Friday, December 19, 2014

The Plight of the Mockingjay: Translating Film Titles

Throughout our recent trip around Europe, we were frequently reminded of our interest in translation, particularly in relation to film titles. As we slowly made our way from the Netherlands to Spain, we encountered numerous film posters in various European languages. However, the one promotional poster we saw everywhere was for the latest addition to The Hunger Games series. We found the translation of its title in various European languages particularly fascinating, so today we've decided to look into a few of the many ways it was translated worldwide.

For those of you who don't know what film I'm referring to, it's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, which is based on and named after the final book in the extremely popular series The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins.

A mockingbird, or sinsonte in Spanish.
If you haven't read the books, then you might be wondering what on earth a "mockingjay" is. (Don't worry, no spoilers!) It is a fictional bird in the novel which is said to be a cross between a mockingbird and a "jabberjay", a fictional bird that can memorize and repeat human conversations.

While in Spain, we saw posters for Los juegos del hambre: Sinsajo - Parte 1 everywhere, and I kept wondering what the term sinsajo meant since I'd never seen it before. After doing some research upon my return home, I discovered that the Spanish translator had actually translated the fictional term "mockingjay"! They arrived at the word sinsajo by combining sinsonte and arrendajo, the Spanish words for "mockingbird" and "blue jay". Without doubt, this is my favorite foreign title for the film since the translator took the initiative to create a new term just as Collins had instead of merely borrowing the term "mockingjay" into Spanish.

However, most other translators seemed to take a different route to translating the title. The French, Italian, and Portuguese titles all refer not to the fictional bird, but instead to a "revolt" or "rebellion". The English title, Mockingjay, refers to the symbolism of the mockingjay as a sign of rebellion, so this decision does make sense... it is just a far more direct reference to the plot of the book/film than the more subtle original title.

In French, the film is known as Hunger Games: La révolte - 1ère partie, in Portuguese it is called The Hunger Games: A Revolta - Parte 1, and in Italian it is named Hunger Games: Il canto della rivolta - Parte I. Interestingly, while the French and Portuguese versions translate literally as "The Revolt" or "The Rebellion", the Italian version is slightly more complex and creative, referring to the "call" or "song" of said rebellion.

If any other translators can provide insight into other interesting translations of this film's title (some foreign titles for the film can be found here), please let us know! We'd also love to hear about other film titles you know of that have been translated into other languages in a particularly fascinating way.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Get It Right: e.g. and i.e.

As part of our ongoing "Get It Right" series, today we'll be covering the use of two abbreviations, e.g. and i.e.. While they are not words, but rather abbreviations, we still notice them being used incorrectly more often than we'd like to admit.


In fact, the abbreviation e.g. is not even an abbreviation of English words. It actually stands for the Latin phrase exemplī grātiā. In this instance, grātiā roughly translates as "for the sake", while exemplī is in the genetive case and means "of example". Therefore e.g. means "for the sake of example" or simply "for example".

If you always remember that e.g. means "for example", then you should never have any problems using it. If you haven't given an example, then you're not using it correctly.


This second abbreviations is also from Latin and is short for id est, which means "that is". While it is often incorrectly used in an identical way to e.g., it is meant to be used for elaboration rather than giving an example or a list of examples. You should use i.e. when you're rephrasing your sentence or clarifying your point.

Are there any common mistakes in English that really get on your nerves? Tell us about them in the comments below and we'll try to cover them in an upcoming "Get It Right" post. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Thailand

Last week, we looked at the linguistic diversity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This week we're returning to Asia, with our focus devoted to the many fascinating languages of Thailand.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Thailand is Thai, a member of the Tai-Kadai language family. Thai is spoken by the majority of the population of Thailand, and is the primary language used by the government and in education.

Minority Languages

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Thailand.
Despite having just one official language, Thailand is home to many other minority languages. The Isan dialects of Lao, the official language of neighboring Laos, are spoken by many Thai people in northeastern Thailand. Isan dialects differ from the Lao language spoken in Laos because they tend to incorporate many elements of the Thai language, such as vocabulary and grammar.

Another important minority language in Thailand is Yawi, a dialect of Malay, an Austronesian language spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. It is primarily spoken by the Thai Malay ethnic group.

Other minority languages spoken in Thailand include the Karen languages, a group of tonal languages that belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family, and Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. The Karen languages are spoken by the Karen people near Thailand's border with Burma, while Khmer, an Austro-Asiatic language, is mainly spoken in regions bordering Cambodia. Varieties of the Chinese language are also spoken by the many ethnic Chinese people living in Thailand.

There are many more languages spoken in Thailand, we just don't have time to discuss them all. They include Austro-Asiatic languages such as Mon and Vietnamese, Austronesian languages like the Cham language, and Hmong, the language of the Hmong people.

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 12: The Day that Killed Three Linguists

Today, December 12, marks the date that three different linguists died (albeit in separate years). John Pell, Bedřich Hrozný, and Yechezkel Kutscher all died on this date in 1685, 1952, and 1971 respectively. Today we're paying homage to each of these linguists and taking a brief look back at their lives and work.

New Court, Trinity College, Cambridge
John Pell

The first of our three linguists is John Pell, who was born on March 1, 1611. While Pell is certainly more famous for his work as a mathematician, he started his academic career as a linguist at Trinity College, Cambridge, at just 13 years old. Pell put forward a proposal for a universal language in 1638.

His most famous contribution to mathematics was arguably his namesake equation, "Pell's Equation". He also taught the mathematician Johann Rahn, who is said to have created the obelus or ÷, better known as the division symbol. Some also credit Pell with its creation.

Bedřich Hrozný

The second of our three linguists to die on this day was Bedřich Hrozný, who died in 1952. Hrozný was born on May 6, 1879 in the Austro-Hungarian town of Lysá nad Labem, which is in the modern-day Czech Republic. Hrozný completed his education in Vienna and became most famous for his study of eastern societies and languages, known as Oriental studies.

One of his most fascinating works was with the cuneiform writing system used in a number of the languages he studied, including Akkadian, Sumerian, and Old Persian. He also deciphered the Hittite language, spoken by the Hittites, whose empire occupied what is now Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon over 3,000 years ago.

The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Qumran Caves
Yechezkel Kutscher

The last of our three linguists is Yechezkel Kutscher. Kutscher was born in Slovakia on June 1, 1909, and spent his life studying Hebrew. His academic studies took place in his hometown of Topoľčany and in Frankfurt.

He then moved to Mandatory Palestine, where he continued his studies in a couple of religious academic institutions before passing on his knowledge as a teacher in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Kutscher studied Hebrew linguistics in Jerusalem before lecturing at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As an academic he conducted research into the ancient Mishnaic Hebrew script, which included looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why I Love French, the French, and France

While my time spent in Italy was far too short, I was incredibly happy to return to France, the country that gave rise to my love of languages. Sure, the overnight train from Venice to Paris was fairly appalling (it was the Thello, if you're wondering), but waking up in the "city of lights" successfully eradicated any ill feeling about the poor night's sleep I'd had.

Even though during my earlier years I'd been given no choice about the language I got to study, by the time I was able to make a choice about it at age 14, I was certain that French was a subject that I wanted to continue, even to degree level.

France is a great country to visit, and I can easily say from experience that it's even better to live there. When I was visiting Paris, I had the luxury of spending time with a few natives. This meant that I was able to enjoy the real side of Paris, away from the huge number of tourists that make Paris one of the most visited cities in the world.

Enjoying great food and great drinks (at a reasonable price, no less) while having the privilege to speak one of the most beautiful and sexiest languages on the planet with a native speaker is always an absolute dream come true.

Of course, spending time in Paris was incredible. However, I was far more interested in heading to southern France, Avignon to be precise, where I'd spent my Erasmus year. Although it's not for everyone, I love the Avignonnais accent and was delighted to hear it again after over half a decade of being separated from my second hometown.

Despite Parisians often being criticised for their demeanour, I couldn't complain about their behaviour during my time there, and I already knew that the locals in Avignon are incredibly amicable from my previous time there.

Of course, I can't learn French again. However, if you have been giving it some thought, you shouldn't delay any further. French is widely taught across the world and holds an important level of prestige amongst a number of international bodies including the UN and the EU. If the job prospects aren't enough to convince you, then you should consider that French just sounds awesome!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Country Profile: Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In this week's country profile, we're focusing on the languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (which we'll refer to as "the DRC" to make things easier) is the second largest country in Africa, and is home to over 77 million people who speak a total of over 200 different languages.

The Official Language

The official language of the DRC is French, the most important of the country's two former colonial languages, the other being Dutch. French was selected as the country's official language because it was considered to be a neutral language that would not favor any of the indigenous ethnic groups.

The DRC has the second largest Francophone population in the world after France, with approximately 28 million speakers. The language is widely used in areas of life such as secondary education, and is also an important lingua franca used to facilitate communication between the speakers of the DRC's four national languages.

A lava lake that existed for decades at Mount Nyiragongo,
a volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The National Languages

There are four official national languages in the DRC: Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba, and Swahili. All four are Bantu languages, which is a branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Most children in the DRC are educated in the Bantu language native to their region in primary school, and then switch to the French language for further instruction.

Lingala is primarily spoken in northwestern areas of the DRC, as well as much of the neighboring Republic of the Congo. It has approximately 5.5 million native speakers worldwide, with around 7 million people in the DRC speaking it as a second language.

Kikongo, also known as Kongo, is also widely spoken by people residing in the tropical forests of west central Africa. Kituba, a creole based on Kikongo, is used throughout the region as an important lingua franca, especially in urban areas. The Swahili language is another important lingua franca in this region, as well as throughout larger sections of Africa. Finally, there is Tshiluba, which has around 6 million native speakers, primarily in the Kasai region of the DRC.

Other Languages

Several other languages are spoken in the DRC by smaller numbers of speakers. Most of these are Bantu languages such as Mongo, Nande, Chokwe, Lunda, Budza, Tetela, and Kilega. The Lendu and Mangbetu languages also have some speakers residing in the DRC, and are thought to be members of the Nilo-Saharan language family.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Get It Right: Rite, Right, and Write

For those of you who speak English natively or at a very high level, this post may seem almost pointless. However, for those learning English, and a few of you who are a bit fast and loose with your spelling, this is a very important lesson.

If you've read our other Get It Right posts, you´re probably aware that we're slowly but surely working our way through some of the most common mistakes made in the English language. Today we're looking at three homophones: rite, right, and write.


We'll start with the most obscure of the three: rite. The term has a number of definitions, mostly pertaining to religious uses. As a type of religious act, the word made its way into Middle English from the Latin term ritus. In addition to its religious connotations, its meaning has also expanded to include social customs and other secular practices such as "funeral rites".


In addition to being the opposite direction of left, right can act as a noun, adjective, adverb, and noun. Generally speaking, the term can either refer to the direction, that which is morally approved or correct, an entitlement to do something, or to correct something.

Before pens, feathers were used to write.

The last of our three homophones today is write, the verb for marking the letters or characters of a language onto a surface. It is also used to describe the act of arranging words, as an author would do with a book, even if they aren't physically writing and are instead using a computer or even dictating their story to someone who is.


As a little treat and to make matters more confusing, we also have wright, a term that is very occasionally used in Scotland and Northern England. The term refers to someone who makes something for a living, particularly a carpenter or a joiner. However, you´re more likely to recognise the word as a common surname.

Well, we hope you've learned something today. If there are any terms you often struggle with in the English language, tell us about them in the comments and we'll try to get around to helping you get it right!