But, as they say, we are where we are and the UK's £1 billion language industry is now taking stock and thinking about what next for the sector.

Those on the 'Leave' side of the argument branded the warnings from the ‘Remainers’ as "project fear", but, as the Pound tumbles in value and the leaders of the European institutions start pressing for the stopwatch on the UK's exit to begin sooner, rather than later, the sound of turkeys coming home to roost is deafening.

During the long referendum debate there was one televised set piece with leading Outer Michael Gove MP, when a Nottingham-base Language Service Provider (LSP) told him that an exit would result in additional bureaucracy to get paid for her work by her EU customers.  At last week's Association of Translation Companies' Annual General Meeting, one leading member said that she anticipated any work from framework agreements with EU institutions would start to dry up and impact her business and the rest of the UK sector delivering language services in this space. Both LSP owners accurately reflected the ATC member survey published in April, which asked members what they expected if the UK left the European Union.

With one of the largest EU economies heading for the exit door, others have questioned whether English will remain one of the EU's official languages.

Currently, an upside of the referendum decision, if it can be called an upside, is the falling Pound. That could be making UK language services more competitive not only in Europe, but globally too. 

Another upside could be that UK-based LSPs might face less competition from their European competitors, since future mega-sized public sector tenders will, presumably, no longer need to be advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union.

However, I feel I am clutching at straws when seeking out any positives, from what can only be described as a seismic and disasterous shift in UK politics.

I feel certain that this issue will be uppermost in people's minds when delegates from all over the world arrive in London for the ATC's 2016 Language Industry Summit on 22/23 September.


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