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Tip-top tales

Fancy a break from the rigours of the translation industry? Take a minute to peruse Tip-Top Tales, an ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the loopy land of language.

October 2010


September 2010

The European Commission has come in for some criticism this month as it observed its annual language festival...mainly in English. The EU has 23 official languages and over 40 regional languages.

Originally an initiative of the Council of Europe, the 'European Day of Languages' has been celebrated on 26 September every year since 2001. According to the Council, "Being convinced that linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent, we promote pluringualism in the whole of Europe."

However, Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Multilingualism, showed she had a taste for irony by initially announcing the details of the upcoming festivities to the European press in English only.

According to French newspaper Le Point, the German, French, Spanish and Italian media representatives present were further irked by the fact that the programme of events was only available in English.

If only Mrs Vassilou had dropped Tip-Top a friendly e-mail, as she would then have been able to hand out 22 more language versions of said programme...

August 2010

The Straits Times reports that South Korea's military is planning a new campaign - against the use of foul language by young soldiers.

A defence ministry spokesman confirmed on Thursday reports by Yonhap news agency of the campaign against cursing. Yonhap said Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young, at a strategy meeting on Monday, ordered his staff to increase education on the use of proper language.

'These soldiers aren't teenagers,' the agency quoted an unidentified senior ministry official as saying.

'When discharged (in their early 20s), they will go back to society where they cannot continue swearing their way through their entire life. That's why they have to clean up their language.' Another military official said the problem lies with the military culture that condones coarse language.

All able-bodied South Korean men must serve two years in the 655,000-strong military. North and South Korea have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice without a subsequent peace treaty.

We’ll be keeping a low profile should we ever bump into the aforementioned Defence Minister, because Tip-Top is the best f'ing translation outfit in the world, after all.

July 2010

The Jenolan Caves near the Blue Mountains west of Sydney is about to become the first tourist attraction in the world to launch tours in the invented Star Trek language of Klingon.

The link between the planet’s oldest dated limestone cave system and the fictional Star Trek tongue is through a spaceship, the USS Jenolan, which featured in an episode of the Next Generation series.

Earlier this month two Klingon scholars from the United States flew to Australia to tour the caves and finalise the translation of a self-guided tour.

They have recorded it at a Sydney studio and the commentary will be available late next month on a digital audio device.

Jenolan Caves tours will also be available in 10 other, more commonly-spoken languages, such as the ones provided by Tip-Top all over the globe every day.

June 2010

Having a regular bedtime ensures development of language, reading and maths skills among four-year-old children, says a new American study.

The study also provides a wealth of information about typical sleep patterns in such children. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) prescribes a minimum of 11 hours of sleep every night for preschool children. Getting less than this recommended amount of sleep was associated with lower scores on phonological awareness, literacy and early math skills.

The data shows that many children are not getting the recommended amount of sleep, which may have negative consequences for their development and school achievement. "Getting parents to set bedtime routines can be an important way to make a significant impact on children's emergent literacy and language skills," said lead author Erika Gaylor, from SRI International, a non-profit research institute based in California.

Gaylor recommended that parents can help their children get sufficient sleep by setting an appropriate time for them to go to bed and interacting with them at bedtime using routines such as reading books or telling stories.

The study of approximately 8,000 children included information from parent phone interviews when their child was nine months old and again when their child was four-years-old, said an AASM release.

Tip-Top's language-loving staff can all confirm they were read regular bedtime stories when young...

May 2010

A ‘hidden’ language spoken by only about 1,000 people has been discovered in the remote northeast corner of India by researchers who at first thought they were documenting a dialect of the Aka culture, a tribal community that subsists on farming and hunting.

They found an entirely different vocabulary and linguistic structure. Even the speakers of the tongue, called Koro, did not realise they had a distinct language, explained linguist K. David Harrison, associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College.

Researchers found that Koro speakers used different words for body parts, numbers and other concepts, establishing it as a separate language from Aka, said Harrison added, speaking at a news conference organised by the National Geographic Society, which supported his work.

People of the Aka culture live in small villages – known as a hotspot of language diversity – near the borders of China, Tibet and Myanmar. They practice subsistence hunting, farming and gathering firewood in the forest and tend to wear ornate clothing of hand-woven cloth, favouring red garments. Their languages are not well known, though they were first noted in the 19th century.

The timing of the researchers’ discovery was important. "We were finding something that was making its exit, was on its way out. And if we had waited 10 years to make the trip, we might not have come across close to the number of speakers we found," said Gregory Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.

Counting Koro, there are 6,910 documented languages in the world, but that is really just a best estimate that can change regularly, Harrison added.

The researchers said they hope to figure out how the Koro language, a member of the Tibeto-Burman family, managed to survive within the Aka community. The research was started in 2008 to document two little known languages, Aka and Miji, and the third language, Koro, was discovered in that process.

According to the research team, Koro's inventory of sounds was completely different, and so was the way sounds combine to form words. Words also are built differently in Koro, as are sentences. The Aka word for ‘mountain’ is ‘phu,’ while the Koro word is ‘nggo.’ Aka speakers call a pig a ‘vo’ while to Koro speakers, a pig is a ‘lele.’

Here at Tip-Top, meanwhile, we have been frantically scrambling around, intent on becoming the first translation outfit to offer Koro. So far, we are pleased to be able to provide the Koro equivalent of ‘mountain pig’.  Which is a start.

April 2010

A Montreal sex toy store was fined $499 by a Quebec court for selling a product – the ‘Sleeve Super Stretch’ – with English only on its packaging, according to the Montreal Gazette.

The Quebec Board of French Language told the Quebec Court judge it had unsuccessfully attempted for six years to get Distribution Percour Inc., the owners of Boutique Seduction, to stick French language labels on boxes for the Sleeve Super Stretch, described as a sex toy accessory worn by men.

Judge Gilles Michaud rejected Distribution Percour's argument that the product was exempt from Quebec's law on the language of commerce and trade. He said the issue had to do with safety.

"We must protect those who benefit from warnings and need to understand them," Michaud wrote in his ruling. "What the defendant is really complaining about is the cost of producing packaging that conforms to the charter."

The store was given six months to pay the fine. Obviously, they could have saved themselves al that bother by asking Tip-Top Translations, a company bursting with cunning linguists, to provide the relevant French text.

March 2010

The ancestors of modern Scots left behind mysterious, carved stones that new research has just determined contain the written language of the Picts, an Iron Age society that existed in Scotland from 300 to 843.

The highly stylised rock engravings, found on what are known as the Pictish Stones, had once been thought to be rock art. The new study instead concludes that the engravings represent the long-lost language of the Picts, a confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland.

"We know that the Picts had a spoken language to complement the writing of the symbols, as Bede (a monk and historian who died in 735) writes that there are four languages in Britain in this time: British, Pictish, Scottish and English," lead author Rob Lee told Discovery News.

"We know that the three other languages were complex spoken languages, so there is every indication that Pictish was also a complex spoken language," added Lee, a professor in the School of Biosciences at the University of Exeter.

He and his team analysed the engravings, found on the few hundred known Pictish Stones. The researchers used a mathematical process known as Shannon entropy to study the order, direction, randomness and other characteristics of each engraving.

The resulting data was compared with that for numerous written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Anglo-Saxon and Old Welsh. While the Pictish Stone engravings did not match any of these, they displayed characteristics of writing based on a spoken language.

Although Lee and his team have not yet deciphered the Pictish language, some of the symbols provide intriguing clues. One symbol looks like a dog's head, for example, while others look like horses, trumpets, mirrors, combs, stags, weapons and crosses.

Paul Bouissac, a University of Toronto professor who is one of the world's leading experts on signs and symbols, agrees that "it is more than plausible that the Pictish symbols are examples of a script, in the sense that they encoded some information, which also had a spoken form."

For all your Pictish translation needs, drop Tip-Top a few symbols in an e-mail, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we’ve decoded them.

February 2010

The opening ceremony for the Vancouver Olympics did not promote nearly enough French-Canadian culture, according to the head of the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec.

The issue has caused quite a stir in bilingual Canada, with many Quebec residents complaining the French language was all but absent from the three-hour opening spectacle for the Games in English-speaking Vancouver.

"It just wasn’t enough," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said at a press conference while sitting next to Games chief John Furlong. "It certainly was not at the level we had been expecting."

A mildly miffed Quebec media have run several headlines on the issues since the opening ceremony, including one in Monday's La Presse which read "French as rare as snow in Vancouver," a reference to the lack of white stuff where some competitions are being held.

Furlong defended the opening ceremony, noting the performance by Quebec singer Garou right before the much-anticipated arrival of the Olympic torch.

Despite Quebecois gripes, residents of the autonomous province did have one reason to smile, with local boy Alexandre Bilodeau becoming the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil. As enthusiastic speakers of the language of Baudelaire, we at Tip-Top would like to offer a ‘très bien joué !’ to the aforementioned Monsieur.

January 2010

The explosion of online communities will see a slew of slang expressions recorded in Australian dictionaries, according to news.com.au. The words - such as noob, pwnd, blag, hashtag, tweet and unfriend - have been recorded in the realms of cyberspace, constituting the written record required by the nation's top dictionary editors.

Before the era of online communities, slang words were rarely recorded in written format, creating a huge hurdle when it came to haggling for a dictionary spot.

Macquarie Dictionary editor Sue Butler said dictionaries were closer than ever before to accurately recording popular slang, thanks to the records of online forums.

"It is really only now that people are building these blogs and chatrooms to give (these words) better coverage," Ms Butler said.

Macquarie is in the process of taking votes for its word of year. The shortlist features tweet, buzzkill and y'mum- all words with a high online presence and currency.

The New Oxford American Dictionary last year named "unfriend" the word of the year, defined as a verb that means to remove someone as a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook. The New Oxford also shortlisted Twitter's "hashtag" - a sign added to a word or phrase for Twitter users to find similarly tagged Tweets. And the Webster's New World Dictionary included "overshare" last year, inspired partly by the habit of revealing too much personal information on social networking pages and blogs.

Ms Butler said she had tried to expand the scope of places she hunted for new words. "We listen to conversations, we read newspapers - we delve in to so many different mediums," she said.

For a word to make the cut, it needs to have currency, Ms Butler remarked. She noted that the appearance of certain slang terms in dictionaries was often slightly "behind the times". "But the online world is certainly starting to speed things up," she said.

Ms Butler declined to comment on rumours that a new definition  - "high-quality translation provider" - is set to be added to dictionaries' entries for the phrase "Tip-Top"...

December 2009

It may boast ground-breaking 3D effects, but English-speaking viewers of "Avatar" have been left in the dark by the film's alien dialogue after Hong Kong cinemas offered only a Chinese translation.

The computer graphics-laden production by "Titanic" director James Cameron, which follows the exploits of a paraplegic army veteran in the alien world of the Na'vis, has raked in more than 2 million US dollars in Hong Kong since its release in mid-December.

Despite its box-office success, western movie-goers have complained Na'vi dialogue is utterly impenetrable, unless they can read Chinese.

"While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I was somewhat disturbed and frustrated that the alien Na'vi dialogue only had Chinese subtitles," cinema-goer Nic Tinworth told the Sunday Morning Post. Another complained "It would have been nice to get everything. I just assumed that everything in Hong Kong is in both English and Chinese."

The local distributor of the movie, 20th Century Fox Hong Kong, refused to explain why no English subtitles were provided in some cinemas, the Post said. The company's spokesman told the newspaper that they were "processing" the issue.

Chinese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997. The city's cinemas normally provide subtitles in both Chinese and English if a movie is produced in a third language. For translations that really work (including subtitling), take a look at Tip-Top's services page.

November 2009

In a sign of growing rapprochement with neighboring EU-member Romania, Moldova's government has changed the language signs on all of its websites from "Moldovan" (MD) to "Romanian" (RO), RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

The Moldovan Constitution states that the official language of the country is "Moldovan," although most linguists say the language spoken in Moldova does not differ enough from Romanian to be considered a different language.

The new pro-Western government has said it will try to amend the constitution in the future to remove the "Moldovan language" concept. In yet another example of the sneaky blending of language and politics that has gone on throughout history, the term "Moldovan language" was coined by the Soviets after they annexed what is now Moldova from Romania at the beginning of World War II.

Romanian President Traian Basescu is on record as saying that Moldovan leaders from previous governments have requested an interpreter during official meetings with their Romanian counterparts, despite speaking essentially the same language. If Gordon Brown ever feels the need for an interpreter in dealings with his American or Australian counterparts, Tip-Top would be delighted to provide one!

October 2009

Thousands of people will be paid small sums to translate portions of Herman Melville's Moby Dick often described as "the great American novel"  into Emoji, the picture character language widely used in Japanese SMS messages.

While the premise of the Emoji Dick project may be a wee bit off-the wall, it highlights the innovative ways in which the labour pool of bored internet users is being tapped to complete complex tasks.

Fred Benenson, the New York-based web product manager behind the idea, has launched an online appeal to raise $3,500 to pay for the crowd-source translation.

The translators will be recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online labour exchange where firms advertise work that cannot be done by computers.

Because there is no standard English-to-Emoji dictionary, Mr Benenson plans to solicit several alternative translations from which the final version will be assembled.

"Each of Moby Dick's 6,438 sentences will be translated three times by different Amazon Mechanical Turk workers," he explained on the appeal website. "Those results will then be voted on by another set of workers, and the most popular version of each sentence will be selected for inclusion in the book."

Anyone who contributes $10 will have their name and an Emoji sentence of their choice printed at the back of the book when it is published, while a donation of $200 or more entitles the supporter to a limited edition colour hard back version.

As of early October the project was well on its way to reaching its $3,500 target. Here at Tip-Top, we can't offer Emoji, unfortunately, but we're pretty handy at providing 100 or so other languages.

September 2009

Yahoo news reports that French passengers on an Aer Lingus Dublin-Paris flight were left feeling a little nervous when air stewards chose to play the wrong translation of a standard safety announcement, which instead of informing them of turbulence, told them that the plane was about to make an emergency landing.

20 minutes after leaving Dublin, an English-language announcement asked passengers to return to their seats, but the pre-recorded French version warned them that there was much more serious trouble ahead. Francophones throughout the aircraft began to translate the message to their monolingual Irish neighbours, leading to general panic aboard.

It allegedly took the linguistically-aware (!) crew several minutes before they realised their mistake, after which they apologised for the misunderstanding over the PA system. A French version of this apology shortly afterwards explained that the plane was soon due to disappear inside the Bermuda Triangle, and that passengers should probably make appropriate arrangements quick smart. No, not really...

Anyway, if Aer Lingus had asked Tip-Top to match up the English with the correct French translations, this would never have....yeah, we know you know the drill by now.

August 2009

According to new research, having an imaginary friend as a child boosts language development and may enhance academic performance, reports the New Zealand Herald.

Otago University associate professor Elaine Reese, and former student Gabriel Trionfi, of Clark University in the United States, analysed the language skills of 48 boys and girls aged 5-12, of whom 23 had imaginary friends.

Their study found that the 13 girls and 10 boys who had engaged in play with an imaginary companion had more advanced narrative skills than children who had not.

"Because children's storytelling skills are a strong predictor of their later reading skill, these differences may even have positive spin-offs for children's academic performance," Professor Reese suggested.

The researchers assessed the children's language skills in several ways, including measuring their vocabulary and storytelling abilities.

Given the first-rate language skills on show at Tip-Top Translations every day of the week, it makes us wonder how much of their youth our colleagues spent blethering to Soren Lorenson and Mr Snuffleupagus.


July 2009

The AFP reports that in an attempt to increase its international audience, the French business newspaper La Tribune has started using machine translation to produce English, German, Spanish and Italian versions of its website. Unfortunately (and you can probably see where this going), this cost-saving measure has been producing some confusing results.

A current bamboozling headline on the English-language site reads: "Seize up a: the made government of the recommendations at the corporations". Nope, we weren’t sure either at first glance, although we were a wee bit concerned that a little too much wine might have been flowing in and around the editor’s office.

Jumping back to the French version reveals that this is in fact an article on advice that the French government is giving to businesses on the ramifications of the swine flu pandemic, "Grippe A" being the standard French term for the infamous virus strain. A relatively simple story, but an incomprehensible one if reading the English version on its own.

The Spanish fairs no better, with English words appearing randomly in the middle of sentences.

Astrid Arbey, chief of new media at La Tribune, informed AFP that while there are some problems with the software at the moment, the bugs will be ironed out in the coming months. The newspaper plans to tweak certain elements of the computer programme and hire someone to edit the English version. Going by the phrasing of a reader survey in the July 22nd edition – “After is the Moon, necessary to go over Mars” - this poor soul certainly has his work cut out for him.

Of course, all of this rather embarrassing mess could have been avoided if La Tribune had come to Tip-Top Translations, but that, as they probably wouldn’t say in their English-language version, is another story…

June 2009

According to the Los Angeles Times, the infamous "Octomom" has gained a new level of respect, at least in linguistic terms. The word has been added to the Global Language Monitor's list of English words and phrases, coming in at 99,993rd place, alongside "Slumdog", "Web 2.0" and "Sexting".

The definition allocated to it reads "The media phenomenon relating to the travails of the mother of the octuplets."

"Octomom", of course, is Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to eight babies at a California hospital in January, and who can now count a whopping 14 children in her family home.

In April, Suleman attempted to claim trademark rights to the "Octomom" name, seeing it as a way to provide for her clan. Unfortunately, it turned out that a Houston novelty company had already filed a trademark to the name.

We do wonder exactly what said company are planning to do with the name, but if they require any brand checking services, Tip-Top would be more than willing to help!




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