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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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23/05/2019

Language of the Week: Icelandic, Viking Speech Preserved

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

As a lover of Germanic languages and having had the chance to learn some German and Swedish, I've always been curious about Icelandic, the language of the North Atlandic island discovered and populated in the 7th century by Norsemen from different points of Scandinavia, most notably Flóki Vilgerðarson, one of the main characters of the TV show Vikings.  

With roughly 560.000 native speakers, Icelandinc (islenska) stands out among Scandinavian languages for being the closest to Old Norse, the speech of the Vikings. True, also Danish, Faroese, Norwegian, and Swedish, derive from Old Norse, but due to geogrgaphical isolation Icelandic has retained lots of features of their ancestor's speech, to the extent that Old Norse is also known among the linguistics community as "Old Icelandic" (even though, technically, Old Icelandic should be synonym with Old West Norse). The conservation of the language means that modern Icelanders are able to read the Eddas, the Sagas, and other classic Old Norse literary works created in the Viking period between the 10th and the 13th centuries. 

It is funny to think that modern Icelandic could be mutually intelligible with a language spoken so many centuries ago (at least partially, because although the written language remains quite close, the pronunciation is not the same), but it is no longer so with the other contemporary Scandinavian languages, not even with it's closest relative, Faroese.

The main difference between Icelandic and the other Scandinavian languages is that Icelandic keeps many grammatical features of other ancient Germanic languages, most notably the inflection system. While Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish have lost their inflections, Icelandic retains four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitice. Also, like Old English (or modern German), nouns have 3 grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. 

Icelandic has also retained with old letters that used to be used to write Old English and Old Norse, but that the other Germanic languages have dropped: Þ, þ (þorn, modern English "thorn") and Ð, ð (, anglicised as "eth" or "edh"), representing the voiceless and voiced "th" sounds (as in English thin and this), respectively. 

The good health of the Icelandic language is in charge of Ari Páll Krinstinsson, head of the Ari Magnússon institute for Icelandic studies (in the photo, below). Some people fear that, due to the low demography, Icelandic will die out soon. Jón Gnarr, the comedian who became the mayor of Rejkjavik, was quoted on The WOold in Words in 2015: "I think Icelandic is not going to last. Probably in this century we will adopt English as our language. I think it's unavoidable". Ari Magnússon also has the same fears: "English is everywhere, from the moment we wake up untill we die". The language is also closely linked to the feeling of Iceland as a nation: "If we lost the Icelandic language there will be no Icelandic nation", said poet Krinstinsson, a feelilng shared by speakers of many minority languages.  

 

 

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22/03/2019

"Lenten ys come with love to toune..."

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Yesterday in the Northern hemisphere we waved so long to winter and welcomed spring. at least in countries using the astronomical and solar reckoning, because in others countries, like Sweden, the beginning of spring is defined as the first occasion when the average daytime temperature exceeds zero degrees for seven consecutive days, so typically spring comes later in the north than in the south.

In early medieval Engand the usual word for this season was "Lenten", a word that comes from the shortening of "lengthing days" and which Dutch still keeps ("lente"). The word "spring", that didn't catch on until the 16th century, is related to the verb "spring", which in English means "to move or jump suddenly" and in Swedish it means "to run" ("springa"). If you have ever felt that in this season everything seems to move faster, the Germanic languages had already captured this feeling from the very beginning.  

In Old English the word was "springan", meaning "to leap, burst forth, fly up; spread, grow", and further back, in the protolanguage shared by all Germanic tribes, the word was *sprengan (the asterisk means it is a reconstructed form), source also of Old Norse and Old Frisian springa, Middle Dutch springhen, Old High German springan, and German springen). We can even trace the origin to the times of Indoeuropean with the form *sprengh, meaning "to move, hasten, spring", source also of Sanskrit sprhayati "desires eagerly" and Greek sperkhesthai "to hurry".

In other languages, the season name is related to the word "fore" or "early", like in German Frühling (from Middle German vrueje, "early",) or in Swedish "vår" ("before", related to Dutch "voorjaar", literally "fore-year".

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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

Sweden's Burning Christmas Goat

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via National Geographic

In Scandinavia, a common Christmas symbol of pagan origin is the Yule goat, an ornament in the shape of a goat with horns, made out of straw and tied with plenty of red ribbon.

The Swedish town of Gävle has become world-famous for its gigantic version of the straw goat, placed every year in the town’s central Castle Square.

This tradition was started in 1966, and the 13-metre-high goat even made it into the Guinness Book of Records in 1985 (for world’s biggest straw goat, of course). The Gävle goat has a social media following, but its international fame also stems from a rather unfortunate reason—most years it ends up being destroyed by arsonists and vandals.

Attempts to protect the goat have involved fencing, dousing it in fire retardant, and even volunteer guardians working in shifts, all with mixed results.

This year was the goat’s 50th anniversary, but that did not help it survive. The magnificent straw creature—which takes some 1000 hours to build—went up in flames just hours after its annual inauguration on the first Sunday of Advent.

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10/04/2018

Right and wrong ways to spread languages around the globe

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via The Economist

Emmanuel Macron’s plan to boost French-speaking puts means before motive

REMARKABLY, a French president had never addressed the Académie Française before. The French have a soft spot for authority, and the mighty presidency (atypical for Europe) and the academy (founded to guarantee the purity of the French language) are both symbols of that. So when Emmanuel Macron told the academicians—modestly known as les immortels—of his ambitions to revitalise French around the world, it was a very French affair indeed.

In some ways Mr Macron constitutes a break with Gallic tradition. He speaks English not only well but gladly, in contrast to his predecessors, François Hollande (whose ropy English was the butt of jokes) and Jacques Chirac (who often pointedly refused to talk in English, though he could). But in the best French tradition, Mr Macron spoke with passion about French and confidence in its future. He announced more money for the Alliance Française, for example, to teach the language, and more support for teaching French to refugees who have arrived in France. His aim is to see French go from being the world’s fifth-most-spoken language to its third.

It is very French to think that this can be accomplished by determined state action. Yet people don’t learn a language because somebody has built a fancy new school nearby. These days there are plenty of language-learning options, especially online. The cost of learning a language is mainly measured not in money but in time. You have to give someone a reason to do the work, before even bothering with the means and opportunity.

Think about the rivals to French. One is English. Americans and Britons might think foreigners learn English because their culture is appealing. But if that was ever true, it no longer is. Foreigners learn English simply because there are already a lot of people to speak it with—a majority of them, today, outside the chief Anglophone countries. A Swede learns English to do business in Brazil. This is why, despite the irony, English will probably still dominate the European Union after Brexit.

Or consider Chinese, a language of booming interest to foreign learners. It is in a way the opposite of English: the vast majority of its speakers live in just one country. But what a country. China’s economy will soon be the world’s largest, and its people still do not speak very good English. Learning Chinese is an obvious way to exploit an unrivalled economic opportunity.

Finally, take German. In the 19th century it was a posh language of science and scholarship, expected of all educated Europeans. Early Zionists pondered making it the national language of the Jewish state. But two wars, horrific atrocities and four decades of division wrecked its image. However, it has recovered. As Germany’s economy roared back from a long post-reunification slump, German-learning increased by 4% between 2010 and 2015 (a lot, in historical terms). Perhaps more surprisingly, a country once considered stolid and conservative has developed a reputation for cool. Berlin is seen as the hippest capital in Europe. German is both useful and attractive.

French could combine all these attributes. Like English, it is found around the world. Like Chinese, it is economically important: French-speaking countries account for 8.4% of global GDP. And like Germany recently, France has long had cultural cachet. How, then, to revive the optimism for the language itself?

Much of the work will be done outside France, and by growth in Africa in particular. Mr Macron knows this; after an initial announcement, in Burkina Faso, that he wanted to give new vigour to the French-speaking world, he was seen as neocolonialist. His speech at the Academy was better, conceding that French had “emancipated itself from France”. He told the Academy that it was high time French schools began teaching literature written in French outside France.

By one projection, in 2050 there will be 700m French-speakers—80% of them in Africa. To keep that forecast on track and keep Africans speaking French—not switching to English, as Rwanda did—France would be wise to continue this approach of fraternité rather than autorité with its African friends, by helping those countries develop economically. And the best thing Mr Macron could do at home is release the talents of the French people. Reforms that get the French economy growing as Germany’s has done would do more than all the shiny new French-teaching schools in the world.

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20/12/2016

Seven seriously silly Swedish sayings

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via The Local.se 

Swedish is a tough language to learn, and strange proverbs about cows, dead dogs, and suspicious owls don't help. The Local has listed some of the seven silliest sayings to help you on the way.

1. Det är ingen ko på isen (here's no cow on the ice)

This is a roundabout Swedish way of saying, quite simply, 'don't worry' or 'take it easy'. It remains unknown how often Swedish cattle are milling about on frozen lakes, but it's no stretch of the imagination to understand that a cow on the ice would be worth worrying about.

2. Med skägget i brevlådan (with your beard in the letter box)

While their English-speaking cousins are messing around getting their hands stuck in cookie jars, Swedes are getting their (probably trendy hipster-style) beards caught in letter boxes. Don't ask what they were doing with their faces so close to the letter box in the first place.

3. Det ligger en hund begraven (there's a dog buried here)

There's something fishy going on here… there's nothing fishier than a dead dog, right? Well, that's what a Swede would say. Perhaps it's the stench of the buried mutt, perhaps it's the idea of a missing canine companion, or perhaps it's just the absurdity of it all, but it's definitely fishy.

4. Ana ugglor i mossen (sensing owls in the bog)

You may think there is nothing fishier than a buried dog, and that's a perfectly logical assumption. But what about owls in the bog? Yes, those crazy Swedes are at it again. When something strange is afoot, they'll whisper to each other about those fishy owls and their boggy surroundings.

5. Inte ha rent mjöl i påsen (not have clean flour in one's bag)

If you're anar ugglor i mossen, it may be because someone doesn't have clean flour in their bag. In Swedish, this means that someone is up to no good or that they are hiding something. What are they hiding? Could be anything. Perhaps they're trying to cover up the dirty flour in their bag.

6. Du har satt din sista potatis (you have planted your final potato)

If you have had it up to here with someone, this is a good threat to throw at them. This is it. This is your final potato. There will be no more potatoes planted after I'm done with you. We suspect it stems from a time when Swedes used to walk around planting potatoes everywhere they went... or something like that (give us a break, we're not historians).

7. Nu är det kokta fläsket stekt (now, the boiled pork is fried)

Who would want to eat fried pork if you had meant to boil it? Not the Swedes, anyway. If you'll forgive us for being crude, it basically means that you're in very deep shit. Things are bad. Things are really, really bad. The boiled pork is fried, I'm telling you. The expression comes from pork being expensive back in the days, and if you boiled it as well as fried it you wouldn't have a lot of pork left.

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