What stole my laughter?


In Arabic the title actually reads: “what stole my country is laughter” (as translated by Google). The truth is, what stole my laughter is this translation! The literal meaning can either be: "what stole my country is laughter” or “laughter didn’t steal my country”, making the sentence event more confusing to the reader. With the addition of a comma in Arabic the result becomes clearly: “What stole my country is actually laughter.” Even a simple comma can have disastrous results.

In one grocery store in an Arab country a sign displays a product in both Arabic and English, in English the sign reads: “Green onion leaves” however in Arabic the word leaves is translated into departs, so that the sign in Arabic reads: “Green onions depart.” If we try to use Google to translate the same sentence today, we will get the correct translation, so perhaps this error was corrected, or perhaps the storeowner used a different translation method.

Let’s admit that it’s funny at first, but stop to think for a moment, and our amusement can easily turn into distress, as was the case with the title’s translation. Isn’t it destruction of the language; treating casually this way is in fact “stealing” from our country’s heritage.

Is the destruction of language a problem that the world is facing as an inevitable result of globalization? Or is it a problem that companies are actually creating by mistakenly thinking that they can save money by using free or cheap translation tools with no credentials?

The solution will most likely evolve through need rather than from public institutions or Arabic language centers. I am confident that despite the current problems, companies, manufacturers, and organizations, have played an integral role in improving communication in Arabic through their need to reach new markets. These organizations need to relay their messages in a culturally acceptable way, in addition to their need to find the right insights for new target audiences. Generally, organizations have aided in the advancement of the visual aspect of communication by improving Arabic fonts for computer software, and finding visual equivalents to Latin alphabet fonts. However, the problem still exists, as not all organizations are aware of the issue, or the negative impact it can have on their sales, and perhaps this can be helped by bringing their attention to the problems resulting from language errors.

Consumerism has once again prevailed in leading our society, so wouldn’t it be better to leverage on that fact to support the preservation of culture and language, rather than tilting at windmills? It is a simple formula: to be able to sell more and gain better profit, companies should understand and respect the culture, language, and customs of people they aim to sell to in new markets. This is the prevailing trend, so why not use it for our advantage rather than fight against it.

All that being said, the role of government and language preservation institutions should not be underestimated even if they are not the whole solution, their support reinforces what private organizations should do. What companies need to understand is that not focusing on the native language and depending on a foreign language to sell their products or services in new markets can result in alienating consumers, and thereby decreasing their profits with much wasted time and effort. In some cases the problems go beyond financial loss, and communication can become offensive, but that is a whole other story...

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