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See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

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Global: Greek to English, Chinese to Russian, and Spanish to Macedonian

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

We all have heard of funny situations when poor translation of idiomatic expressions from one language has produced ridiculous meaning in another. Translation of idioms is indeed one of the biggest challenges in translation, both for humans and for machines. The main difficulty lies in the linguistic character of idioms, whose meaning cannot be derived from the meaning of the constituent words. For example, the well worn out example of the English idiom to kick the bucket, literally meaning ‘to die,’ has nothing to do with either kicking or with the bucket.

WikIdioms is a new online resource that aims at helping translators to cope with this challenge. We talked with the creator of the site, Pavel Kats, and with one of its contributors, Yasna Trandafilovska, so that they could explain the service on their own in the best manner.

Q: Pavel, could you introduce Wikidioms in a couple of sentences?

A: Well, basically the idea is to provide a web environment where people would help each other to cope with the translation of idioms, maybe one of the toughest challenges in translation. Of course, when I say ‘translating an idiom,’ I do not mean literal translation, rather an equivalent idiomatic expression in the target language, or any other means to convey the meaning. The project is collaborative in its heart, therefore the web is an ideal place for it.

Q: How is the community organized?

A: Most of the community members are professional translators who find some time in between their translation jobs to help us. These people are very well aware of the challenges of translating idiomatic expressions, as they do it themselves all the time. But we do not limit the contributors to translators, and we have also seen significant contributions from language enthusiasts unrelated to translation business. See, many people love to cope with linguistic challenges when it is about their native languages.

Q: Can you give us a bit of statistics? How many contributors, in how many languages…

A: The actively contributing community counts more than 100 translators and growing. The project is rather young, but we are already proud to have more than 30 thousand expressions in more than 30 languages. And the sky is the limit

Q: Who can contribute to the site?

A: Well, as I mentioned above we do not limit our contributors, so anyone can. Naturally, such a policy requires some level of moderation on the contributed content and this moderation is done by several members of our community. We also invite professional translators who would like to help beyond sporadic contributions to contact us directly. There is a number of specific projects, all connected to multilingual translation, that we are developing inside WikIdioms, and we are looking for partners.


Q: Why should we use the site?

A: An example that fits here best. Imagine you are translating a Global Voices article from English to other languages and the article contains an English expression ‘It’s Greek to me!’ in the sense that some text is completely obscure to the speaker. How would you convey the same meaning to other languages in the same picturesque way? Now, with the help of WikIdioms you know that other languages also have their ways to express the same idea: Russians refer to Chinese and Macedonians….to Spaniards!

Thanks, Pavel!

Q: Yasna, how did you become involved in Wikidioms and why?

A: My involvement with WikIdioms happened out of the blue when a Greek colleague and friend of mine sent me an e-mail with Pavel’s call for translators to contribute to Wikidioms. Since I have been working as a translator for quite a while, I noticed that when it comes to the Macedonian language, it is quite difficult to find sources and dictionaries on the web that would help all the translators do their jobs quickly, properly and efficiently. So I realized that this is a great opportunity to change the situation. But, because it is not possible for one person to know everything and because languages are living organisms that change and develop continuously, I would like to invite all my colleagues, and especially those of the Global Voices’ Lingua teams throughout the world, to visit us and contribute.

Q: You are also a contributor for Global Voices in Macedonian, can you tell us how you found out about the project and what motivated you to join?

A: I have been living in Greece for the last 11 years. Because I am married to a Greek, at home we speak Greek. With time, I noticed that I started forgetting words of my mother tongue and that was very annoying. I started searching for a solution and I found it in translating various texts on Global Voices. I think it is very stimulating because there are no deadlines, no stress, no rush and I think that when you do something just for the pleasure of it, the result is much, much better.

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

Yasna Trandafilovska helped to compile this post.

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