Saturday, November 01, 2008

Lost in lack of translation

Officials in Swansea (county?), England (correction: Tom, in the comments, tells me Swansea is a city in Wales. I had thought it was a border town or the like. Thanks Tom.), needed to have a sign translated to Welsh, as road signs must be bilingual there. They sent the message to a translator who was away and had an automated message returned to the sender. The message was only in Welsh and the officials thought their work was done.

The result? A sign saying, in English, that heavy vehicles couldn't use a road and in Welsh, that "I am not in the office at the moment". BBC via Boing boing.

What kind of translator, while using a work email address, uses a single language automated response? Charles, I'm looking at you!The man should learn some business etiquette, much less email etiquette. (I was going to write, "Or, as the Welsh say,..." with a string of gibberish, but I recall that friends doing the same with pseudo-Chinese seemed really inappropriate.)

As an aside, I question the efficiency of no-nonsense business letters that someone would accept two sentences without any pleasantries, introductions or salutations. Even an bit of advertising would make sense (Thank you for bringing your business here). Is the translator normally so 'efficient' that s/he sends bare, unadorned translations? Are the government employees really willing to accept a letter with no names or notes in it? finally, was the translator surprised to be paid for some work s/he didn't remember doing?

Anyway, as a Canadian I grew up in a French-tinged environment - it's not really bilingual but there's a lot of French around. I do not speak French but I recognize a lot of words. I'm pretty sure that I would understand enough to notice a problem with "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated."

Is the same not true for Swansea? I can appreciate that Welsh seems more different than French to English, but if people grow up in the area, would they not notice the common words on street signs and not see any in the above sentences?

We laugh at interesting English signs (and I photographed an accidentally obscene one and posted it a few days ago) in Korea, but if places that should be multi-cultural have this much trouble I guess we should take it easy on Korean sign makers.


Tom said...

Just as a clarification, Swansea is a city in Wales (not England), and as Wales is a bilingual country all road signs are in English and Welsh.

No doubt there are plenty of red faces at Swansea Council now their error has gone global!

kwandongbrian said...

Thanks. I had thought it was on the border or some such thing.

Jon Allen said...

Thanks for that one.
It's the funniest thing I've heard all day!