19 June 2012

Naming colours

At first glance one might imagine that the question of assigning names to colours in different languages then establishing equivalents between languages might be relatively simple. To help you think again and appreciate that in many cases, especially between languages from widely differing cultures and times in history, you might like to explore:
Read, for instance, WERE THE GREEKS BLUE-BLIND? on p14 of Hoeppe's book here.

Some quotes from The crayola-fication (in the UK and parts of the Commonwealth that should probably read The crayonification):
  • ... like most world languages, the Tarahumara language doesn’t distinguish blue from green.
  • As it happens, Whorf was right. Or rather, he was half right.
  • It’s easier to tell apart colors with different names, but only if they are to your right. (Keep in mind that this is a very subtle effect, the difference in reaction time is a few hundredths of a second.)
  • Koreans are familiar with the colors yeondu and chorok. An English speaker would call them both green (yeondu perhaps being a more yellowish green). But in Korean it’s not a matter of shade, they are both basic colors. There is no word for green that includes both yeondu and chorok.
  • ... when you’re verbally distracted, it suddenly becomes harder to separate blue from green ...
  • The conclusion is that language is somehow enhancing your left brain’s ability to discern different colors with different names.
  • Oddly enough, Whorf was right, but only when it comes to half your brain.

13 June 2012

Processing fluency

A further post following People speaking with accents are less believable on Lingua Franca.
This one is on a concept in cognitive psychology called processing fluency. Yes, it will probably prove exceedingly naive in the long run. No, for the moment, I have no idea how relevant it is to different cultures let alone to L2 readers of technical journalism. And no, I can't find much evidence of serious analysis of the concept's relevance to technical communication and translation.

But please read on, because this could lead at the very least to some interesting exchanges and possibly to some new understanding and exciting breakthroughs as to the aims and promotion of technical communication and translation.

The terms processing fluency and cognitive fluency more relevant to technical journalism, technical journalism translation, graphic arts as applied to technical journalism and advertising than you might imagine.

The linked Wikipedia article states: "... studies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process — even totally non-substantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it — can alter judgement of the truth of the statement, along with evaluation of the intelligence of the statement's author." (my bold)

An article entitled Easy = True in the Boston Globe dated 31 January 2010 states:
  • "When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about."
  • "Playing with legibility can also change perceptions in subtler, less predictable ways."
  • "Even at the level of a trickier font, the experience of disfluency makes people wary and uncomfortable."
  • "The persuasive power of repetition, clarity, and simplicity is something that people who set out to win others’ trust — marketers, political candidates, speechwriters, suitors, and teachers — already have an intuitive sense of if they’re good at what they do. What the fluency research is showing is just how profound the effect can be, and just how it works." (my bold) (my highlighting)
The list above should, I suggest, be expanded to include technical communicators, technical journalists and their translators.

This is reassuring indeed for someone who has held a strong intuitive belief in these ideas for many years. That would, perhaps, have been too good to be true... Other considerations mentioned in the Boston Globe article include:
  • "Work on product marketing ... has found, for example, that while creating a sense of disfluency in potential consumers is likely to make them see a product as less familiar, it also makes them see it as more innovative."
  • "In other words, to get people to think carefully and to prevent them from making silly mistakes, make them work to process the question: make the font hard to read, the cadence awkward, and the wording unfamiliar."
The Boston Globe article stimulated Wandering Academic blogger Greg Clinton to post a follow-on article entitled, like many others on related issues: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

11 June 2012

Quotable quotes

Today's post consists of some quotable quotes from sources perused after listening to People speaking with accents are less believable on Lingua Franca.

"When we attempt to understand what speakers mean, we must infer what they mean from what they say. This is because all utterances are ambiguous. ... In fact, everything people say is ambiguous because it can convey more than one intention. To overcome this inherent ambiguity, we propose that language users rely on certain heuristics of language use. As with other heuristics, they are generally successful but they occasionally lead to systematic error." (my bold)

SourceSelf-Anchoring in Conversation: Why Language Users Do Not Do What They “Should” by Boaz Keysar and Dale J. Barr (pp. 150-166  of Heuristics and Biases, The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Edited by Thomas Gilovich)

Easy to say, easy to like: People's names and the impressions they make.
mp3 (16.1 MB) 17 min 36 sec
Social psychologist Dr Simon Laham discusses his research linking the pronounceability of a person’s name with perceptions of likeability, and what this might mean for a person’s access to opportunities.

"Give people more experience at pronouncing and working with names from different backgrounds, and in its small way, it could contribute to reducing prejudice." -- Dr Simon Laham

Why don't we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility
(downloadable pdf) by Shiri Lev-Ari ⁎, Boaz Keysar, University of Chicago, Chicago.

Abstract: Non-native speech is harder to understand than native speech. We demonstrate that this “processing difficulty” causes non-native speakers to sound less credible. People judged trivia statements such as “Ants don't sleep” as less true when spoken by a non-native than a native speaker. When people were made aware of the source of their difficulty they were able to correct when the accent was mild but not when it was heavy. This effect was not due to stereotypes of prejudice against foreigners because it occurred even though speakers were merely reciting statements provided by a native speaker. Such reduction of credibility may have an insidious impact on millions of people, who routinely communicate in a language which is not their native tongue.  (my bold
© 2010 Elsevier Inc.  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46 (2010) 1093–1096

Perceptual fluency affects judgements of truth
A short paper entitled Effects of Perceptual Fluency on Judgments of Truth (downloadable pdf) by Rolf Reber and Norbert Schwarz, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Quote: Research has shown that repeated exposure increases the perceived truth of statements such as ‘‘Greenland has about 50,000 inhabitants,’’ compared to statements that have not been presented before.
The part in bold may be tentatively put forward for preferring the repeated use of selected company or product claims in identical form in technical journalism intended to convince the reader of the merits of a company or product.

The problem I'm trying to get at is this: Most of the French-mother-tongue technical journalists that I've translated believe that it is a sin to re-use a sentence or larger block of text previously used on some other occasion. Which may or may not match what French-mother-tongue readers of the said documents prefer to read or respond most positively to. This contrasts with the widely held belief among English-mother-tongue technical writers that once time and energy have been spent crafting a compact, clear, effective explanation of a product, feature or sales argument, it should be re-used wherever and whenever possible. These writers, and translators that follow this school of thought, believe that there is little or no risk that English-mother-tongue readers will have a stylistic quibble with this choice, that the message benefits from repetition in identical form and that well-crafter text is too precious not to be re-used. They further believe that these claims are probably even more true in the case of L2 readers (often the biggest target audience for English translation of technical journalism originally drafted in French and intended to promote French products and companies).

Why is 'x' the unknown?
TED talk by Terry Moore
Answer: Because there's no "sh" sound in Spanish.
Listen to the TED talk for the full explanation in 6 minutes.

07 June 2012

Language always comes with cultural baggage

FT article by Philip Delves Broughton entitled A conversation that translates discusses risk perception in different languages and cultures.

When a corporation decides to address enterprise risk management it clearly needs to do so through the multiple prisms of each participating cultural and language group. Here then is an issue for established risk management teams and translators among others.

Quotable quotes:
  • The relatively new breed of risk professionals also aims to provide the kind of hard intelligence that will pierce what Mr Anderson calls the “perfect place arrogance” that can beset multinationals. Companies with strong national identities risk thinking that what they do at home will work equally well abroad. “They think ‘just because we’ve been successful on Wall Street, we can do the same thing in London, Tokyo and Frankfurt’.” Such thinking can be challenged with trenchant assessments of the risks present in each new market.
  • ... understanding context – more so than language – is the first step in any global risk management plan. In any country in the world, people consider risk in terms of the law, logic and relationships, but in different orders of importance: “In China, it’s relationships first and the law third. In the US, it’s law first, then logic, then relationships.”
  • The greatest pitfalls in managing risk across borders, he says, emerge from assuming too much. When dealing with fellow English speakers, it is easy to imagine that a shared language means shared assumptions – that the English, Americans and Australians think the same thing because they are using the same words.
  • Every word comes with its own “metadata” in different cultures.

05 June 2012

Future Schlock: Common Sense, Nonsense, and the Law of Supply and Demand

On 28 May, Miguel Llorens posted a finely crafted commentary on a Common Sense Advisory (CSA) white paper on the translation market entitled Translation Demand-Supply Mismatch. Miguel's post is entitled Future Schlock: Common Sense, Nonsense, and the Law of Supply and Demand.

Highly recommended for any interested in the translation market and translation purchasing. I also thoroughly agree with Miguel's use of "ideological arm of Lower Quality Translation" to describe CSA.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...