December 20, 2011
হ য ব র ল – Level up
A couple of days back the following announcement was made by the Government of India through the PTI:
In a bid to overcome problems posed by difficult Hindi words, Government has asked section officers to use their ” hinglish” replacements for easy understanding and better promotion of the language.
Excuse me while I whoop with joy for a moment here. Reason being, its a clear endorsement of something that I have forever followed in Bengali (India) Translations. I have argued, fought and have been ocassionally berated for not coming up with innovative Bengali words for the various technical terminology that I have translated. My steady answer has been something to the tune of – ‘don’t fix it, if it ain’t broken’.
At conferences and other places when I used to interact with people who had suddenly taken an interest in localization, they were often pretty upset that things like ‘files‘, ‘keyboards‘, ‘cut‘, ‘print‘ etc. were simply translitered in Bengali. (I am sure they did not hold very high opinions about the bunch of Bengali localizers.) So we got suggestions like – “you could consider translating ‘paste’ as ‘লেপন’ “(similar to গোবর লেপা, i suspect), or “you need to write মুদ্রণযন্ত in place of a printer“. There were more bizarre examples, which were more like words constructed with several other words (for things like URL, UTC etc.). I held my ground at that time, and hopefully this announcement has at last put my doubts (well, I did have second thoughts about whether I was being too adamant while “compromising authenticity for practicality“) to rest.
After getting the necessary i18n bits fixed, Bengali localization for desktop applications primarily came about around circa 2000. However, computer usage among the Bengali speaking/reading population has been happening for decades before that. By the time the first few desktop applications started to peek through in Bengali, there already were a good many users who had familiarized themselves with the various terms on the desktop. Users were well-familiar with:
- ‘clicking‘ on ‘buttons‘, or
- going to a link, or
- ‘printing‘ a ‘document‘,
- ‘cutting‘ and ‘pasting‘,
- ‘pointing‘ with a ‘mouse‘ etc.
Subjecting them to barely relatable or artifically constructed terms would have squeezed in another learning phase. It just did not make sense.
In response, the other question that creeped in was – ‘then why do you need to localize at all?‘ It is a justified query. Especially in a place like India, which inherited English from centuries of British rule. However, familiarity with a language is not synonymous to comfort. Language has been a hindrance for many things for ages. Trying to read a language, one is not fully comfortable with can be a cumbersome experience. For eg. I can speak and understand Hindi quite well, but lack the fluency to read it. Similarly, there were a good number of people who did not learn English as their primary language of communication. Providing a desktop which people can read faster would have gotten rid of one hurdle that had probably kept away a lot of potential users.
There were also people who knew the terms indirectly, perhaps someone like a clerk in the office who did not handle a computer but regularly needed to collect printouts from the office printer. This group of people could mouth the words but did not read them often and if the language on the desktop was not the primary language of everyday business, they probably did not even know what the word looked like. When getting them to migrate their work desks to a desktop, it is essential to ensure that the migration is seamless and gave prime importance to the following:
- Familiar terms should not be muddled up, and
- Readability of the terms is not compromised
Point 1 is also required to ensure that the terminology is not lost in translation when common issues are discussed across geographies and locales. For eg. in institutes of higher education or global business houses. Getting it done by integrating transliterated terminology for highly technical terms that were already in prevalence seemed like the optimum solution. It has not worked badly for Bengali (India) localization so far. We have been able to preserve a high quality of consistency across desktop applications primarily because the core technical terminology never needed to be artificially created, which also allows new translators (already familiar with desktops in most cases) to get started without too much groundwork.
Note: it is not unusual to find people in India speak fluently in 2-3 languages and not always in a pure form of any. Mixing words from several languages while conversing is quite a prevalent practice these days.