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Subject: Re: [dita] Product names and reuse: a very serious anti-pattern when translating documents
Hi Troy, Mark and Kristen,
Thank you for your questions, replies and comments, and apologies for my tardiness in replying: I have been very busy last week.
The short answer is:
1. Coping with noun inflection changes will add between 10% to 20% to your translation costs.
2. You cannot escape the adjectival agreement trap which will produce ungrammatical output in most languages.
The cost of translating into one language will cost roughly the same as writing the original. If you translate into the typical 21 to 40 languages then the increase in cost will be substantial. You are creating a rod for your own back.
The long answer:
What is suggested is a very serious anti-pattern. As I laid out in my previous post, what is proposed works reasonably well in English and possibly a few other languages, like Mandarin, that have a primitive morphology. These languages are unfortunately atypical. Languages with a primitive morphology belong predominantly to a category of language termed creole: they are formed by a fusion of two or more languages. The English we use today was formed during the 15th century by a fusion of medieval French and old English. The impact of French on the English that we use today should not be understated - it was immense.
The vast majority of human languages have a rich, or in the case of Slavonic languages an extremely rich morphology. English nouns do not have gender association and their morphology is only expressed in the possessive and plural forms. An obvious consequence of this is that word order in sentences is of paramount importance, which is not true of morphologically rich languages.
Let us now move on to the substantial flaw that is caused by treating product names, or any other noun, as a variable when it comes to translation: the noun inflection and the adjectival agreement trap.
1. Noun inflection
The only inflections for nouns in English is the possessive and plural forms. Other languages can have many more forms depending on the role that the noun is playing in the sentence. Take my mother tongue, Polish. There are 7 noun cases in Polish: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative and vocative, each with a possible different ending. It is very difficult for monolingual English speakers to grasp the fact that nouns can have so many different forms. Why is this a problem for automatic noun substitution? The answer is a great deal: 7 does not go into 2 (English nominative and possessive). Let is look at a practical example in the following sentence where the noun 'spanner' in Polish is 'klucz':
Please undo the bolt using a spanner.
Proszę odkręcić śrubę kluczem.
Please note the inflection of the noun in Polish as it takes on its instrumental form, which results in adding en 'em' ending. You can redo the translation so that spanner uses the nominative form:
Używając klucz, proszę odkręcić śrubę.
The English equivalent is:
Using a spanner please undo the bolt.
This imposes an extra burden on the translator which you will have to pay for. The translator has to rearrange the sentence: this is an extra task and will increase the cost of translation. It can also result in a very strange style for the document as a whole.
2. Adjectival agreement
Nouns in English do not express gender. This is quite unique. Most other languages associate a particular gender with each noun and require that any adjective accompanying a noun has to agree in terms of both gender and in most instances also with regard to case. Let us take a simple example of automotive product names from Ford of Europe: Fiesta, Mondeo and Focus. Let us also take the example of Polish, which is typical of all Slavonic languages. Nouns in Polish can have three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.
Fiesta in Polish is automatically assigned feminine gender because it ends with an 'a'. Mondeo is automatically associated with neuter as it ends in an 'o'. Focus is masculine, mainly because in ends in neither 'a' nor 'o'. Now let us look at the simple noun phrase 'new model':
a) Nowa Fiesta
b) Nowe Mondeo
c) Nowy Focus
Please note that all three models force different endings on the adjective 'new'. Add to this the fact that the adjective will also have to take on the inflection of the noun we have the following examples:
Driving the new 'model' is a great experience:
a) Jazda nową Fiestę jest wspaniałym przeżyciem.
b) Jazda nowym Mondeo jest wspaniałym przeżyciem.
c) Jazda nowym Focus'em jest wspaniałym przeżyciem.
As you can see, even if we forced the use of the nominative case for the model name, which may result in a stilted translation, we cannot escape the gender trap. You will end up with ungrammatical text, which depending on your target audience may not be the result you desired.
The examples given above were obviously for a single target language, but Polish is fairly typical of most morphologically rich languages. Other languages have different traits, such a Finnish which has 15 inflections for nouns, no gender but requires adjectival agreement. French has an even more primitive noun morphology than English, but has a very strong gender requirement on adjectives and particles, e.g. nouveau, nouvelle, du, de la, le, la. Hebrew also requires adjectival agreement for gender and has three cases for nouns as does unsurprisingly Arabic.
To sum up it is ill advised to use any mechanism to provide for individual word or noun phrase substitution if you are going to translate your output to any other language with a richer morphology than English, unless you are prepared for the extra cost and possible low quality of the resultant output. Human language is too rich and varied to be treated in simple word substitution terms.