A funny translation problem in the Hebrew localized OS [of the Nokia E71] showed up before I switched the phone over to English, which translates as:
“Keypad is locked. Press Unlock and then the function key to unlock.”
Of course, the softkey for “Unlock” wasn’t labeled “Unlock”, it was labeled “Open”. Hm.
…for example, if you’re working with text originally written by a non-native speaker of the language.
I wanted to change the setting on a very simple (kosher) Samsung flip phone, so that instead of answering calls automatically when I open the phone, it will only answer when I press the “call” button to accept the call (this gives me a chance to see Caller ID first).
I knew the setting was available somewhere. Well, I looked and I looked. I hunted through every possible menu (there aren’t many on this phone).
In desperation, I got help from an Israeli colleague, who found the setting in just a couple of minutes. It wasn’t obvious. The function can be found in the “Extra Settings” in the “Settings” menu — fair enough. But the function itself is called “Active Folder”.
As a native English-speaker, I understood “Active Folder” to mean “a group of files or functionalities that are activated”, and therefore didn’t select that function even when I saw it during my original hunt.
My English-as-a-second-language colleague understood “Active Folder” correctly: “the function triggered by folding the phone is active”.
Some useful [?] terms, if you’re visiting Israel:
kochavit: lit.: little star; the asterisk/star key
sulamit: lit.: little ladder; the pound key
shtrudel: lit.: pastry roll; the @ symbol
jemsbond: lit.: James Bond; colloquially, an attache case
Have you got some favorite examples? I’d love to see them in the Comments!
Certainly a novel interface. It calls to mind the Nintendogs bubble-blowing function. The “twist” (sorry!) here of getting into the mindset of a blender is funny.
Blendie is an interactive, sensitive, intelligent, voice controlled blender with a mind of its own. Materials are a 1950’s Osterizer blender altered with custom made hardware and software for sound analysis and motor control.
People induce the blender to spin by sounding the sounds of its motor in action. A person may growl low pitch blender-like sounds to get it to spin slow (Blendie pitch and power matches the person) and the person can growl blender-style at higher pitches to speed up Blendie. The experience for the participant is to speak the language of the machine and thus to more deeply understand and connect with the machine. The action may also bring about personal revelations in the participant. The participant empathizes with Blendie and in this new approach to a domestic appliance, a conscious and personally meaningful relationship is facilitated.
…but seriously, folks, what about areas in which it would be important to get into the mindset of an appliance? Have you never had the experience of trying to accomplish some task on a computer, and saying to yourself, “Now, where would they have put that function?”
If you speak the language of the computer (programming code), then you are a software programmer with the mindset of a blender anyway. Sorry. If you aren’t a software engineer, it’s a lot nicer to have the appliance go to the trouble of speaking your language rather than vice versa. Which is why the Macintosh OS is so much easier to use than DOS was.
Certainly when trying to understand other people and especially other cultures, we have to ask: Does speaking their language in fact help you to think their thoughts, feel their feelings? Yes, learning the language shows respect and facilitates communication, but does it run deeper than that?
Who couldn’t find a use for “neko-neko,” an Indonesian word for “one who has a creative idea which only makes things worse,” or “skeinkjari,” a term from the Faroe Islands for “the man who goes among wedding guests offering them alcohol”? Some words […] are surprisingly affecting, like the Inuit word “iktsuarpok,” which means “to go outside often to see if someone is coming.” And then there’s “tingo” itself, from the Pascuense language of Easter Island: “to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them.” (from Amazon.com’s description of The Meaning of Tingo, by Adam Jacot de Boinod)
On a PRI Geo Quiz podcast, I heard the above author say there is a Norwegian word for dunking someone’s face in snow!
Having a word for an idea means you have the idea in your mind. Lack of words can result in lack of recognition of subtle distinctions and nuances. When one culture expresses these distinctions in its vocabulary and another doesn’t, important meaning gets lost in translation.
A very basic example that I’ve often noticed is in the Israeli and English words for “blue”. In English, we use blue as a general term for everything from pale sky to dark navy. In modern Hebrew, techelet is used for light blues, and kachol for darker blues. As a non-native Hebrew speaker, I have referred to an object as kachol only to get a blank look from the Israeli who can’t figure out what I’m pointing to; all he sees is something techelet. There is no mental equation of the terms; kachol and techelet are seen as distinct colors, just as blue and purple are to English speakers.
I’ve found that when someone behaves in a way that I’m having trouble interpreting, if I mimic the facial expression and tone of voice (no, not in front of them!), I can try and answer the question: “What feeling would I experience or thought would I think that would cause me to react this way?” Language is not always be expressed as words (hence the term “body language”).
Speaking the language -> understanding the mind.
Some words are just… sumptuous. They have character, pizzazz. They just work right.
I first became conscious of the power of a great word when I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg. I was in third or fourth grade then, and was fascinated by a conversation in which Claudia, the older sister, talks about thinking of “soft” words as she falls asleep (I remember “hush” being one of them). The idea that the sounds of the words themselves could have meaning above and beyond that of the word definition was mind-opening.
Since then, I’ve also learned to love the shape and appearance of certain words and letters. A word is a whole package of meaning, from its letters to its shape to its sound to its definition. (If you’re a synesthete — I’m not — then think of the word’s color, too.)
Today’s word: quesadilla.
In Hebrew, the meanings of the shapes, names and sounds of the letters of the alphabet are inherent to the teachings of the Torah. The combinations of letters that form words have meaning, too, as they combine the letter meanings to create the fundamental essence of the word’s definition. Thus, words with similar letters have subtle but significant connections in meaning, even when they do not stem from the same root word. You might call it a semantic web of the essence of the universe.
Do you have words you enjoy? I’d like to hear which.