“So you click the mouse, then open the folder, and move the file to the recycling bin”.
It can easy to forget quite how culturally-specific, and born of the world of the western 1980s office, our technological language can be.
So when you have to help people navigate the phones and internet in the world’s 7,000 languages, direct translation isn’t always going to cut it.
Mozilla, the foundation behind the Firefox web browser, has 230 localisation teams who have to find ingenious ways to make the often abstract notions of interacting with technology understandable for people with vastly different linguistic views of the world. And it’s obviously no small task – Firefox for a computer uses about 40,000 words; for the phone, about 16,000.
The really fascinating bit for me is seeing how technological terms are reframed in languages shaped by livestock, farming and fishing.
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”.
It’s an incredible effort on the part of Mozilla and their efforts, and the efforts of their local translators, are helping to get the speakers of some the world’s less widespread languages take their place online.
Speaking in tongues
01/04/2015 by Jamie