Daily Archives: June 25, 2009

Iran and translation, a search engine is sick in Chinese, and a drug ring’s Arabic dialects

Once a month, Carol Hills and I sift through a huge pile of language-related stories – stories that we otherwise wouldn’t cover.  We select five to talk about.  Here they are:

5. Google Translate gets to work on the virtual streets of Teheran: Google released a tool that translates Persian blogs into English and vice versa.  Google was already working on this, but it rushed the release due to the turmoil inside Iran, and because of Google’s stated goal improving people’s access to information.  A few days earlier, Twitter delayed a planned upgrade that would have brought the microblogging website down in Iran.  That came after a call to Twitter from the State Department.  I’m sure the Iranian government viewed that as proof of American intervention in domestic Iranian affairs. But it’s a far cry from sending in spies, or the Air Force.

4.  A music festival in Quebec runs afoul of language sensitivities. A couple of acts that sing in English were nearly dropped from a bilingual festival in Montreal. One of the bands was heckled by Quebec sovereignists as it performed (in English). The band’s name is um, Lake of Stew.  It’s the latest iteration of Canada’s relentless language struggles.

3.  Microsoft’s choice of Bing as the name for its search engine to rival Google may not go down well in China. In Chinese, bing means many things, depending on how it’s pronounced. One of them is “sick.” Microsoft says Bing will be pronounced differently. But with their love of wordplay, many Chinese may yet make the sicko connection.

shanghai gay

2. Two articles in English-language newspapers in China suggest that authorities may be easing press restrictions. The articles are on sensitive topics, the Tiananmen Square protests and gay rights (that’s the organizers in the picture).  But the stories did not appear in Chinese-language papers.  So while the vast majority of Chinese citizens didn’t read about these issues, the Chinese government can nonetheless claim that it’s easing up on press censorship.

1. An alleged drug ring in Pennsylvania used Iraqi Arabic dialects in its communications. The police had to bring in a language expert to help solve the crime.

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