Friday, 1 November 2019

Linguistics: Do We Really Need Grammatical Gender?


Many languages have this system of organising nouns into different classes, but equally many manage without it.




Half of the world’s languages manage without this grammatical category. For non-native speakers it may be almost impossible to fully learn. So what is it good for?
This story is about gender.
Not feminism and equality, but grammatical gender.

Many languages have this system of organising nouns into different classes, but equally many manage without it.

In some languages, gender signifies biological sex, whilst in otherlanguages the meaning of a noun is irrelevant for its gender. Why do some languages manage without this, often intricate, system, whilst speakers of Norwegian, for instance, must learn the nouns’ genders item by item?

Marit Westergaard and Terje Lohndal want to understand the representation of grammatical gender in the human mind. Core questions are how grammatical gender is acquired and how it may change across time? They found that CAS was the right arena for their research project and moved from Tromsø and Trondheim respectively to stay at CAS for one year with national and international experts on grammatical gender, working on many different languages.

"We also try to figure out whether gender systems across the world are fundamentally the same, as people have believed in the past, or perhaps they are more different than we think", Lohndal says.

So far, they believe the latter is more likely.


Most puzzling grammatical category

“Gender is the most puzzling of the grammatical categories”, Greville Corbett (currently a CAS Fellow) wrote in his highly influential book Gender in 1991. It has become a frequently cited quote by linguists.
"The gender category is puzzling because it involves so many aspects of language – semantics, phonology, morphology and syntax", Marit Westergaard explains.

That means that in order to explain grammatical gender, you have to consider the meaning of the word, what the word sounds like, what suffixes the word takes, and what effects the word has for other parts of the sentence.
"Gender is also puzzling because it seems to be redundant in some sense", she continues.
"Half of the languages in the world do not have gender. But in most languages that do, it is robust and relatively early acquired by children."

 


Gender does not necessarily follow from the meaning of a word

The MultiGender project brings together researchers working on the typology of gender as well as the acquisition and attrition/change of gender in various populations.
"We know that all languages do not behave the same way", Westergaard says, and explains:
"For example, the semantics (meaning) of a word does not seem to be very important in the Norwegian gender system. That is, the nouns for house and tree are neuter, but this does not affect the meaning of the noun. However, meaning may be more important in another gender system, for example Russian."

"A lot of existing research on grammatical gender argues that the meaning of a noun determines its gender", Lohndal says.

For instance, words that signify a male animal have masculine gender, whilst female animals have feminine gender. Take Spanish, in which you can determine the natural gender by the ending of the noun, such as hermana (sister) or abuela (grandmother).
However, meaning clearly plays less of a role for the noun Mädchen, 'girl' in German, which is neuter. Similarly, the word for ‘path’ is masculine in German (der Pfad], but neuter in Dutch (het Pad) – but the two words have the same meaning.

"We think that it is fair to say that the non-meaning related parts of grammatical gender, such as the ending of a noun, have not been given enough attention in previous research, especially by non-experimentalists in the field."

Russian is a language in which the semantics of a noun often overrides formal rules. Nouns ending in -a are feminine in Russian, but there are exceptions, such as papa ‘daddy’, which is masculine.
"Young Russian-speaking children occasionally use the feminine gender form for papa", Westergaard says.
"This shows that at least for small children the shape of the noun is more important than meaning", Lohndal explains.

Made-up-words and eye-tracking

How do linguists actually study grammatical gender?
The members of the MultiGender project have carried out experiments and studies prior to the CAS year in order to have as much data to work with as possible once they arrive at the Centre.
One method for studying grammatical gender is to introduce people to so-called nonce words (words that do not exist in the language), and see how people categorise them.
Another method is eye-tracking.

In such an experiment, researchers would for example show speakers of Norwegian (both native speakers and learners) a screen with three masculine items and one feminine item.
Then participants hear a sentence, e.g.: “I’m hiding behind ei bok” (ei is a gender cue for the feminine noun book in Norwegian).

"It turns out that native speakers will look at the book as soon as they hear the gender cue (ei in this case) and before they hear the noun itself, since ei cannot be combined with any of the other items on the screen (the masculine nouns)", Westergaard explains.
She suggests that this shows that speakers use gender cues to process language more quickly. It is not clear whether that explains the function of gender, but it is certainly an idea, she says.

Possibly impossible to learn for non-native speakers

The gender category is typically very difficult for adult learners, and the project leaders actually argue that it might be impossible to learn the Norwegian gender system perfectly for a second language learner, as gender must be learned noun by noun.

"Problems with gender are often characteristic of otherwise fluent speakers of Norwegian who have not acquired Norwegian natively", Lohndal says.

If you are one of those who struggle with grammatical gender in Norwegian, then Marit Westergaard offers a piece of advice:
"Approximately 80% percent of all nouns in Norwegian are masculine, so if you are learning Norwegian as your second language, always using the masculine form might not be such a bad strategy", she says chuckling.

Why is this called gender?

"Why is the organisation of nouns called gender?"
"If we weren’t as influenced by history as we often tend to be, we would probably just call them noun class 1, 2 and 3, at least in Norwegian", Lohndal says. He explains that the gender terminology goes back to Latin.

"In Latin there is a clear biological basis for the gender system. The noun for a male animal would typically be masculine, a female animal would be feminine, and the rest would typically be neuter. And then it gets generalized and non-animate nouns also get masculine or feminine gender."
This makes sense in a biological system, but Bantu languages, e.g. Swahili, may have 15 or 20 different classes for nouns. To categorise the words into genders with labels such as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ does not work in such a situation.

"We hope to return with a much better understanding of the cross-linguistic diversity of gender: How children and adults acquire it, how it changes across time and how we can make models of how these systems can vary", Lohndal says.
They both believe it is likely that the project will result in new collaborations and new projects that will continue for many years to come after the CAS year has ended.


Source to read more: Science Norway 

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Translation and Localization Management Solutions




If you have researched translation for multilingual websites and mobile apps, you’ve seen a wide range of solutions for translating and updating multilingual digital media. These are packaged as translation "platforms" or "proxies" or, more recently, "localization management solutions." Some are developed by startups focusing specifically on websites and mobile apps, while others are proprietary tools that have been developed by language service providers. In this article, we will refer to these as "automated solutions."

In general, automated solutions establish a cloud-based framework to translate a website or app and, in some cases, for continuing translation updates on an ongoing basis. After the initial translation project, the client can use the interface to make updates, which trigger micro-translation projects for translators to fulfill almost in real time. Translators log in directly to the tool to translate the client’s changes. The leading platforms can handle an impressive array of file formats, even converting them on the fly. Many also provide the translators with an interface that "mirrors" the look of the source application or website. This helps the translators see the content in context and compensate for text expansion or contraction during translation (some languages use more characters than others, which impacts the "look" of the project).

When an automated solution claims that it provides a seamless alternative to what they characterize as tedious "manual" processes, be skeptical. Translation project managers are already skilled in managing digital content, and industry-standard localization project management is NOT limited to cutting and pasting content to and from Excel worksheets. The translation industry has embraced content management technologies on pace with the field of technical communication in general. In fact, automated platforms offer many of the functionalities of translation tools that have been in use since the 1990s. Although we use the term "hands-on" processes to distinguish them from automated solutions, they are still a far cry from "manual."

What tools are already in use?

Like professional technical writers, professional translators use tools for structuring content, ensuring consistency of style and terminology, and performing quality assurance. Market leaders like MemoQ and SDL Studio (and a host of competitors) have been developing and refining their products for decades. Increasingly sophisticated CAT (computer aided translation) tools are available as both desktop applications and cloud-based collaborative platforms. Competition between brands is intense, but a certain amount of compatibility has developed between them. The industry standard XLIFF file (XML Localization Interchange File Format) allows for translation files to be shared between different tools, with only occasional issues caused by variations in implementation. Nowadays, being able to use these tools has become necessary for a successful translation career. Practically every reputable freelance technical translator and every professional language service partner or agency has expertise with one or more CAT tools.

CAT tools break content down into segments and present them in a two-column source-target interface. The tools provide termbase management, controlled authoring, style guidance, and QA functionality. Translation memories (TMs) make pre-translated segments available for re-use across media platforms and over a lifetime of updates. Automated solutions have adopted these capabilities as well, albeit with varying levels of quality and degrees of success.

From the translator’s point of view, years of subject matter expertise is codified in their own personal termbases and CAT toolcustomizations, in addition to investments in training time and licensing fees. Translators prefer to use their own tools (or combination of tools), and in-demand translators can be choosy in declining projects that require them to learn new tools. When quality is paramount (and it usually is), businesses should avoid automated solutions that very few translators are willing or able to use.

Why is localization engineering necessary?

In a sense, the purpose of CAT tools has always been "automated localization engineering" for digital content. Most file formats have become so commonplace that we hardly even consider them "digital" anymore. Twenty years ago, translation looked very different than it does today. Today, a translator can import a Word document or an InDesign file into a CAT tool, view the text without the distraction of markup/tags, translate it, and export a target document with the formatting intact. SDL Studio, for example, currently supports 70 different file types.

For mobile apps, websites, technical drawings, and elearning modules, separating content from code is rarely as simple. Putting the application or module back together again after translation can also pose challenges, especially when multiple languages are involved. When code is mistaken for content and vice versa, problems occur. Recoding can be required to create a usable deliverable.

As digital technologies multiply, technical translators face these problems:

CAT tools are compatible with many file formats. However, they are not compatible with ALL file formats.

Even if the file formats are compatible, the export and import functions for the client’s authoring platforms will vary in quality.

Authoring standards for the source content itself can also vary in quality. Custom coding, shortcuts, and workarounds can all interfere with the CAT tool’s ability to read and manage the content.

When choosing a localization strategy, a client should not assume that "automating" the process is going to be more cost-effective. Instead, they should ask these questions:
  • How localization-friendly is the website or app?
  • What is the expected frequency of changes and updates?
  • What in-house resources can I devote to localization engineering?


Regardless of whether you will use automated or hands-on solutions, the best way to reduce the costs of localization engineering is to follow best practices for internationalization from the start.

Internationalization best practices

What is the first step toward localization-friendly content for apps and websites? 
  • Protect the code. Keeping the content separate from the code makes it easier to isolate the content for translation.
  • Don’t hard-code dates, times, measurements, or currencies.
  • Don’t concatenate strings to form sentences. Remember that grammar and word order vary across languages.
  • Don’t embed text in graphics.
  • Support different character sets by using Unicode.
  • If certain features won’t be used internationally, make them easily disabled options.
  • Store strings in resource files.If an app or website is not already internationalized, recoding will be necessary to accommodate the needs of a global audience. Some automated solutions promise to take the internationalization step out of the equation by creating a proxy site or replica to serve as the source for the localized sites.




Source: TCWorld 

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Finland is renowned for mobile phones, design and Moomins

Finland | Finnish language translation services

Finland is called 'the land of the thousand lakes', as inland lakes and rivers make up 10% of the country. The large areas of forest cover almost two thirds of the land mass. Only 6% of Finland is arable.
Finland has a population of 5.5 million, around a million of whom live in the area in and around the capital city, Helsinki.
A significant Swedish-speaking minority lives in Finland, so Finnish and Swedish are both official languages.
Finland is a republic. The president, who is directly elected by the people, has real power over foreign affairs, EU policy and major military decisions. In all other matters, the parliament is the the country's highest authority.
Finland is a member of the EU, and its currency is the euro. The country is not a member of NATO.
The forestry, technology and metal industries are Finland's most important revenue sources. 
GDP per capita is EUR 28,700 (2013).
Total area: 338,430 km2
Land area: 303,890 km2
Lakes and rivers: 34,540 km2
Arable land and horticulture: 22,672 km2
Forests: 227,690 km2
Largest lake: Saimaa 1,377 km2
Highest point: Mount Haltia 1,324 m
Mainland coast line: 6,308 km
Average temperature in Helsinki (1961-1990): January -6.9° C, July 16.6° C
Precipitation in Helsinki (2005): 648 mm
Population (2016): 5,503,297
Population of Helsinki (2016): 1,138,502 including suburbs (1)
National day: 6 December (Independence Day)
Form of government: Republic
Parliament: Eduskunta (200 seats)
EU membership: Since 1 January 1995
NATO membership: No
Head of state (since March 2012): President Sauli Niinistö    
Head of government (since June 2019): Prime Minister Antti Rinne
Currency: Euro
Official website: www.finland.fi
Official language: Finnish and Swedish
1) Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen, and Vantaa

Source: Norden 

Sunday, 25 August 2019

The Guardian: Clumsy and Insensitive Translations Can Ruin the Enjoyment of a Foreign-language Film




This year, however, subtitles have been attracting more attention than usual. In January, Alfonso Cuarón condemned Netflix’s decision to add Castilian-Spanish subs to his film Roma as “parochial, ignorant and offensive to Spaniards”, who presumably couldn’t be trusted to understand the Mexican accent. Two days later, the Castilian subtitles were removed.



But criticism of Roma’s subtitles didn’t stop there. In February, the ATAA (Association des Traducteurs/Adaptateurs de l’Audiovisuel) pointed out that the film’s French subtitles were full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and mistranslations. The ATAA’s chairperson, Ian Burley, who has been subtitling French, Belgian and Italian movies for more than 30 years, also took a look at Roma’s English subtitles, and found them riddled with stylistic inconsistencies, sloppy synchronisation and clumsy line breaks or punctuation, all of which are liable to distract or discombobulate the viewer. And in the riot scene, a woman’s desperate exhortation of “Vamos!” (“Come on!”) to a dying man whose head she is cradling is clumsily translated as “Let’s go!” – as though she thinks he is dawdling.

Concerned not just by the problems with Roma, well publicised because of the Oscar-winning film’s high profile, but by a more general decline in subtitling standards, AVTE (AudioVisual Translators Europe) is collaborating with its member associations (including the British Subtitlers’ Association, Subtle) in a call for film-makers to cooperate more closely with professional subtitlers, reminding them that subtitling is a craft – an art, even – that ought not to be left to amateurs or automatic translation software.



Nowadays, clients provide translators with digital copies of the film, usually (but not always) with a transcript of the dialogue. Sometimes when the film reaches the subtitler, it has already been “spotted” by a subtitling lab, although the younger generation of subtitlers often do their own “spotting” – the technical process that fixes the entry and exit point for each subtitle and provides the character count for optimum legibility. “In a perfect world,” says Burley, “a subtitle will never go over a change of shot, but that is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid in today’s films, which are often more rapidly edited than older movies.”
The art of translation requires more than just fluency in several languages, and there is a lot more to it than simply translating the dialogue. “The subtitler must decide what to prioritise at any given moment, in order to best serve the interests of the film,” says David Buchanan, a freelance translator specialising in French to English subtitling, and a member of Subtle. “For instance, legibility. Is the subtitle clearly laid out? Does the text flow in a clear and logical way? Is the subtitle on screen long enough for the viewer to read it properly?”



Jacqueline Ball, a freelance translator specialising in German to English subtitling, says: “With subtitling, unlike text translation, you often have to make very difficult choices regarding what you can retain due to reading speed (which, on average, is 15 to 17 characters a second for adult viewers), how many characters fit on a line (usually between 37 and 42) and the number of lines – which, in foreign-language subtitling, as opposed to hard-of-hearing subtitling, is always limited to two.”
It’s also important for subtitles to take into account the characters’ ages, social class, personalities and moods, as well as the historical period in which a film is set. 

A knowledge of the plot is essential; when space is tight, you can’t cut dialogue about a gun if someone is going to be firing it in the third act. Other elements that must be taken into account are the rhythm of the language, as well as subtext. “The screenwriter has engineered all sorts of implications and resonances that work at a deeper level,” says Buchanan. “So a subtitler needs to be aware of the film’s underlying themes, symbolism, stakes and so on.”



Linguistic variations in syntax, formality and grammatical gender pose their own problems. Ball cites the use of “Sie”, the polite German form of “you”, and the less formal “du”. “Germans will often ask each other, ‘Sollen wir uns duzen?’ [‘Shall we use the du form?’] which, of course, cannot be rendered literally into English. Usually you get round it by saying something like, ‘Shall we use first names?’”


Read more The Guardian 

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Lexical Distance Among the Languages of Europe



Nordic Translation services languages
This chart shows the lexical distance — that is, the degree of overall vocabulary divergence — among the major languages of Europe.


This chart shows the lexical distance — that is, the degree of overall vocabulary divergence — among the major languages of Europe.

The size of each circle represents the number of speakers for that language. Circles of the same color belong to the same language group. All the groups except for Finno-Ugric (in yellow) are in turn members of the Indo-European language family.

English is a member of the Germanic group (blue) within the Indo-European family. But thanks to 1066, William of Normandy, and all that, about 75% of the modern English vocabulary comes from French and Latin (ie the Romance languages, in orange) rather than Germanic sources. As a result, English (a Germanic language) and French (a Romance language) are actually closer to each other in lexical terms than Romanian (a Romance language) and French.

So why is English still considered a Germanic language? 
Two reasons. First, the most frequently used 80% of English words come from Germanic sources, not Latinate sources. Those famous Anglo-Saxon monosyllables live on! Second, the syntax of English, although much simplified from its Old English origins, remains recognizably Germanic. The Norman conquest added French vocabulary to the language, and through pidginization, it arguably stripped out some Germanic grammar, but it did not ADD French grammar.

The original research data for the chart comes from K. Tyshchenko (1999), Metatheory of Linguistics. (Published in Ukrainian.)



Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Finnish (Suomi) is a Finnic Language Spoken by About 5 Million People

translate in to Finnish language
Credit: Baltic Media


Finns often run into questions like “Is Finnish like Swedish?” or “Does everyone in Finland speak Russian?” A simple answer to both questions is no. 
Both Swedish (one of the two official languages of Finland) and Russian belong to the Indo-European group of languages, while Finnish is a Finno-Ugric language. The latter group also includes Hungarian, Estonian, Sámi (spoken by the indigenous people of northern Finland, Sweden and Norway and northwestern Russia) and several lesser-known languages spoken in areas of Russia. 
The Finno-Ugric languages share enough common lexical and grammatical features to prove a common origin. Although these languages have developed separately for thousands of years, it can be seen that common features include:
1) absence of gender (the same Finnish pronoun, “hän,” denotes both “he” and “she”)
2) absence of articles (a and the in English)3) long words due to the structure of the language4) numerous grammatical cases5) personal possession expressed with suffixes6) postpositions in addition to prepositions7) no equivalent of the verb “to have”

There are various speculative theories about the time and place of the origin of the so-called Proto-Finno-Ugrian language. According to the most common theory, Hungarian and Finnish are separated by a mere 6,000 years of separate development.
How long Finnish-speakers have populated Finland is a question that has always interested Finnish scholars. Nowadays it is thought that speakers of a Finno-Ugric language have been living in the area of present-day Finland since at least 3000 BC. 
During the following millennia, contacts proliferated between the speakers of the Finno-Ugric language and speakers of neighbouring Indo-European languages (e.g. Baltic, Germanic and Slavic dialects). Numerous loan words borrowed by Finnish, Estonian and the other Baltic Finnic languages (Karelian, Lude, Vepsian, Vote and Livonian) demonstrate the existence of contacts between the people speaking Finnic languages and people speaking Indo-European languages. 
Not only vocabulary has been borrowed, but also many grammatical features. 
Most loans in present-day Finnish have come from the Germanic and Scandinavian languages, especially from Swedish.

 Read more: This is Finland 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Digitalisation in the Nordic Region—The European and Global Contexts



The Nordic countries are often positioned as digital front-runners in both the European and global contexts. In the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index, Denmark, Sweden Finland and the Netherlands (in that order) top the list in terms of the overall ranking, as well as performing well on individual indicators (see Figure 1).
Digitalisation in the Nordic Region—The European and Global Contexts
Figure 1

Norway also performs well on the indicators, despite not being formally included in the ranking.
 The ranking is based on five aspects:
1) connectivity (fixed broadband, mobile broadband, speed and affordability);
2) human capital (digital skills);
3) use of the Internet (content, communication and transactions);
4) integration of digital technology (business digitisation and e-commerce); and
5) digital public services (e-government) (European Commission, 2017c).

We find that Nordic countries also rank highest in the tables for each of these aspects. Finland leads the way on human capital and digital public services, Denmark on integration of digital technology and Norway on Internet use.

Alongside the agenda at the European scale, work has also occurred to map the state of play with respect to digitalisation in the Nordic–Baltic Region (Wernberg and Andersson, 2016). To date, two reports have been released that map indicators across the Nordic–Baltic states, with the most recent having a particular focus on cities (see Baltic Wernberg and Andersson, 2016).

The Nordic countries perform well in the Nordic–Baltic context. Again, however, there is substantial variation in performance based on different indicators. For example, there are quite large gaps between the countries when it comes to the use of e-procurement in firms or private R&D expenditure in science and technology, whereas rather small gaps exist when it comes to fixed broadband penetration and startups in ICT across the Nordic–Baltic countries (Wernberg and Andersson, 2016).

Another report based on the Boston Consulting Group’s E-Intensity Index4 includes Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden among nine European ‘digital front-runners’5 (Alm et al., 2016).6 The report highlights the higher share of e-GDP 7 in these countries (8% on average) compared with what it terms the ‘EU Big 5’8 (where e-GDP is 5.1% on average). Accordingly, the research suggests that these countries stand to make the greatest gains from further digital advancement, particularly full realisation of the European digital single market and further digitalisation in emerging fields (e.g., IoT, advanced robotics, big data analysis and augmented/virtual reality). At the same time, the authors argue that these countries have more to lose if Europe fails to keep up with the rest of the world. They are highly critical of European action on digitalisation, suggesting that ‘the window of opportunity is closing fast’ for Europe to position itself as a global leader in this space (Alm et al., 2016: 19).

The report estimates that, based on the current pace of development, even the front-runner nations in Europe will be behind China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan by 2025 (Alm et al., 2016). It suggests that the front-runners should work together to share good practice (all are strong in different areas) and take a leadership role. This includes both ideological leadership—to address the concerns of more pessimistic nations—and practical leadership to target the currently broad EU strategy (Alm et al., 2016).
Nordic cities are also front-runners when it comes to various smart technology solutions, including the management of urban systems and environments. Nordic cities have been early adopters of ICT infrastructure in cities, and of knowledge expansion through the implementation of 'smart city' solutions. This builds on a long tradition of developing infrastructure to support the digitalisation of public services. For example, Finland was the first country to declare that broadband access was a legal right for every citizen and Sweden ranks fourth in the world in the percentage of fixed broadband subscriptions on fibre-optic networks (Borges et al., 2017).

Sweden is among the most successful countries in developing community based broadband initiatives, so-called “local fibre networks. The Swedish Local Fibre Alliance has supported local governments and communities to plan and launch municipally owned and managed networks (ENRD, 2017). The Swedish government is committed to providing expanded high-speed Internet to rural areas and Stockholm is expected to be the first city in the world with a 5G network in 2020 (Borges et al., 2017; NyTeknik, 2018).

In terms of the provision of public services, recent research found that the Nordic cities were the most digitally advanced in Europe, independent of city size (ESPON, 2017). The study also showed that there is a generally high confidence level regarding the readiness of cities to respond to digital transition and seize the opportunities of digitalisation.

Read full report here norden.org  

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Translation and Global Marketing Missteps: Don’t let Global Content Missteps Trip You Up


By Rebecca Ray*




Companies still learn the hard way that almost all the content they publish – or that is created by their customers and prospects – is global.

Whether or not content is translated or intended for a specific audience, all viewers have access to it and make their opinions heard at the global level – especially if they have negative feelings. 
As content plays a larger strategic role in business success, organizations are looking for ways to do a better job to world-proof the words, images, and audio that project their brand. 
In this article, we describe the challenge of global content missteps, provide examples, and offer advice on how to avoid becoming a bad localization meme.
  
Firms generally recognize that content has value in supporting their brand worldwide and attracting and retaining customers. However, executives tend to over-invest in the creation of the original material while scrimping on the localized versions upon which they often depend for a hefty portion of their revenue. 

This disproportionate spending frequently results in a lack of oversight during the design phase, which can lead to embarrassing, if not disastrous, results in terms of PR. Worse yet, the missteps can cause a reduction in overall brand value and market cap numbers over the short term, as well as adversely impact the career path for C-level executives.
All organizations want to avoid being the poster child of global marketing missteps. Yet, examples unfortunately appear all too often:  

H&M’s catalog miscalculation

Regardless of one’s opinion of its appropriateness, you have to wonder how the original product and accompanying marketing content for a T-shirt ad in January 2018 survived internal review at fast-fashion retailer H&M. 
Even if its home base in Sweden was not offended by the product, H&M only had to ask personnel in top markets such as the United States, Germany, France, or the United Kingdom what they thought before proceeding with the design idea. 
As a result, H&M lost clothing line collaborators such as Weeknd and faced a high level of backlash from U.S. customers.


Image 1: H&M advertises a product without thinking through its global implications
Source: H&M online offering in the United Kingdom

United Airlines’ damage control goes awry

Asia has always been a strategic market for United – long before the rise of China – so one would expect that its corporate behavior is followed closely. However, the company’s crisis response team failed to take that into account when news broke about an outsourced security team dragging a passenger off one of its planes under rather violent circumstances. It turned into an international incident as hundreds of millions (not thousands) of people commented on Weibo, with some even cutting up their United frequent flyer cards. Calls for boycotts spread throughout Asia – especially worrying since China is the second-largest market in the world for aviation and still growing. The company briefly lost almost US$1 billion due to the incident.

Yelp’s obliviousness in the face of Turkish history

When the review forum Yelp announced via Twitter last year that it was entering the Turkish market, it rather oddly chose the image of a church for a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim – comparable to using a mosque graphic for an announcement targeted at North Americans. That being said, the church image didn’t match what most Turks see in their country, as the construction of Christian Orthodox churches doesn’t resemble the humble wood building depicted in the image. But even more bothersome to many Turks was the mention of the Trojan Horse used to hide Greek soldiers for an ambush during the war for Troy.


Image 2: Yelp selects a tone-deaf image to enter the Turkish market
Source: Yelp.com


Global content requires governance beyond translation sign-off

The companies in the examples cited are certainly not the only global brands that have stumbled over global messaging and content. Yet it’s impossible for even the most global-savvy person or team to recognize all possible cross-cultural reactions to a particular message, image, or video. So, what is a company to do?

Read more: TCWorld  

*Rebecca Ray is a senior analyst at market research firm Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research).