Lost in translation

My brain was in suspend mode, as it is wont to be when in meetings, when the speaker asked how many of us know another language and asked me how to translate “New Table” in Filipino. The topic of the meeting was software localization and how to achieve it. He was trying to give an example and thought I could provide him with a translation. I blinked, thinking hard. New translates to bago in Filipino, but what about table? My brain is screaming, say “Bagong Table” but the other part of my brain just can’t let it go. Mesa is another possible translation for table but it evokes images of a flat surface with four legs instead of a data structure that has rows and columns, which he was referring to in this instance. Besides, isn’t mesa a Spanish word? Meanwhile, I guess I took too long to respond to the speaker so he asked someone else in the group. I hope he didn’t think I’m just day-dreaming, it’s just that this has to be given careful consideration.

When lunch time came around, I told Gabriel about the episode in the meeting roome and he said that he would have said “bagong mesa”. I argued that it doesn’t really translate, that somehow it doesn’t conjure a picture of a spreadsheet in my head. It’s weird, I complained. Besides, doesn’t everyone who uses a computer in the Philippines know at least the most basic English words? Surely, they’d easily understand “New Table” better than “Bagong Mesa” to refer to the same thing? He replied that perhaps Filipinos are just not used to translating English words and so it feels and sounds weird to us. He argued that if we translate or formulate new word combinations to mean foreign things, perhaps it wouldn’t be weird anymore and thus would become the norm. That’s true I suppose, the Japanese and Chinese do it, so why can’t Filipinos do the same?

Later that night, I googled for “Filipino computer terms” and found out from this article by Chin Wong that Microsoft has already commissioned a glossary of computer terms to be translated to Filipino, with no less than national artist and poet Virgilio S. Almario helping out to build the list.

The point of the exercise is to encourage more people, including those who are not technically inclined and those to whom English is an obstacle, to understand computer terms. Microsoft realizes that language is the key to culture and should be preserved even in the digital world.

I guess Microsoft realises that in order to reach a wider audience, it would have to communicate in the local language. To me that makes sense, perhaps the reason why a large portion of the Filipino people still doesn’t use computers is because they are being asked to learn and understand two languages at the same time – English and computer-speak. Eliminating the need for one (English) might give the other language (computers) a greater chance of acceptance, increasing awareness and maybe even popularity. With the advent of Philippine computerization comes greater demand for software, translating to profits for Microsoft and other software makers. Brilliant strategy for (world) domination, if I may say so. The question is if it would work the way they intended. I have my doubts. The article mentions July as the release date but I don’t think it’s available yet.

Anyhow, it made me curious as to what “table” translates to in Spanish so I searched around and found this dictionary of computer terms in Spanish. Table converts to tabla for them and I suppose Filipinos could also use that since we also use it to mean a flat surface, normally a piece of wood. For the purists though, it just won’t do – it is after all a Spanish word, not Filipino. Perhaps “Bagong Hapag” would gain better reception as a possible translation for “New Table”? But then again, maybe not.

Published in: on July 13, 2005 at 6:15 pm  Leave a Comment