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insight by wfx

Welcome to Wordwide FX's new enterprise!

Insight by WFX is a synthesis of our passion for languages and the financial markets. Here you will find technical and fundamental analyses from our clients, media partners and contributors in different languages, as well as discussions on languages and translation. And of course we will keep you updated on what is happening inside Wordwide FX Financial Translations. Hope you enjoy it! Greetings from the Wordwide FX team!

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02/12/2019

Barcelona's Casa de Canvi: The First Regulator in History

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

The first "regulator" in history was created in Barcelona in 1401. That year, a bank of exchange and of common and safe deposit was established under the authority of the municipal magistracy, that ended up working as a de facto regulator of commerce and bankers. The Casa de canvi ("house of exchange" in Catalan) was the first entity of this kind in Europe, even before the Bank of St. George at Genoa (1407). In this kind of common bank communities and individuals kept commodities and cash in any currency and credit was given according to the value of each project.

Late 14th and early 15th century was a time of crisis all around Europe. The plague decimated a population that knew nothing of hygiene and sanitary conditions; Barcelona itself had 50.000 inhabitants in 1348 and c. 28.000 in 1400. The church, preying on superstition and ignorance,  blamed the Jewish population on grounds that they refused to adhere to the "true faith". Commerce, external and internal, was paralyzed. Thus the bank of exchange was born as a means to boost, regulate, and protect maritime commerce. 

The goals of the Taula de canvi were to fund trade initiatives that did not have or could not find funding because of the hardships of the time, and to regulate trade and control bankers that committed fraud or other offences. If that happened, the responsibles for the Casa de canvi smashed that banker's money-changing table with a hammer and the offender was taken to justice. It was at that time that the word "bankruptcy" (that literally means, "break a bank" - the word "bank" meant originally "bench", "table") became popular.

Below, Barcelona in the14th century. From George Braun and Frans Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum (1572). Source, Viquipèdia.

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31/01/2019

The Widely-Spoken Languages We Still Cannot Translate Online

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via wired.com

IN THE INTERNET age, when we face a language barrier, there are a host of internet resources to solve it: things like translation apps, dictionary websites, versions of Wikipediain other languages, and the simple "click to translate" option. But there are about 7000 languages spoken in the world today. The top 10 or so are spoken by hundred of millions of speakers; the bottom third have 1000 speakers or fewer.

But in the murky middle ground are a couple hundred languages that are spoken by speakers in millions. These midsize languages are still fairly widely spoken, but they have vastly inconsistent levels of support online. There’s Swedish, which has 9.6 million speakers, the third-largest Wikipedia with over 3 million articles, and support in Google Translate, Bing Translate, Facebook, Siri, YouTube captions, and so on. But there’s also Odia, the official language of the Odisha state in India, with 38 million speakers, which has no presence in Google Translate. And Oromo, a language spoken by some 34 million people, mostly in Ethiopia, which has just 772 articles in its Wikipedia.

Why do Greek, Czech, Hungarian, and Swedish, with their 8 to 13 million speakers, have Google Translate support and robust Wikipedia presences, while languages the same size or larger, like Bhojpuri (51 million), Fula (24 million), Sylheti (11 million), Quechua (9 million), and Kirundi (9 million) languish in technological obscurity?

Part of the reason is that Greek, Czech, Hungarian, and Swedish are among the 24 official languages of the European Union, which means that a small hoard of human translators translate many official European Parliament documents every year. Human-translated documents make a great base for what linguists call a parallel corpus — a large mass of text that's equivalent, sentence-by-sentence, in multiple languages. Machine translation engines use parallel corpora to figure out regular correspondences between languages: if "regering" or "κυβέρνηση" or "kormány" or "vláda" all frequently appear in parallel to "government," then the machine concludes these words are equivalent.

In order to be reasonably effective, machine translation requires an enormous parallel corpus for each language. Ideally, this corpus contains documents from a variety of genres: not just parliamentary proceedings but news reports, novels, film scripts, and so on. The machine can't translate informal social media posts very well if it's been trained only on formal legal documents. Translation tools are already scraping the bottom of the parallel corpus barrel: In many languages, the largest parallel translated text is the Bible, which leads to peculiar circumstances where Google translates nonsense syllables into prophecies of doom.

In addition to EU documents, Swedish, Greek, Hungarian, and Czech have a wealth of language resources, created one human at a time over centuries. They're the languages of entire nation-states, with national TV and radio recordings that can be used as the foundation for text-to-speech models. Their speakers have the kind of disposable income that makes media companies translate popular novels and subtitle foreign movies and TV shows. They're found in countries that tech companies imagine their customers might be living in or might at least visit on holiday, meaning it's worth localizing interfaces and adding them as translation options. They have regularized spelling systems and dictionaries that can be rolled into spellcheckers and predictive text models. They have highly literate speakers with internet access who can contribute to projects like Wikipedia. (Speakers who can even, in the case of Swedish, create a bot to automatically make basic Wikipedia articles for rivers, mountains, and other natural features.)

Language resources don't just appear. People have to decide to create them, and those people need to be fed and watered and educated and housed and supported, whether that's by governments or by companies or by the kind of personal wealth that lets individuals take on time-consuming intellectual hobbies. Creating parallel corpora and other language resources takes years, if it happens at all, and costtens of millions of dollars per language.

Meanwhile, we know that catastrophes periodically happen around the world: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, cyclones, diseases, famines, fires. Some of them will happen in areas where people speak a large, well-resourced language, and organizations will rush to their aid. But the odds are goodthat some of the world's future crises will happen in areas where people speak one of these medium-size but low-resource languages. In those cases, aid organizations and governments will face an urgent language barrier.

The problem is, we don't know which language will desperately need the world's attention next. When an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, international organizations suddenly required Haitian Creole resources. Ebola outbreaks in West Africa affected speakers of languages like Swahili, Nande, Mbuba, Krio, Mende and Themne. Asylum seekers from Central America often speak languages like Zapotec, Q’anjob’al, K'iche' and Mam. These speakers aren't the ideal customers of big tech companies. They don't have leisure time to edit Wikipedia. They may not even be literate in their mother tongue, communicating by voice memoinstead of by text message. But when a crisis hits, internet communication tools will be crucial.

Researchers at Darpa, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, decided to tackle the problem by rethinking the way we translate languages. Instead of creating language-specific tools, Darpa is attempting to build language-agnostic tools that, once created, could spring into action in times of crisis and be tuned to any language with minor tweaking — even if they have just monolingual text scraped from social media rather than carefully translated parallel corpora.

They also changed their goals. It's too hard to jump right to full-blown machine translators that produce idiomatic prose, according to Dr. Boyan Onyshkevych, program manager at Darpa's Information Innovation Office. Instead, they carve out more manageable tasks, such as linking all the proper nouns in a passage with their equivalents in a more widely-spoken language. Automatically identifying entities in this way can help provide clues about the overall situation — say, which rivers are flooding, which villages are affected by an outbreak, or which people are missing.

Darpa funds researchers year-round at a couple dozen universities and companies; then, twice a year, they test them, in a "linguistic crisis simulation" event, where teams of researchers translate imaginary catastrophe reports in a surprise mystery language. For the first round, the teams have 24 hours to figure out as much useful information as possible from social media, blogs, and news reports, with the help of a few resources like a basic dictionary and an hour of time with a native speaker of the language. Then Darpa adds in more social media data and more time with a speaker, and the teams go at it again. Later, the results and data sets from such simulations are often published online so they can eventually be rolled into tools like Siri and Google Translate.

Methods like these use the resources of the internet age to solve the problems of the internet age. Smaller languages may not have extensive books or parliamentary records to train a language processor; they may not have very many professional translators. But they do have thousands or millions of speakers hanging out on social media and posting, like all of us do, about the weather and what they had for lunch. These posters are potentially sowing the seeds of their own survival, should catastrophe strike — their tweets and blog posts could get scooped up to teach the rest of the world how to help.

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20/12/2018

Pooping Logs Bring Christmas Cheer in Catalonia

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via National Geographic 

Amongst the endless variations of Christmas across cultures, Catalans stand out with a special log-beating ceremony.

If you’re a kid in Catalonia, you don’t get your Christmas treats from a fireplace-hung stocking. Instead, you have to take sticks and beat them out of a blanket-covered wooden log. The Tió de Nadal (or Caga Tió, ‘poop log’), a specially decorated log with a smiley face and little stick legs, is kept in the house from 8 December, when Catalans celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Catalans can get these logs at Christmas markets and even supermarkets. Once tió has taken up residence in the house, children look after it by keeping it warm under a blanket and leaving it food and water every night—the more generous they are, the more the log can be expected to give back.

After all that nurturing, on Christmas Day the log is “ready” to literally poop out its goodies, and is ordered to do so as the children sing songs and take turns to whack it with sticks. Of course, at this point the parents have secretly filled the log with treats such as candy, nuts, and nougat, while the children have been sent out of the room to pray that tió will deliver good presents.

Thus, once all the songs are sung and the log has been given a good beating, the children lift the blanket to find what the log has pooped out, and everyone shares the treats. Traditionally the log was burnt in the fireplace, and ashes scattered on the fields to ensure a good harvest the following year. However, these days the family just stores the log in a cupboard until next year's festivities.

In case you are curious, here are the lyrics to one of the traditional Catalan pooping log songs:

Caga tió,
Caga torró,
Avellanes i mató,
Si no cagues bé
Et daré un cop de bastó.
Caga tió!

English translation:

Shit, log,
Shit nougats (turrón),
Hazelnuts and mató cheese,
If you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
Shit, log!

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02/01/2017

The Diacritics Affair

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via Languages Around the World

By Asya Pereltsvaig

[This is a guest post, written by Roger Fernàndez from Barcelona, Catalonia]

Can a few simple accents become the center of a controversy that occupy headlines? In Catalonia, yes. Catalan is the language of this northeast Spain region, whose capital is Barcelona. The Catalan language, however, is not only spoken in Catalonia; other Spanish regions such as the Balearic Islands, Valencia and some Aragon areas as well as areas of southern France, and the Italian city of Alghero, make this Romance language the 20th most spoken language in Europe (9,4M speakers ).

On 29 September an intention was announced to eliminate the vast majority of diacritical accents. The proposal was made by the IEC, the Institute of Catalan Studies, which is the organization that, since 1911, defines the rules of grammar, spelling and new vocabulary of the Catalan language. And, as if someone had thrown a match into a powder keg, a discussion has exploded and unleashed far beyond the purely academic circles.

But what diacritical accents mean in Catalan and what role do they have? The diacritical accents are marks that are introduced in some words to help distinguish words with different meanings; they do not follow the rules of accentuation,. A few examples illustrate this:

Ma (my) / Mà (hand)

Dona (Woman) / Dóna (gives)

Pel (for the) / Pèl (hair)

Net (clean) / Nét (grandson)

Deu (Ten) /  Déu (God)

And so up to 150 pairs of words were defined by Pompeu Fabra, the philologist who created the prescriptive rules of modern Catalan orthography in the early twentieth century. The new IEC proposal reduces the number of such pairs to just 14!

Initially, the news appeared in the Catalan newspapers, but it was only a small article in the Culture section of each newspaper. But after a few hours, thanks to social networks, the debate was on like an uncontrollable fire. Soon the “Diacriticals affair” was the cover story in the media all around the country.

That day, Empar Moline, one of the most prestigious writers in Catalan, published an article in the newspaper “Ara” denouncing, in his usual humorous style, that the disappearance of diacritic marks would become an oversimplification of a language which, by constant contact with the powerful Spanish language, is already suffering a loss of rigor. Why not, Moline asked ironically, remove Catalan personal pronouns (“pronoms febles” or weak pronouns), the real nemesis for any student of Catalan.

Within a few hours, Quim Monzo, a close friend of Empar Moline and probably the most recognized living writer in Catalan, responded in Tweeter standing at the other side of the controversy:

“Please, we need an immediate crowdfunding campaign to save the diacritics” wrote the eternal candidate for the Literature Nobel Prize, Quim Monzó.

The discussion, however, was not limited only to a philological and literary milieu, and Twitter was starting to warm up. That evening #diacritics hashtag became Trending Topic on Twitter. Catalan TV channels and radio stations buzzed and the controversy grew hour by hour. Right now, platform Change.org has three active campaigns to collect signatures to “save the 136 diacritical accent marks from a death sentence.”

The following day, instead of troubled waters getting calm, tempers were inflamed even more. Even some graffiti appeared:

The sentence, which with stress marks would be written “La dona dóna un os d’ós al nét net” will hardly ever be used, considering its meaning: “The woman gives a bone of bear to the clean grandson”, but it is a symptomatic example of the sudden Catalans’ love for their 136 words with diacritical stress marks. Some online media took advantage to propose tests and surveys to determine how many diacritics readers were able to recognize, as many Catalan speakers are not able to spell all the words with diacritical accents, as required by prescriptive rules. Note that these written accents do not follow any rules and, therefore, the only way to learn them is to do it by memory.

If I had to evaluate a distribution of supporters and opponents of diacritic accents suppression, I think much of the academic world (philologists and linguists) are for this simplification, while writers are divided 50-50. Interestingly, however, a large majority of Catalan speakers, let’s say, ordinary people, are absolutely against simplifying their language. Even songs and flash mobs appeared in YouTube in defense of Diacritic accents.

What makes Catalan speakers so zealous about an alleged complexity of the language? Before trying to answer, I would like to clarify that Catalan is as simple or complex as any other language of the Romance branch of Indo-European may be. Well, back to the question: With the end of sovereignty of Catalonia (in the eighteenth century), political and cultural decline began, the Catalan language was banned from public administration and education. The language was restricted to the private sphere and suffered a clear recession, reaching an almost jeopardized state during the fascist dictatorship of General Franco (1939-1975). With the arrival of democracy in Spain and the recognition of a certain autonomy for Catalonia, the language became the center of the Catalan cultural identity. Catalonia is currently undergoing a process of independence that has made people feel more proud than ever of their culture and, therefore, of their language. Catalan language now has a strong presence in all areas of society, government, education and the media, despite being a region where two languages (Catalan and Spanish) live quite harmoniously. And maybe diacritical accents have become a symbol of Catalans’ pride for their language.

After this controversy, I don’t want even to think what will happen with the spelling reform announced for 2017! If this point was reached with diacritics reform, I hope not to see barricades in the streets in defense of the only exclusively Catalan letter “L geminada “(l·l)!

 

 

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