What makes a language sound beautiful or ugly?

We’ve all heard (or said) it: “Italian sounds so romantic!” – “French is the most beautiful language in the world!” – “German sounds ugly” etc.

Nobody summed it up quite as succinctly as Roman emperor Charles V when he declared: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Why is it that certain languages sound poetic and melodious while others grate on our nerves?

(more…)

Translation Fails: Funny examples of totally avoidable translation errors

wrong translation

Have you ever used Google Translate? Sometimes you get what you’re looking for, if it’s one word or a simple sentence. For more complex sentences, though, you end up with something completely wrong. In many instances, these translation fails aren’t just erroneous — they’re hilarious.

Auto-translation software treats language as if it’s an algorithm to deduce and put back together. No software is advanced enough to capture the nuance and true structure of language as a concept.

While translation programs understand a language at its most basic level, they are not good in a business context. For business translation, accuracy and fluid communication are paramount.

It’s not all serious, though. Sometimes, business translation fails aren’t necessarily offensive or insulting… they’re just plain funny! Translation fails are something of a hit on social media. Below are a few big mistakes from 2016 that had the world in stitches.

(more…)

Why computers suck at translation

Tom Scott and Gretchen McCulloch of All Things Linguistic produced a very entertaining video that does an excellent job at explaining some of the challenges of machine translation — and why human translators are so incredibly difficult to replace.

In just 5 minutes, Tom gives some vivid examples on how language can trip up computers, including context, concepts that don’t match between languages or don’t translate at all, and shared expectations — and you’ll also learn why there is no way to translate the meaning of “oppan Gangnam style” into a single English sentence. (more…)

What does a German elephant say? Translating onomatopoeia

The proper term is “cross-linguistic onomatopoeia,” but James Chapman just calls them “sounds in other languages”: from the crying of a baby in Spanish (buá buá), the crowing of a rooster in French (cocorico),  the clicking of a camera in Russian (shchyolk) to the ringing of a telephone in Italian (drin drin). On Wikipedia you can find an exhaustive list of words describing noises from around the world. (more…)

40 Weird Word Origins

Did you know “mortgage” comes from the French for “death pledge”? Or that “senator” shares its root with “senile”? Mental Floss’s John Green explains 40 weird word origins in this video: