Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Georgian Language: Protecting an Ancient Alphabet in a Digital Age

February 10, 2017 - 3:37pm, by Monica Ellena www.eurasianet.org 

Dato Dolidze’s fingers move slowly on the old handset as he writes a text message to his son.
“My phone only has the Latin alphabet, so every time I text I need to translate the Georgian letters into the Latin. It’s a pain,” says the 50-something orange vendor at a Tbilisi vegetable market.
While newer smartphones enable the use of the Georgian alphabet, many in Georgia – where the average wage is $333 a month – are, like Dolidze, stuck with cheaper, older phones.
Georgia’s unique alphabet is one of the unintended casualties of such digital compromises.
 The curvy Georgian alphabet has seduced scholars and calligraphers for centuries, most recently the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Last December, UNESCO included the Georgian alphabet in the organization’s register of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. 
Georgian in fact features three scripts – the mkhedruli, the one commonly used today, and the ancient asomtavruli and nushkhuri, used mainly in religious scripts, and in most ancient documents. The three scripts, UNESCO wrote in its citation, “coexist thanks to their different functions, reflecting an aspect of Georgia’s diverse cultural identity.”
The Georgian alphabet is hardly in imminent danger. But it is a linguistic underdog, used only for Georgian and related languages in Georgia like Mingrelian and Svan, spoken by about 3.7 million people, or 0.06 percent of the world population. And with minor languages around the world dying at the rate of 
one every 14 days, some in Georgia are trying to make sure their language or alphabet is preserved for the long haul.
“Minor languages are particularly vulnerable today thus need protection,” says Nino Doborjginidze, who heads the Institute of Linguistic Studies at Tbilisi’s Ilia Chavchavadze State University. “A lack of technology development for such languages, including Georgian, in turn, impedes international dissemination of valuable Georgian-language data surviving in different media, oral, manuscript and printed.”

Of the 7,100 languages currently in use worldwide, only 500 are used online while only 348 are supported by Google, the world’s leading search engine, according to a UNESCO report published in 2015. And even many of those languages that do make it on the Internet have limitations: Georgian, for example, is represented by only a single font on Microsoft Word.
As a result of Georgia’s limited online reach, Latin script is often used instead. Retail companies as well as service providers, for example, tend to use the Latin alphabet in their promotional texts. “25% p’asdaklebas akhal ch’amosvlis” instead of “25% ფასდაკლებას ახალ ჩამოსვლის” (25% off on new arrivals).

Private initiatives have emerged to bolster Georgia’s web presence. In 2015, industrial designer Zviad Tsikolia teamed up with Georgia’s largest lender, TBC Bank, and launched the contest #WriteinGeorgian, calling on volunteers’ creativity to create new styles for the alphabetic characters. Georgians responded enthusiastically, with 160 new fonts submitted in five weeks.
“Our language and our alphabet is our heritage; it is a treasure that needs to be not only protected but also kept alive and updated,” explains Tsikolia, 45, a staunch advocate of using the Georgian script in day-to-day digital communication. “The world is becoming increasingly digital, and our characters must be able to evolve and adapt to a reality that is no longer just on paper.”
By March, all the fonts will be available on the contest’s 
website for open-source download, Tsikolia said. “The future is glocal, global citizens who value national traditions,” notes Tsikolia. “Switching to the Georgian keyboard takes two seconds, but many people cannot be bothered even to do that,” Tsikolia says.
Neighboring Armenia faces similar challenges, as it also has a unique language with an alphabet used solely for Armenian.
“Transliteration is common, especially among the vast diaspora, but not only,” explains Gegham Vardanyan, editor-in-chief of the media discussion platform 
media.am. “It is not only the Latin script, Armenians in Russia will communicate in Armenian using the Cyrillic script. The result is just bizarre, often you just cannot understand it.”
As in Georgia, enthusiasts have taken the initiative. Zohrab Yeganyan, press officer at Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, grew tired of seeing Armenian ill-treated on the web and vented on his Facebook page. “Let’s make February 7 the day to write Armenian on the Internet,” he wrote in a 2012 post. The response was overwhelming, both in Armenia and among the diaspora.
“There were people who only spoke Armenian and decided to learn how to write in Armenian, starting with posts on social networks,” Yeganyan told EurasiaNet from Yerevan. Yeganyan said that while the Armenian government has been relatively inactive in supporting the alphabet, there are signs that the private sphere is increasingly embracing it. “Recently one mobile company started sending texts to its customers in the Armenian script, switching from the Latin alphabet,” he said.
The popular push has supported the national scripts to become fashionable again, Yeganyan argues, as people have grown to realize that their particular alphabets are uniquely suited to represent the sounds of their language.
“Transliteration is no longer trendy,” says Yeganyan. Nowadays, he says, “it is often used to ridicule something or someone.”

Source: Eurasianet.org  

Monday, 13 February 2017

The State of Content Globalization 2017

The internet has closed the distance between countries around the world, democratizing access to content from wherever you are, whenever you need it. Increasingly, companies are operating in global markets—whether they intended to or not. 

Craig Bloem is the founder and CEO of LogoMix. “As a company that does 50% of our business internationally, personalization for our non-English-speaking markets is a key focus of our business,” says Bloem. “We’ve found that the best way to do so is to personalize our website for our 10 largest languages and to follow up with our 20 million users with personalized, professionally translated emails.”

According to Common Sense Advisory (CSA), a market research firm focused on global markets, 14 languages account for 90% of digital opportunity. CSA has analyzed the state and size of the language industry every year since 2005. It has identified 21 companies that have qualified to be on its list of the 10 largest language service providers (LSPs). It’s a list that has seen significant changes, particularly during the past year.

The Year in Review
In the translation and globalization world, 2016 was a year of mergers and acquisitions. “There have been dozens of them this year,” says Michael Stevens, the international growth manager for Moravia. “It seems like the industry is going to continue in that vein, with the top companies receiving more funding from outside private equity firms,” he says. “The gap between the large companies in the industry and the smallest companies is growing even larger.” As examples, he cites LanguageLine Solutions, welocalize, and Smartling, adding, “Pactera actually changed hands twice this last year.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Stevens says, 2016 saw the emergence of a number of startups. The exploration of higher-level linguistics is being combined with engineering, he says. “So you have schools like MIT and Carnegie Mellon that are becoming hotbeds for innovation within the industry.” Duolingo, he notes, is one of the most popular of these startups. “They’re primarily a language learning company, but they’ve been doing localization through a crowdsourcing model,” says Stevens. In 2013, the company announced agreements to translate articles for CNN and BuzzFeed’s international sites.
Mike Colombo is CMO at Cloudwords. Over the past year, he says, there has been a growing sense of nationalism in the U.S. and abroad. “Major events like Brexit, the refugee crisis, and an unprecedented U.S. election highlight a deep sense of loyalty people all over the world feel toward their home countries.” This heightened nationalism, he says, is prompting global companies to ensure they are paying close attention to how they represent their brand on local and regional levels.

“In many cases, long-standing brands are softening their stance on global consistency across products and messaging and going to great lengths to more closely align with changing local desires,” he says.

“We are at an intersection of globalization (having economic ties with several regions), localization (making content relevant for local cultures/regions), and an added third dimension, personalization (providing customer experiences based on what we know about them),” says Colombo. He points to Pokémon GO as a “great example of intentional localization for regional audiences from the onset.” Nintendo, he notes, “went through great effort to localize the app, renaming nearly every Pokémon character to give it a unique name in the region’s preferred language, while retaining the character’s unique characteristic in its new, localized name.”

Clint Poole, SVP and CMO for Lionbridge, says that companies such as his have been making heavy investments in technology to help automate what has traditionally been a very manual process. For example, he points to a recent announcement from Google about its neural machine translation software powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The system basically trains itself, reducing translation errors by up to 87%.

On the flip side, he says, there is also a renewed focus on the role of people in the translation mix, with some companies moving to a “localization framework strategy”—a hub-and-spoke model in which companies build a technology infrastructure that manages the deployment of content, but provides the opportunity for in-market teams to own execution and content creation. This approach, he says, reduces the burden on headquarter marketing teams, but requires an investment in the right technology. “It’s always on-brand, but they’re writing it in their native language, and it’s more relevant and more timely. The technological advancements that help corporate-pushed content be translated faster and cheaper, and the ceding of control over content creation to in-market teams, have helped marketing move the needle.”

A Look Ahead
As we move into 2017, there are two things that are simultaneously impacting the future of translation services, says Poole:  “a change in strategy when it comes to global content and the advancement of technology.” As communication channels proliferate both for text and voice, marketers are creating an increasing amount of content that must be translated for an increasing number of markets that they’re moving into, all in a competitive environment with increasing focus on the customer—or user—experience. 

“In 2017, demand for personalization will go mainstream,” says Colombo. “The digitization of products, those consumed online and those connected through the Internet of Things, gives marketers significant understanding of their customers’ product usage, location, and intent. Add in the emergence of scalable localization technologies, and B2B marketers now have the ability to address new levels of personalization.”

Voice translation will also become increasingly prevalent, predicts Stevens, through the application of deep learning. He points to examples from the gaming world in which augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are increasingly being used, and developers are beginning to favor voice instruction over text. Google’s work in the area of neural machine translation will drive this, he says. Facebook has also entered the fray after making an announcement in June that statistical machine translation had reached the end of its useful life. The company deployed an applied machine learning team, which is tasked with finding ways to apply AI to Facebook products. With Google and Facebook in the mix, Apple is sure to follow.

The ability for people to speak in their native language and have their speech translated, via voice, into another language will drive significant change, Stevens predicts. 

He envisions the combination of this technology with apps so that, for instance, a French person in Spain could reserve a table via Open Table by speaking into a virtual assistant app, which would translate the request. “Looks like we’re on the edge of a leap here,” says Stevens.
“With technology like this available,” says Bloem, “2017 should be one of the best years to be an expanding business—and a non-English speaking customer.