The Linguist

The Linguist 57,1 – February/March 2018

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 4 of 35 FEBRUARY/MARCH The Linguist 5 The latest from the languages world NEWS & EDITORIAL A security breach stemming from a free translation service has drawn global attention to the potential risks of using open-access translation websites. Businesses around the world use such tools to translate information including CVs, sensitive legal documents and medical files. In September, staff at Statoil noticed that information the company had submitted to was easily searchable on the internet. The $46 billion oil and gas business had been using the free translation service for items including dismissal notices, contracts and passwords. This spurred several investigations, with Tekna (the Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals) concluding that the number of documents that had passed through and been indexed by Google could run into the millions. Using search engines, the language industry website Slator was able to find tax- related correspondence, a global investment bank report and various other texts translated by The Oslo Stock Exchange responded by blocking access to the service. However, few in the translation industry were surprised by the breach, with Don DePalma, Chief Strategist at Common Sense Advisory, pointing out that his organisation has been warning about the risks for nearly a decade. has since ended the volunteer reviewer element of its free tool, which it identified as the source of the problem. In a statement, it recommended that businesses use its commercial subscription service to ensure full privacy protection. According to new research, language evolution is as much due to random chance as cultural, social and other factors. Academics at the University of Pennsylvania looked at 100,000 texts written in American English since 1810 and charted changes to regular and irregular forms of the past tense. Out of 36 verbs with alternative forms, such as 'woke'/'waked', only six had changed due to a specific preference. "Chance can play an important role even in language evolution – as we know it does in biological evolution," explained co-author Joshua Plotkin. The study also indicated a bias towards the irregular form, contradicting a widespread assumption that the regular form would be favoured. In the media PHILIP HARDING-ESCH Despite figures in December showing a 6.2% fall in the number of applicants to European language degrees this academic year (The Times), the press published a refreshingly positive set of language stories in the final weeks of 2017. There was excellent coverage of two British Council publications: its Languages for the Future report identifying the 'top 10' languages the UK needs "as Brexit approaches" (TES), and an end-of-year survey showing that one in five Brits plans to learn a language as a New Year's resolution. They might find success too, as Wired reported that apps such as Duolingo now use "dirty gaming tricks to get you addicted" to language learning. The Department for Education's celebration of its £10m Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP) in English secondary schools was closely followed by the TES. Not without its criticisms ("completely unsustainable", "London centric"), the MEP is managing to get participating schools to dedicate eight hours a week to Mandarin teaching, and "the majority of the 382 pupils on the programme last year achieved marks of 80% or higher across tests". PIE (Property Investor Europe magazine) reported on ambitions to double the number of young people participating in Erasmus+ in an effort to make a reality of the EU's 'mother tongue + 2' policy – while Theresa May committed to keep the UK in the scheme until "at least 2020", according to the BBC. The Guardian published a wonderful collection of letters and articles on the importance of languages. There was good news for human linguists as Business Insider's test of Google's translation headphones provided hilarious results, notably rendering simple directions as 'After driving this horse…' in Korean. But the research that got the most coverage was the Star Wars-related discovery from Queen Mary University of London that "Yoda's native language is actually HAWAIIAN" (The Mirror). Forward to 2018 we look! Philip Harding-Esch is a freelance languages project manager and consultant. Web translation a 'security risk' Words evolve 'by chance' The Rohingya people will soon be able to write emails, texts and social media posts in their own language, thanks to a planned upgrade in the Unicode Standard. Although the script will be supported online, many Rohingya, who are suffering violent oppression in Myanmar, are illiterate or have no access to technology. Still, for a people whose very existence is denied by their government, the move has been described as "hugely symbolic", providing recognition for an ethnic group that has been persecuted for decades. Rebecca Petras of Translators Without Borders described the encoding of the script as "revolutionary". Mohammad Hanif, the scholar who developed the writing system in the 1980s, explained: "If a people do not have a written language of their own, it is easier to say that as an ethnic group you don't exist." There are hopes that bringing the language into the technological age will encourage young people to use it. Many Rohingya children in Myanmar are denied access to education, while those in refugee camps in Bangladesh often choose to study in Bengali as the more useful language for their future. Net boost for Rohingya script © SHUTTERSTOCK

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 57,1 – February/March 2018