Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Localization and the Video Games Industry: Who Gets What?

Last weekend, Saturday to be precise, I was lucky enough to take a trip to London for this year's Eurogamer Expo, which now refers to itself as the cooler-sounding "EGX". As a self-confessed video game and language nerd, I am very interested in the translation and localization of video games and electronic entertainment.

When I was younger, I often didn't give a second thought to the fact that the video games I played were always either in English or provided an option to select English from a number of languages. As a kid I would often head into town to get a new game and immediately spend the entire trip home reading the blurb on the back and the instruction manual.

Growing up in the UK meant that the text on the box and in the instructions was either only in English or was in EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish), which are often deemed the "most important" languages in Europe. While some of the packaging featured other languages, the software often was only in English, with no other language options provided.

The discrepancy between the packaging and the software barely bothered me as a kid. However, as an adult I now realise that large corporations will only translate and localize games when there is a profitable market to be exploited. With all this in mind, I decided to quickly do some research into which languages and locales the video games industry favours.


Steam's search engine allows for the filtering of the online distribution service's catalogue by language. This past weekend there were 14,576 titles available on Steam, with around 90% of these available in English. Titles in the other EFIGS languages are widely available. 44% of titles are available in German and almost 42% are available in the French language. 37% and 35% of games are listed as being in Spanish and Italian respectively. 

These figures are hardly surprising if you just take a look at the usage notes for "EFIGS" on Wiktionary: "In software development, used to designate five widely used languages that software (notably video games) is often translated to."

It's very clear that games are not translated in the same proportions as there are speakers of a language. If this was the case, Simplified and Traditional Chinese combined would not account for only 4% of the games available through Steam. In fact, it's fairly obvious (and a little sad) that the proportions clearly line up with the relative size of the markets and their spoken languages.

Xbox Marketplace

It's not just the language you speak that may limit the number of games you can get. While I am lucky to speak English, I am also in the United Kingdom. However, that did little to console me when I found out that if you take a look through the Xbox 360 games available on the Xbox Marketplace, you are privy to a vastly different number of games depending on your locale.

The United States enjoyed the largest number of games available. At the time I checked, the UK's catalogue contained 76 fewer titles than the United States. That said, there were 1223 titles available in the US and the UK's catalogue contained 1147 games, making the difference minute.

While Steam showed a linguistic bias towards European languages, the Xbox Marketplace tends to favour markets in North America and Europe, where users have access to more titles than elsewhere in the world. For example, 1112 games were available in Spain while only 365 were available in Argentina, despite both countries being primarily Spanish-speaking. For some odd reason, Argentina also has half as many games available as other Spanish-speaking countries in South America, such as Chile (840), Colombia (861).

Much like on Steam, mainland China gets the short end of the stick, where a paltry 25 titles were available. However, 976 were available in Hong Kong. Undoubtedly this can partially be attributed to non-linguistic factors. In fact, the Hong Kong marketplace had more titles available than any other Asian locale.

Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia all have access to between 300 and 400 games while in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), over 500 titles were available. Does this increase have anything to do with the fact that the UAE is home to the highest net migration rate in the world?

Is the difference between the number of games available in Europe and South America solely due to the size of their video game markets or are there political and economic reasons as well? Is the discrepancy just because some languages are easier to work with than others? If you happen to be an industry expert or deal with localization, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Pakistan

The flag of Pakistan
This week for our country profile we'll be looking at Pakistan. Home to 180 million people, it is the sixth largest nation in the world in terms of population. Due to its large population and diverse ethnic makeup, Pakistan is very linguistically diverse. Today we'll be having a look at some of the most interesting and prominent languages that make up the linguistic landscape of this Asian country on the Indian subcontinent.

Official Languages

Pakistan only has two nationwide official languages, Urdu and English. As a West Germanic language, English is obviously not a language native to this part of the world. Like many other places in the world, the English language is the remaining heritage of the British Empire's presence in Pakistan.

The English language is used in an official capacity in Pakistan's government as well as being the language that the constitution is written in. It is also used in education and by the social elite. However, despite its status, English is spoken by a very a small percentage of the population.

Pakistan's other official language is Urdu, a language that is natively spoken by around 70 million people around the world, though it is only spoken as a first language by around 8% of the population of Pakistan. The British Empire also played a part in encouraging the use of Urdu as a de facto language since they were keen on having a single language in use across the British Raj rather than the multitude of languages present in the area. Around 90% of Pakistan's population can speak Urdu to some degree.

Languages by Province

Since Pakistan is divided into four provinces as well as a capital region, each province has its own history, native peoples, and, often as a result of the former, its own language.


Even though Urdu and English are the country's official languages, Punjabi is the most spoken language in Pakistan according to the last census. There are 100 million speakers of Punjabi around the world with over 75 million in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, most speakers of Punjabi can be found in Punjab, where three quarters of the population speak the language.


Like Punjabi, there are more native speakers of Pashto in Pakistan than there are of the country's official language, Urdu. There are somewhere between 45 and 60 million native speakers of this language worldwide, 30 million of whom live in Pakistan. Despite there being so many speakers of Pashto in Pakistan, the language has no official status in the country. However, it is one of Afghanistan's two official languages and the principal language of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.

The beautiful Mohatta Palace, Karachi.

The Sindhi language is natively spoken by just under 15% of Pakistan's population and enjoys official status in the Sindh Province. Historically, the Sindhi language was spoken by the Sindhi people. Today, it is spoken by around 55 million people in Pakistan, with just under half of them being native speakers.


The Balochi language is the sole provincial language in Pakistan that has fewer native speakers in Pakistan than Urdu. While only 4% of those in Pakistan speak Balochi, there are nearly 8 million native speakers of the language in the world. Most of them live in the province of Balochistan where the language enjoys an official language status.

Other Languages

A large number of regional languages are spoken in Pakistan in addition to the aforementioned official and provincial languages. While Pakistan's regional languages are only spoken by a small percentage of the country's population, many of these languages do have sizable communities of native speakers in terms of actual numbers. Brahui, for example, is spoken by less than 2% of Pakistan's population, though this equates to around 2 million people. However, the use of Brahui is in decline, putting the language in possible risk ofextinction. There are also many other languages in Pakistan that have just a handful of speakers and face this same fate in the near future.

Although Pakistan has official languages, provincial languages, and even regional languages in its hugely diverse linguistic landscape, there are a number of other languages that have somehow managed to squeeze their way into the everyday lives of those who reside in the country. Due to the prevalence of Islam in the area, Arabic is used in varying degrees by practising Muslims in the country, who account for somewhere between 95 and 98% of the population.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Baffling Baked Goods: Biscuits, Cookies, and Scones

Biscuits and honey - a delicious American side dish
Just one month ago, we dedicated a post to explaining the differences between the various potato-based products known as crisps, chips, and fries in the multiple varieties of the English language. Today we're going to look at a few more tricky English food terms, this time focusing on an even more popular food group, baked goods, which we have very briefly touched on in the past.

The food pictured to the right is called a biscuit if you are American. They're delicious small breads with a hard crust and soft interior often served as a side dish. They can be eaten plain, slathered with butter, drizzled in honey, or covered in gravy, as in the popular Southern dish "biscuits and gravy".

The closest British equivalent to this food is a scone, though they are made somewhat differently, and are often sweet, while American biscuits are generally a savory item. Americans also eat scones and call them "scones", so that makes things a bit less linguistically complicated. However, there is a long-standing dispute in the UK as to the correct pronunciation of this word, which rhymes with either "cone" or "con"...

Cheese and crackers (US) / biscuits (UK), a favorite snack
Now let's head back to the term biscuit. In the United Kingdom, it is not that lovely bread-like product pictured above. British biscuits are generally small baked products that come in various forms and can be either sweet or savory.

Savory biscuits are generally what Americans call a cracker, while sweet biscuits are called cookies across the pond. To make matters even more complicated, Brits use the terms cookie and cracker as well, but only to refer to very specific types of biscuits. It's enough to make a person go crazy!

Those learning English as a second language should not feel bad at all for finding these terms confusing, as they routinely cause linguistic confusion among native speakers. Just a few months ago, I (an American) wasn't feeling well and asked a (British) friend to buy me some "crackers" from the (UK) supermarket to help settle my stomach. They turned up with chocolate "biscuits", which I would call "cookies", because they were aware of the differences in terminology and assumed that we did not, in fact, use the same term for "cracker". In any case, all these foods are delicious, so there's really nothing to complain about if you end up with the wrong one someday!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Brazil

In our first two Country Profiles, we looked at some of the many languages spoken in China and Indonesia. Today we're turning our focus to the languages of Brazil, the largest country in South America in terms of both population and geographical area.


The sole official language of Brazil is Portuguese, which belongs to the same branch of Romance languages as Galician, which is spoken in the Spanish autonomous community of Galicia just north of Portugal. Portuguese is spoken by the vast majority of Brazil's over 200 million people, perhaps even by as much as 99% of the population.

Brazil is unique in the Americas due to its status as the only Portuguese-speaking country. The language is strongly linked with the nation's identity and culture, helping to distinguish it from its many neighboring Spanish-speaking countries.

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
Given the fact that the vast Atlantic Ocean separates Portugal, the birthplace of Portuguese, from Brazil, its former colony, it should come as no surprise that the language spoken in these countries is not identical. Brazilians speak Brazilian Portuguese, which primarily differs from European Portuguese in terms of phonology. The differences between the two varieties of Portuguese are comparable to the differences between American English and British English. There are also several lexical differences between the two varieties since Brazilian Portuguese has developed separately from European Portuguese since the colonial era, including some influences from indigenous and African languages.

Despite the dominance of the Portuguese language, approximately 210 languages are spoken in Brazil, including 180 indigenous languages. However, most of these languages have very small numbers of speakers.

Co-official Languages

In recent years, a few Brazilian states have given various minority languages co-official status. Both German and Pomeranian, a German dialect, are co-official languages in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo, while Riograndenser Hunsrückisch German has this status in Rio Grande do Sul, the country's southernmost state. Likewise, Talian, a dialect of Venetian (which belongs to a different branch of the Romance language family from Italian, despite claims that it is an Italian dialect), is a co-official language in both Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina states.

A few Brazilian municipalities have also granted co-official status to indigenous languages. Guaraní, a member of the Tupian language family primarily spoken in Paraguay, is recognized in the nearby municipality of Tacuru. The city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira in northwestern Amazonas state has also officially recognized a few indigenous languages, including Nheengatu, another Tupian language.

Indigenous Languages

Most of Brazil's minority languages are indigenous languages such as Guaraní and Nheengatu. Some of the country's other prominent indigenous languages include Apalaí, a Cariban language, and Bororo, which is spoken by the Bororo people in the state of Mato Grosso. The Kaingang language is spoken by members of the southern Brazilian Kaingang ethnic group, while the Xavante language is used in approximately 170 villages in Mato Grosso. There are dozens more indigenous languages spoken by very small groups in Brazil, but unfortunately we just don't have the time to mention them all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Languages of Separatists in Europe: Part 2

On Friday following the results of the Scottish Referendum, we took a look at several languages spoken by separatist groups around Europe. We didn't find it very surprising that a large number of separatist groups in Europe speak a different language to the rest of the country. We concluded Friday's post with a look at the Netherlands so today we'll carry on through the alphabet with some of the separatist movements we find the most interesting.


The region of Silesia is located in both Poland and Germany. While the region's separatist movement wishes to unite the region as its own independent nation, the inhabitants of each country tend to speak the majority language of their respective nation, with the Silesians in Poland speaking Polish and those in Germany speaking German.

Bran Castle in Romania

There are a number of proposed independent areas of Romania. These areas tend to be inhabited by either ethnically Hungarian people or by Hungarian-speaking Romanians.


If you ever read our series on the languages of Russia, you will know that the world's largest country has plenty of indigenous languages. Since it also spans two continents, there are plenty of different groups in terms of ethnicity and the language they speak. 

Both Russian and Chechen are spoken in the region of Chechnya, which has its own movement to break away from Russia.

The region of Dagestan is also a special example because there are so many different languages being spoken there. There are calls for Dagestan, with the Ingushetia and Chechnya regions, to unite as a single independent region.


The Republic of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. While the area was the site of horrible fighting between Serbs and Albanians during the late 1990s, the Republic of Kosovo has been recognised by a great number of countries across the world. It should be noted that the ethnically Albanian and Albanian-speakers in Kosovo were generally part of the separatist movement.


Spain, much like France, is home to a good number of separatist movements. Since Spain and France are neighbours, a number of these separatist movements exist across their borders.

We mentioned the Catalan separatist movement on Friday when we covered France. However, the majority of the breakaway nation can be found in northeast Spain, where the Catalan language has official language status in the autonomous region of Catalonia.

We also mentioned the Basque separatist movement in France. However, the movement's real stronghold is in the Spanish autonomous community of País Vasco, which while meaning "Basque Country" in Spanish, should not be confused with the entity that many Basque separatists consider to be the real Basque Country.

Seemingly the entire coastline of Spain is home to separatist movements, while the "Castillian" centre of the country seemingly feels Spanish. In the northwest, Galicia is home to the Galician language and its own separatist movement.

The Balearic Islands have small separatist movements as well, both as part of the Països Catalans and as a Majorcan sovereign state. The islands are home to a number of speakers of a Balearic variety of Catalan called Mallorquí in reference to the island.

There are a couple more European countries with separatist movements that we could cover, but we don't feel like touching the situation in Ukraine with a barge pole and we're saving the United Kingdom and Scotland for when the dust has settled.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Languages of Separatists in Europe: Part 1

Yesterday Scotland went to the polls to vote on their independence from the United Kingdom. We don't write this blog to promote a political agenda, just the agenda that languages are awesome and we love them. Since there are plenty of separatist movements in Europe, we thought we'd take a look at which ones speak a language different to the prominent language or languages spoken in the country that they are seeking to separate from.

While we're trying to keep language and politics apart, you'll quickly see how difficult defining a language is when politics gets involved. For the most part, we have attempted to go with a linguistic consensus rather than a political one, but if we've slipped up and missed something, please tell us in the comments. We're not indicating that every speaker of these languages is a separatist either. Finally, we're only covering a few select separatist movement in Europe with languages that fascinate us.


Northern Epirus is part of a historical region that is currently part of Albania. The people in this region speak Greek, which as you can guess, is not the majority language of Albania. That title belongs to the Albanian language.

The canal in Brussels, a battleground for Belgium's two separatist groups.

As you may know, Belgium has two main languages. 56% of the population speaks Dutch or Flemish, while 38% speak French. However, the "separatist" movements in Belgium have another element to them: some wish to join other countries.

The Walloons, the French-speaking inhabitants of Wallonia, have a movement to join with France or to make Wallonia its own state. On the other hand, the Flemish and Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Flanders wish to separate from Belgium and make Flanders its own state, with a small minority wishing for the region to become part of the Netherlands.


The separatist movement in Cyprus already has its own sovereign state, if you happen to be the Turkish government. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is primarily inhabited by the ethnically-Turkish peoples of the region and considers Turkish its official language. The region declared its independence from Cyprus in 1983, though Turkey was the only nation to recognise it.


The Faroe Islands are inhabited by the Faroese people, who also happen to have their own language, Faroese. There are around 66,000 speakers of Faroese in the world, with nearly three quarters of them residing on the Faroe Islands.


It appears that almost every minority language spoken in France has its own separatist movement. The movement to make the Basque Country a sovereign nation is complicated as it is currently an international region that is part of both France and Spain. Of course, Basque, the language isolate, is the main language of this movement.

The separatist movement in Brittany has the Breton language, a Celtic language more closely related to Scottish Gaelic and Irish than the national language of France, French.

The official language of the Catalan separatism movement is Catalan, a Romance language. The proposed nation that unites Catalans in this group is made up of the Països Catalans, an international region in northeast Spain and southwest France, the Rousillon region in particular.


The Bavarians in Germany have a separatist movement to make the Freistaat Bayern its own sovereign state. The Bavarians also have a few dialects and languages of their own: Bavarian, Swabian, and East Franconian German.

East Frisia has ambitions of becoming its own nation. The native language of the region is Saterland Frisian, a language in decline with an estimated 1,000 native speakers.


There is a movement for independence on Italy's island of Sardinia. The island is home to the Sardinian language, which while being a Romance language, is incomprehensible to speakers of Italian.

Certain people in Veneto also feel the region would be better off if it was its own sovereign state. The Venetian language has around 2 million native speakers in Veneto, the surrounding regions, Slovenia, and Croatia.


Much like East Frisia in Germany, Frisia in the Netherlands has both a language and a separatist movement that seeks to make the region independent from the Netherlands. In addition to the Saterland Frisian language spoken in East Frisia, the Frisians in the Netherlands speak the other closely-related varieties of the Frisian language: North Frisian and West Frisian.

We'll be back after the weekend with more separatist movements and their languages. If there are any fascinating languages favored by European separatist groups that we missed, please tell us about them in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Language's Biggest Challenge: How Do You Define Left and Right?

I was watching an old episode of QI (a fascinating show for those who haven't seen it) when the question of defining left and right to an alien species came up. The general consensus is that you cannot define left and right due to the relative nature of the concepts. Surely, that can't be right. Right?

The reason these concepts are so difficult to define is because they are relative. Put simply, you can't really have left or right without having some reference point.

If you search the definition of "left" on Google, you'll be met with:

"on, towards, or relating to the side of a human body or of a thing which is to the west when the person or thing is facing north."

Google defines right as:

"on, towards, or relating to the side of a human body or of a thing which is to the east when the person or thing is facing north."

A compass provides a fine example of cardinal directions.
How would you define left and right without a compass? These concepts only really exist on a planet with a magnetic field where a system of cardinal directions can be defined...

While left and right are seemingly simple for most of us to understand, around 15% of people seem to struggle with left and right, suffering from a condition known as "Left-Right Confusion".

Can you really blame those who can't tell the difference? The terms are so useless in practice that "my right" is only "your right" when we're facing the same direction. This makes left and right egocentric directions, as their definition is based on the self.

While both up and down are also egocentric, thanks to gravity, their definitions are often universally understood. This is thanks to everyday life, where gravity is almost always found to be pulling us back to our home planet, Earth.

The relative nature of these terms means that in geometry and physics, left and right aren't even bothered with. The Cartesian coordinate system puts matters into numbers, which is often preferred by the hard sciences, rather than the subjectivity preferred by human languages.

However, there are a number of languages and communication systems that don't use the concept of relative direction like left and right. The Guugu Yimithirr Language, which is natively spoken by around 100 aboriginal Australians, seemingly has no time for egocentric directions, preferring a system of cardinal directions to describe the location of objects.

While I feel like I know more about directions, both egocentric and cardinal, I certainly wouldn't feel confident giving directions to aliens. How would you describe left and right? Tell us in the comments below.