Latvian localization and software terminology: quality first
Latvian translator Valters Feists is interviewed
by Gatis Svoks, a student of English philology.
I know you are a member of IT&T
Terminology Subcommittee of Latvian Academy of Sciences, but
could you also tell about how you grew toward your current
VF: My interest in professional
translating was fuelled when I studied at the Foreign Languages
Faculty of the University of Latvia. Then I became established
in the translator's job and gradually I started receiving tasks
of localization and reviewing localized products.
What were the new things that localization
brought about? CAT tools, translation memory?
VF: Sure, I encountered them every now
and again! By the way, the use of computer-aided translation
tools is not an imperative; one can still translate in plain
text. But, it certainly takes a lot of intelligence and
perceptivity for a translator to constantly remain in touch with
the whole picture. Notably, localized texts and software
interface items are implemented dynamically. [During
translation,] certain CAT tools chop up the text or software
interface in such a way that the real picture is hidden from the
translator; in the finished product, the translated text strings
may be concatenated in a number of ways thus creating new
"contexts". Translators and editors absolutely need to
tread with care in order to avoid blunders.
What are the specifics of localization? Are
there lots of repeating phrases?
VF: Software localizing differs from a
basic translation process in that it usually imposes stricter
rules and requirements for terminological consistency; the
translators' freedoms are rather limited. Possibly, there are
some customers who might allow you to localize more freely, but
to me this seems a kind of fancy setting.
Can you mention some of the PC-related
projects that you have been part of?
VF: For example, I was proofreader and
editor in the Microsoft Word XP Latvian localization project,
which included supervising translation style, wording, etc.
Latvians often appear sceptical - though
strange it may sound - specifically about localized versions of
computer software. But, at a closer look, the new technical
terminology used in these softwares isn't any more difficult to
pronounce or to comprehend than some of the "old-time
favourite" vocabulary. What is it that makes people shun
VF: First of all, "critique"
is often spread by people who just like to vociferate, e.g., in
forums online, while those who do like localisations remain
silent and need to be sought out and interviewed. From people
with a less profound knowledge of English I have heard that they
have actually enjoyed localized products.
We just concurred that in the countries for
which the localization was introduced at an earlier stage, there
are less problems: the people tend to simply accept the
localized products. Could we say that Microsoft's software
localisation took place a tad too late?
VF: The timing of localizations is
clearly the business of the respective software manufacturers.
What they at Microsoft saw on the map first was Slovakia or
Slovenia, namely, those countries that are closer to Western
Europe. Thus, the tardy localization for Latvia is in a way to
blame for the current trends. The reality is, new tech phenomena
first get described by English words, then by
"high-tech" argot words in Latvian and, only thirdly
and finally, there arrives the officially approved term. People
are unwilling to exert themselves because it seems to them that
one word per one thing is enough.
At the end of the day, there aren't any
difficulties or barriers that would render localization
impossible. And Latvian is not particularly difficult, or
particularly easy, to localize into?
VF: Well. The resources of our
terminology committee aren't exactly abundant, therefore some
delays in creation of new terms do occur while argot terms are
taking root instead. Linguistically, I must agree, there are no
particular obstacles. It must be noted though that English and
Latvian belong to somewhat different language groups, therefore
the result of plain word-for-word translation from English into
Latvian is aesthetically poor, especially if compared to a
language norm that is 15 years "old".
Localization is more than just translating.
When localizing a computer operating system, it is necessary to
customise its formats of currency, date and time in compliance
with the target culture, otherwise the product will not fit in
with the local realities. It looks like nobody would want to
argue against this aspect of localization?
VF: A simple example is the issue of the
decimal sign. We use commas, while the English-speaking
countries use full stop. However Dienas Bizness newspaper has
been smuggling in the full stop; possibly it is the convenient,
quick and dirty way of doing things, but, it is still a mistake
because the use of decimal comma in Latvian has not been
revoked. So, what are we arriving at - are full stop and comma
both legitimate? Someone just wants to spare their effort by
blindly copying numerical data, for example, charts with
currency exchange rates. Here, the leading newspapers should
adhere to better practices.
Do you think there is currently a linguistic
anarchy in Latvia? Would you say the Latvian language lacks
leading-light personalities who could guide its development?
Contrarily, the average Latvian feels self-sufficiently smart
enough to adopt only those things he or she finds practical.
VF: In my view, most of the office
people - although they do work with text documents on daily
basis - still regard language just as a "side thing"
but not a cornerstone activity of theirs. At the same time,
there is big buzz about the rise of information society in which
everyone processes or at least consumes text.
How is it going to change in the nearest
future? The director of localization at Tilde described me his
rather realistic perspective: some people will favour localised
products, while certain "fundamentalists" will
categorically refuse to accept them; but, when the localizations
will become more wide-spread then the objections will weaken.
VF: Digital devices and environments
will increasingly become Latvian-enabled, which will help to
shrink the numbers of those resisting [Latvian terminology].
Though with some reluctance, the resistance will be falling.
Besides, there are few people who are
Another key task will be to eliminate the chaos in encoding
methods for Latvian diacritic characters in various messaging
applications. This is a mind-boggling impediment when people
still cannot use their normal alphabet in full, instead having
to resort to a kind of "stutter spelling". As a
result, the Latvian language becomes artificially discredited:
the 11 diacritical letters on top of Latin alphabet - is this
too much? I wonder if anyone is legally in charge of ensuring
the use of correct alphabet of the country's official language?
A government agency should come up with a decree clearly
favouring only one of the hitherto contradicting character code
tables and orienting toward a phase-out of the other code
tables. In the meantime, the software makers could be enforced
to implement features for conversion of Latvian text into the
approved encoding system. This is simply a national right. Until
now, the electronic bedlam has been detrimental to the Latvian
language's good name. Though I do hope there will be a change
for the better.