Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dave Keating*: Would Brexit Banish English from Continental Europe?

'Brussels English' could be vulnerable to French attack if the UK leaves the EU.
Much has been written about the future of the UK if it chooses to leave the European Union in June’s referendum. Less has been written about the effect of Brexit on the EU. 

The loss of British influence in Europe would be felt in many ways, most likely resulting in a less neoliberal, free-market-oriented bloc. Recently I’ve written about the possibility of a more proactive EUenvironmental policy if the UK were to leave. But could a Brexit also affect linguistics?

Today The Local, an expat newspaper in France, published a tongue-in-cheek (note today's date) evaluation of what a Brexit would mean for the English language in Europe, given that it has long been in the crosshairs of the French government. They imagine a future where the Academie Francaise, France's notoriously strict language enforcer, would send patrols around the country looking for British expats who can't speak French. Given the (well-deserved) reputation of Anglophones for not sufficiently learning the langauges of the countries they move to, the April Fools article hits where it hurts.

But in fact there is truth behind this gag. Right now UK citizens have the right to live and work in France, and the government cannot require them to speak French in order to do so. Were the UK to leave the EU and not be allowed to join the European Economic Area, it would mean Brits would have to apply for a visa to live in France. And France could easily require language proficiency as a requirement for granting visas.

It's not as far-fetched as it might sound at first, and such linguistic effects wouldn't be limited to France. In fact the April Fools article is in response to actual French media speculation that the government will wage a campaign to eradicate English from Brussels if the UK leaves the EU.

English no longer justified 

Though there are 24 'official languages' of the EU, the bloc's institutions use three 'working languages' to conduct everyday business - German, French and English. This is based on the fact that these are the three largest countries in the union.

Germans, not particularly evangelistic about their language, have allowed German to slip into disuse despite the fact that it is by far the most widely spoken first language in the bloc (18% vs 12% and 13% for French and English). This has left English and French as the two de facto working languages, most clearly exemplified by the fact that the European Commission's daily midday press briefing is conducted in only these two tongues.

French has seen its preeminence dissipate following the 2004 accession of Eastern European countries, whose citizens sent to Brussels as civil servants are far more likely to speak English than French. 

But France isn't giving up without a fight. They have waged a long battle against the English language under the guise of maintaining "multilingualism" (a thin veneer for enforcing the French language on others). The French government even pays for journalists and diplomats in Brussels to learn French, something I took advantage of for many years (thanks French taxpayers!).

Of course, this has been a losing battle. English has become the lingua franca of EU institutions and the businesses surrounding them, and French is mostly used in offices that skew older or Southern. The predominance of English has even created a sometimes hilarious non-native dialect we've come to call "Brussels English". 

But the French have not given up, and perhaps some at the Adamie Francaise are licking their lips at the prospect of Brexit. Finally, France can strike back.

Link to the full article HERE

Dave Keating American journalist covering the EU.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Midsummer Holidays Are Important In Northern Europe - Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

European Midsummer Traditions Vary Between Different Cultures

Nature and Midsummer celebrations in the Baltics and the Nordics. Collage: Baltic Media
In the Baltics -  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Quebec (Canada), the traditional Midsummer day, June 24, is a public holiday. So it was formerly also in Sweden and Finland, but in these countries it was, in the 1950s, moved to the Friday and Saturday between June 19 and June 26, respectively.

European midsummer-related holidays, traditions, and celebrations are pre-Christian in origin. They are particularly important in geographic Northern Europe - Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – but is also very strongly observed in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, parts of the United Kingdom (Cornwall especially), France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine, other parts of Europe, and elsewhere - such as Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, and also in the Southern Hemisphere (mostly in Brazil, Argentina and Australia), where this imported European celebration would be more appropriately called "Midwinter".

Swedish Midsummer celebration 

Midsummer, also known as St John's Day, or Litha is the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, and more specifically the Northern European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice or take place on a day between June 21 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures. The Christian Church designated June 24 as the feast day of the early Christian martyr St John the Baptist, and the observance of St John's Day begins the evening before, known as St John's Eve.
These are commemorated by many Christian denominations. In Sweden the Midsummer is such an important festivity that there have been serious discussions to make the Midsummer's Eve into the National Day of Sweden, instead of June 6. It may also be referred to as St. Hans Day.
Midsummer is also sometimes referred to by Neopagans and others as Litha, stemming from Bede's De temporum ratione which provides Anglo-Saxon names for the months roughly corresponding to June and July as se Ærra Liþa and se Æfterra Liþa (the "early Litha month" and the "later Litha month") with an intercalary month of Liþa appearing after se Æfterra Liþa on leap years. The fire festival or Lith- Summer solstice is a tradition for many pagans.

Solstice celebrations still centered on the day of the astronomical summer solstice. Some choose to hold the rite on June 21, even when this is not the longest day of the year, and some celebrate June 24, the day of the solstice in Roman times.
Midsummer celebration in Latvia, the Baltics. 

In Latvia, Midsummer is called Jāņi also called John's Celebration (Jānis being Latvian for John ) or Līgo svētki (svētki = festival). It is a national holiday celebrated from the night of June 23 through June 24 on a large scale by almost everyone in Latvia and by people of Latvian origin abroad. Celebrations consist of a lot of traditional and mostly pagan elements - eating Jāņi cheese (special recipe with caraway seeds), drinking beer, baking pīrāgi, singing hundreds of Latvian folk songs dedicated to Jāņi, burning bonfires to keep light all through the night and jumping over it, wearing wreaths of flowers (for women) and oak leaves (for men) together with modern commercial products and ideas.

 There are tens and hundreds of different beliefs and traditions all over Latvia on what should be done on that day for good harvest, for predicting the future, for attracting your future spouse etc. People decorate their houses and lands with birch or sometimes oak branches and flowers as well as leaves, especially fern. In rural areas livestock is also decorated. In modern days small oak branches with leaves are attached to the cars in Latvia during the festivity. Jāņi has been a strong aspect of Latvian culture throughout history, originating in pre-Christian Latvia as an ancient fertility cult.

In the western town of Kuldīga, revellers mark the holiday by running naked through the town at three in the morning. The event has taken place since 2000. Runners are rewarded with beer, and police are on hand in case any "puritans" attempt to interfere with the naked run.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Summer Solstice Sometimes Lost in the Shuffle

Pāvilosta. Latvia, The Baltics. Baltic Sea.
Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout: Summer Solstice Sometimes Lost in the Shufflethe Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, has been marked and celebrated across cultures since pre-historic times, it is today celebrated mostly—understandably—in the most northern climes.  
day on or near the Solstice is still a widely celebrated public holidayMidsummer’sDay—in most of Scandinavia, the Baltic nations and in Quebec.  It is a widely observed unofficial celebration in Ireland and northernEngland and in several other countries.

Monday, 13 June 2016

If You’re Distributing Your Content Into a Foreign-Language Market, Get a Native-Speaking Translator

Lost in Translation? An 11-Step Checklist for Localizing Content
Translation services
We’ve all had a giggle over a bad translation. Examples of unintentionally funny gaffes on assembly instructions and product descriptions abound on the Internet. But it’s not funny when it happens to you.
What can you do?
As the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail. With that in mind, here is the checklist I use when localizing content. Make sure each of these points is checked off your list before you launch content in a different country or geography.

American standard paper is 8 ½ x 11 inches. The rest of the world operates on an A4 paper size, 21 x 29.7 cm or, roughly, 8 ¼ x 11 ¾ inches. It’s a small difference with a huge impact. American-sized documents do not easily fit into envelopes or binders in other countries. Your documents must be resized – and possibly redesigned – to ensure they print properly in your foreign market.

Hole punches
America uses a standard 3-hole punch. Most other countries use a 2-hole punch and are not aligned with the American standard. If you’re providing content to be inserted into a binder, make sure you’re punching the holes in the right place.

Many words are spelled differently in the United States than in other English speaking countries. While American audiences tend to find these differences charming, foreign audiences bristle at the “arrogance” of not taking spelling into consideration. You must go through your content with an editorial eagle-eye to find these differences. Set your spell checker to the language and country where you plan on publishing and make the changes required.
Spelling traps include:
  • Words ending in ‘or’, e.g.  color versus colour
  • words ending in ‘ize’, e.g. optimize versus optimise
  • Medical terms, e.g. pediatrician versus paediatrician
  • Botany/gardening terms, e.g.  cilantro versus coriander
  • Food terms, e.g. zucchini versus courgette
Running afoul of local slang and colloquialisms can be embarrassing. I discovered this firsthand when I announced to a group of my British male colleagues that I was feeling particularly ‘spunky.’ I meant full of energy; they interpreted it as having a heightened libido.  I was horrified when a mature gentleman asked to borrow a rubber; he wanted an eraser. In South Africa, I couldn’t find a ‘robot’ and got lost on my first day of work. I had no idea I was looking for a traffic light. You get the picture.

Abbreviations and titles
If you’ve ever read a foreign newspaper, you know how frustrating it can be to encounter abbreviations or titles you don’t understand. Government,  law enforcement, medicine and the legal profession use different titles for the same job in different countries. For example, attorney, lawyer, barrister, judge and solicitor all refer to professionals employed in a court of law. Do your readers in every country know what people hold jobs with MP, DC, GP or DO abbreviations in their title?

Units of measure
While most of the world comfortably operates on the metric system, the USA is still using the old Imperial system for weight, measurement and temperature. Your documents will be meaningless to people who don’t how long a yard is, what 80 degrees Fahrenheit feels like, or how much 45 pounds weigh.  Use an online metric conversion program to make life easier for your readers.

If you’re publishing recipes, cookbooks or anything to do with food preparation, you’re going to want to spend some time localizing your content. America – and to a lesser extent Britain – still uses Imperial measurements while nearly everyone else is on the metric system. A goodonline cooking converter will help you convert ingredients, temperatures, weights and volumes. Keep in mind the way food products are packaged can trip you up, too. Asking for a ‘stick of butter’ is sure to confuse anyone outside the USA. A fluid pint varies in volume from country to country. A punnet is common in Australia but unknown in the USA (it’s a small basket often used when selling fruits).

Number formats
A dead give-away your content hasn’t been localized is if your telephone numbers reflect the American standard of (123) 456-7890. In Australia, we have 2-digit area codes and 8-digit phone numbers and note them like this (01) 2345 6789. Our postal codes are 4-digits long. Make sure your documents are changed to reflect these differences. It’s  important to make sure your online forms can handle different formats for critical numbers. I’ve given up ordering online more than once because an American website insists on a 5-digit zip code and won’t let me complete an order.

While business is pretty good at getting their pricing translated into foreign currency, they often fall down when expressing the value of things. Dollars and cents have no meaning in many parts of the world. Even more confusing, many people have no point of reference for a quarter, dime or nickel. I wish I had a quarter for every time someone asked me how much a dime or a nickel was worth!

Fiscal Years
The financial calendar varies widely from country to country as do tax years. If your content deals with finances, make sure you’re not confusing things by referring to the wrong business calendar. This is especially important if you’re running year-end sales or promotions.  Don’t expect your local market to share your fiscal year or tax year.

Americans love accents but the world does not reciprocate the feeling. If you’re producing videos or podcasts for foreign markets, hire a voice-over specialist with a native accent even if it’s the same language you speak. Your audience will appreciate the consideration. More importantly, they’ll be able to easily understand the point you’re trying to get across. You want them focused on your content, not the way the narrator is speaking.

A couple of notes on translation
If you’re distributing your content into a foreign-language market, get a native-speaking translatorDon’t rely on free Internet translation services: they give literal translations but don’t consider the way people actually speak. I once heard the late founder of the Body Shop, Anita Roddick, speak about a debacle with a major rollout of a ‘mother and baby’ line of products. The South American translation, performed in the U.K., offended everyone when the product names took on a profane slur against motherhood.

If your plan is to publish only in countries using the same speaking language, you still need to employ local services to ‘translate’ your content. Spanish speaking countries vary greatly in their usage of the language. China has several different dialects. People from Brazil have a tough time understanding people from Portugal even though they all speak Portuguese. The worst language offences occur in English-speaking countries where spelling differences, slang and colloquialisms can render your content useless. At the very least, it shows a lack of consideration for your potential clients.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

There Are at Least 7,102 Known Languages Alive in the World Today

  • There are at least 7,102 known languages alive in the world today.
  • This map shows the 23 languages that are a mother tongue for more than 50 million people and make up the native tongue of 4.1 billion people.
  • The different color of the countries shows how languages, the method of human communication, have taken root in many different regions.

Source:Bank of America Merill Lynch