Around the web – January 2018

On a semi-professional note I appreciate being named last week as one of Reunion Island’s top digital influencers. Anyway here is your first round-up of the new year with January’s most popular news stories about language and translation.

Cigarette pie refers to the shape, but it doesn’t translate well.

The French are told not to say ‘smartphone’ in an ongoing battle against English

How words come to be used tells you a lot about different cultures

Pseudo-anglicisms are not your average English loanwords

A few announcements:

  • Participate in Nikki Graham‘s survey concerning blogs about translation & interpreting  
  • The Banff International Literary Translation Centre program offers working and professional literary translators a period of uninterrupted work on a current project. Apply by February 7 →
  • Ouverture des inscriptions et lancement du site dédié à la 12eme edition du SAM (Séminaire d’anglais médical)  
  • Call for application: Paul Celan fellowships for translators 2018/2019 (deadline: 18 March 2018)  

Further reading:


Most popular tweets of 2017

Here, in ascending order, are the ten most popular* tweets about translation and language that I shared during 2017 on my @Smart_Translate Twitter account:

* ‘most popular’ = most clicked on, according to Hootsuite.

Do you have a favourite article published in 2017 you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below.

Related articles:

Around the web – December 2017

Every year end brings its attempts at summing up the past 12 months in a single word or two. In terms of frequency, a quick check of my Twitter account tells me – unsurprisingly – that language and translation were my most used words in 2017! Here is your round-up of popular news stories for December on those very subjects.

The Guadalajara International Book Fair. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

  • Staying with literary translation, here is an interview with Allison M. Charette, whose translation of Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo became the first Malagasy novel to ever be published in English.
  • How is an Iraqi translation project helping to rebuild science in the Arab world?

Aristotle teaching astronomy. © Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul

  • Charles Dickens wrote about the plight of impoverished & destitute members of UK society. So how come ‘Dickensian‘ is a synonym for rosy-cheeked, full-stomached, fattened-goose, hearty merry “God bless us every one” Christmas?
  • Check out this holiday season list from Words Without Borders of some Reading in Translation.

A Holiday Gift Guide for Reading in Translation

What in the Word?! Mining the roots of ‘cobalt’

Happy New Year 2018!

Further reading:

Around the web – November 2017

Here is your round-up of popular news stories about language and translation for November.

Kazakh Facebook users have adopted the carrot example to express their views on the alphabet change


From The Red Lion to the Bucket of Blood, how did your local get its name?

Now that really takes the biscuit.

Why do the French exclaim “Oh la vache!”?

Further reading:

Around the web – October 2017

Here is your round-up of popular news stories about translation and language for the month of October.

Photo from the Facebook post that mistranslated ‘good morning’ to ‘hurt them’

  • Why is Argentinean Spanish seemingly so different to a lot of other dialects of Spanish? Find out here.

Buenos Aires market (Credit: Michael S. Lewis/Getty Images)

EU flags outside the European Commission building on October 24, 2014 (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

HSBC’s “Assume nothing” slogan was translated to “Do nothing” in several countries before a costly rebranding.

  • What are the (inflated) origins of the word ‘blimp‘?

A blimp is a non-rigid airship that takes its distinctive shape from – and is, of course, held aloft by – the gas inside its envelope.


Further reading:

Around the web – September 2017

Despite International Translation Day being celebrated by the International Federation of Translators since 1953, this year marked a milestone as it is the first since the 71st United Nations General Assembly declared September 30th to be the official UN International Translation Day, celebrated across the entire UN network, and unanimously adopted a resolution recognising the role of professional translation in connecting nations, and fostering peace, understanding and development. Without further ado, here is your round-up of popular news stories about language and translation for the month of September.

  • The European Commission has published an updated English Style Guide for its authors and translators, which is available for download.
  • Do you talk about a ‘glossary’ when you actually mean a ‘list of terminology’? Find out here.
  • K International has updated their list of favourite books about translation – covering both fiction and non-fiction.
  • Often a bugbear for French to English translators, why do the French use the umbrella term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ so much?

Not just American or British, the Anglo-Saxon is a mirror to Frenchness: the country’s alter-ego and most feared enemy

  • Blog posts comparing US and UK English are always popular, and Lynne Murphy published two this month: one about ‘sorted‘, and another about sightedness (as in far-, short-, long-, and near-).
  • This podcast episode by looked at how accents evolved, and why American and British accents are so different.

Your accent tells others where you’re from, who you identify with, and maybe even where you’re going.

You dirty lobster!

  • Here’s a list of 19 literary translations from Arabic being published this autumn.
  • In the UK, the pro-Brexit newspaper The Sun decided to publish an editorial in German on its website, justifying its position. Problem – it seems to have used Bing Translate, with predictably disastrous results.
  • Did you know that the word ‘tall‘ originally has nothing to do with height?

Tall originally had nothing to do with lattes either


Further reading:

Study of tourism website translation in Reunion Island

The article Website Translation and Destination Image Marketing: A Case Study of Reunion Island was recently brought to my attention by a friend. This study, first published in December 2013 by Jean-Pierre Tang-Taye (IAE University of Reunion) and Craig Standing (Edith Cowan University), was also published in 2016 in the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research (vol. 40, 5: pp. 611-633).


It compares representations of Reunion Island’s image as a tourist destination on the internet using French and English versions of websites to investigate the issues surrounding language translation. Although many of Reunion’s tourists come from mainland France (≈75-80%), as well as French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland, the island has been attempting to diversify and enlarge its market share by targeting clients from other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. This means making information about the island available in languages other than French, with English being the main, but not only, linguistic vehicle.

The study’s main goal was to flag potential divergences between English and French versions that could lead, previsit, to an unintentional distortion of the destination image for foreign customers. The authors looked at websites developed by local tourism industry suppliers in French and subsequently translated into English.  The sample of 109 websites was selected through a search in March 2011 of website links using keywords associated with Reunion Island, tourism, and vacation and with Google as the search engine. Websites using an English version translated using Google Translate were excluded, as were those that were not exclusively tourism-related, nor showing Reunion Island as the main tourism destination, or for which the English version was not available, leaving a section of only 17 sites.


Bearing in mind that issues related to website quality impact negatively on consumers’ decision making, to my mind some of the most interesting points of this study are as follows:

  • A significant number of words were used literally in French and not translated at all (e.g. île, vacances).
  • Crucial tourism words for the volcanic, mountainous, and multicultural Reunion Island such as scenery, indigenous, beach, cuisine, gite, and lava appear in the French versions but do not appear at all in the English version, although it could be expected that these features would be highlighted on a tourism website.


  • site_1317_0007-360-360-20121212135244Reunion’s overall image may be seen as different depending on the language used, meaning the destination image for the island is marketed differently according to the language. (The study authors excluded the idea that these different images might be intentional marketing due to translation errors such as “Reunion” translated as “meeting” and “lentils” translated as “lenses”).
  • Of 17 websites analysed, only 2 of them gave a consistent image to site visitors, so the image of Reunion Island is very different between language versions.

  • Although the websites studied were retrieved from the top list of tourism websites providing information on Reunion as a destination, language translation was of very poor quality.


  • The study demonstrated a failure to implement effective and consistent destination marketing by tourism organisations, resulting in confusion for the consumer.
  • The importance and difficulty of translation were highlighted, and this showed that translation is not always a straightforward matter. The study put translation back in focus by considering it not only as a technical issue but also a marketing and strategic issue.
  • A translation, even if it is excellent, will not always guarantee a positive impact on marketing. An efficient multilingual website does not necessarily imply a successful website but it is a necessary condition for one.
  • In Reunion managers of tourism-related organisations do not seem to have been monitoring and evaluating their websites efficiently. The study authors propose to include translation as a component of tourism website quality evaluation.
  • Reunion Island tourism stakeholders failed to implement effective destination island marketing.
  • site_1317_0011-333-500-20121212135400Former colonies such as Reunion have trouble enlarging their cultural background and inherited language (French in this case) to a much bigger English-speaking market.

Admittedly the study did not differentiate between private and public actors, or take into account the size of the companies involved or the financial investment dedicated to their websites and translation. It was also based on sites in 2011 and it can be argued that the situation is better today. But from a purely anecdotal point of view a quick glance at my round-up of translation fails in Reunion Island, many of them from current tourism industry websites, begs to differ.

All in all, there is still a long way to go before an acceptable level of translation is achieved for Reunion Island tourism websites, and a similar image is provided irrespective of what language is used.


P.S. All photos are from the UNESCO World Heritage photo gallery of the Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island.


Further reading:

Around the web – July & August 2017

As I was away in Australia (attending the FIT congress) for part of July and August, I’m doing a combined round-up of interesting stories about language and translation that you may have missed over the past two months, especially if you’ve also been away travelling.

  • Talking of Australia, what is the real story behind some of those Australian slang terms like ‘grommies’ ‘tea bags’ and ‘esky-lidders’?

‘Budgie smugglers’ have become synonymous with speedo-style swimwear (Credit: Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images)

You Say Melon, I Say Lemon: translator Deborah Smith as a brilliant sous chef who attempted to recreate the original chef’s recipe abroad with ingredients not found in her country.

John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence (via Wikimedia Commons)

The plaque shows the lyrics of Galway Bay and three translations into Irish, Latin, and French

Photo of a page of « Jambonlaissé » (Davina Sammarcelli)


Further reading:

FIT Congress 2017 in Brisbane

I’m not quite a conference virgin – I attended IAPTI’s 2015 event in Bordeaux – but living where I do makes it difficult to attend international events, so FIT 2017 was only my second-ever translation conference, and with approximately 750 delegates from all over the world it was certainly of an impressive size. Held in Brisbane’s riverside Convention Centre, its antipodean location attracted a fair number of Australasian and Asian delegates, as well as some sign language professionals following the pre-congress ratification of a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI).

The theme for this triennial congress was Disruption and Diversification, and after the opening speeches and a traditional Aboriginal ‘Welcome to Country’ that had me tapping my feet, the first plenary was by four members of the Aboriginal Interpreters Service on ‘Building the confidence to be an Aboriginal interpreter’. These presentations turned out to be one of the highlights of the first day, and Director Colleen Rosas struck a chord with me when she mentioned that some language service providers still think there’s only one Aboriginal language – there’s actually about 150 of them (I face the same problem with many LSPs’ ignorance of the fact that more than one Creole language exists in the world), and English can be the seventh language for some speakers.

Lighting a fire, part of the Aboriginal welcome to country

This was followed by well-known scholar Prof. Anthony Pym‘s keynote address ‘Translators do more than translate’, in which he reminded us that translators sell more than words, we sell trust (for inward communication) and communicative effect (for outward communication). After lunch the difficult decisions started, with up to 10 parallel slots at a time to choose from. I attended a live but remote presentation, ‘Moulding Our Future’, by Jost Zetzsche who prompted us to be compelling when we communicate, and which he ended by encouraging us to tweet to GoogleDoodles requesting they join the UN in honouring International Translation Day on September 30th.

The day ended with FIT’s prize ceremony, and the evening was then spent networking at a showboat river cruise.

One of the showboats we cruised the river on

The second day was jam-packed with presentations, interspersed with a late-morning keynote by Prof. Jemina Napier – the first-ever to be given in sign language at a FIT congress. It was fascinating to learn that there are 138 different signed languages in the world, that British Sign Language and Auslan only have about 70% of signs in common, and worldwide it’s estimated there are 25-30,000 signed language interpreters. Paediatrician and researcher Dr Glenn Flores delivered an information-packed plenary address, reminding us that the use of professional healthcare interpreters leads to reduced costs and better use of resources. One of his significant findings is that it is the hours of training (ideally at least 100 hours) that reduce medical interpreters’ errors, and not their years of experience.

Some examples of faulty medical interpreting with clinical consequences

Amongst the day’s presentations was ‘Disruption and premium markets—The Wetware Strikes Back’ by the inspirational Chris Durban, about which I could almost write a separate blog post, but for the sake of brevity: time, wetware (the brain), and talent are all essential factors if the aim is high quality translation. She informed us of the ways forward, pleaded for more research on non-scalable skillsets, and on a final half-humorous note suggested we emulate world No. 1 tennis player Rafael Nadal by always practicing, being precise, knowing all of the terrain, and being fit for the job. Later on in the day Chris was also part of a panel on Business Intelligence, and she pointed out that most clients don’t have a problem with translators signing their work, it’s us translators that may have a problem! The day ended with a Gala dinner at a nearby hotel.

Chris Durban presenting The Wetware Strikes Back

The third and final day opened with a disruptive keynote address by writer and anthropologist Dr Sarah Kendzior, ‘Dissent and Dictatorship in the Digital Age,’ about language, politics, and digital media. She made many important points, including the fact that constraint of language is constraint of power (taking the example of Uzbekistan), social media alone cannot override linguistic hierarchy and the language barrier, digital translation is not neutral, and digital media is not a panacea of democracy: human mediation is vital.  Michael Cronin delivered the keynote ‘Why Translation Should Not Cost the Earth: Towards Geocentric Translation Studies’ and highlighted the fact that in a world of digital cosmopolitanism, translators are the supreme examples of cultural mediators; sustainable translation needs to avoid human resource extractivism, which is often hidden under a veneer of emancipation.

Digital cosmopolitanism – translators are the supreme example of cultural mediators

I enjoyed some of the day’s individual sessions too, including ‘Murakami Haruki as a Writer and Translator’, ‘The Signs Inform, the Readers React — A Study of Readers’ Reaction to the English Translations of the Commercial Signs in a Chinese Community in Australia’ and ‘Translation Quality and Cross‐Cultural Allowance in Translating into a Foreign Language’ which confirmed that translators translating into their non-native language(s) often lack self-awareness of the quality level of their translations. Lunch was followed by an interesting poster session – I was particularly struck by a poster illustrating what happened when an early 20th-century American missionary, Laura M. White, translated Little Lord Fauntleroy into Chinese.

What happens when an American missionary, Laura M. White, translated Little Lord Fauntleroy into Chinese

The Congress drew to a close, having run like clockwork thanks to all the hard work of the organising team, headed by Sam Berner. Proceedings concluded with outgoing President Henry Liu introducing the new FIT council members and his successor: Kevin Quirk, based in Norway. With apologies to the simultaneous interpreters, the latter (disruptively?) delivered part of his inaugural address in the form of a long rhyming poem. Will he compose another one for the next FIT Congress, to be held in Cuba in late 2020, I wonder?


Further reading:

Around the web – June 2017

June 9th saw the announcement of the results of’s 2017 Language Lovers competition, and I was delighted to come 2nd * in the Twitter category! (Full results here). What else has been happening in the world of language and translation during the month of June?

What country is this, and where does its name come from?

A cuckoo, from whence the etymology of cuckold

Bugles were originally made from the horns of oxen

Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes a new step in his campaign against foreign influences


On a final note you might like to check out my latest podcast for English language learners, which is on a rather unusual subject (there are video and audio versions).

* Another milestone this month was the fact my Facebook page reached 1000 followers!


Further reading: