Thursday, May 3, 2007

Now you can blog in Hindi!

No shit? That's pretty impressive, because I'm lucky I can blog in English. Heck; some days, I'm lucky that I can find the floor that I'm walking on.

What? Oh, sorry - that's what it says in a blurb on the Google/Blogger login page. Not enough to make me stop and actually, you know, read the article, but enough to think 'what an odd thing to want to do.' Probably not odd, if you spoke Hindi (or, to be more accurate, wrote Hindi), but for me -

- ah, it's not aimed at me, I suppose -

- unless it is? Do you think Google's compiled my searches and run my profile through the Davealizer, and found out what I really should be doing with my life, and the first step is learning Hindi? Dear Krishna, how you move in mysterious ways.

Hold on. Now I have to go see what this craziness is really about.

Okay. Turns out that it's not a translation tool, but a transliteration tool. In other words, it writes English words phonetically in Hindi characters. Theoretically. I mean, I turned the widget on but it hasn't had any effect in the post window, which is where it's supposed to show up. Which is too bad, really, because I wanted to see what 'Scrotal Hernia' looked like in Hindi.

Probably just as well that I can't get it to work. I'd just end up accidentally insulting someone. I mean, sure 'Scrotal Hernia' is innocent enough, but when put phonetically into another alphabet, that could translate into something else. Something else bad. It's the bane of American corporations, whenever they try to spread their brand into places without the English/Roman alphabet. Take, for example, the introduction of Coca-Cola into Mainland China.

What do you do with something that has no literal translation? It's one thing if instead of a made-up name like "Coca-Cola," it was "The Red Shirt & Pants Company," because that's a concept that translates - and it's highly fashionable! But "Coca-Cola" is just some random bullshit made-up thing that sounds vaguely like something in English, but means not a whole lot - or at least, no longer means anything outside of 'red can with brown carbonated liquid sugar inside.' So, they decided instead just to treat Chinese consumers like their American counterparts: just go with the nonsense name and hope no-one asks too many questions.

To that end, they named it phonetically, Koh-KA-Koh-LA.

The problem, of course, is that characters in the Chinese alphabet - with something like 40-50,000 characters - do double duty. They have both phonetic value AND individual word meaning. And it's trickier than that, even: the meanings change based on inflection and combination.

So, I'll cut to the chase for those who know the punchline already. The literal translation of "Coca-Cola?" "Bite the Wax Tadpole."

Some could take this as another example of clueless American stumbling through another culture. Me, I think it's kind of charming. And, really, wouldn't you at least be curious if a product appeared on the shelves named "Bite the Wax Tadpole?" Provided there was a label on it that assured me there was no actual tadpole in it, they'd get my yen, for sure.

You know, don't they eat tadpoles in China? I'm sure I read that somewhere, like, "Emperor Yu Tadpole and Million-Year-Egg Soup with Chiggers and Bean Sprouts." I wonder if Coke got sued for false advertising?


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