The Null Device

Cookies, caches and cows

There's a piece in The Economist on the challenges of translating technological terms into minority languages, particularly ones whose speakers have lived traditional agricultural/fishing lifestyles until very recently, where the vocabulary tends to be more concrete and specific, and finding local words for new technical concepts requires some uses of poetic metaphor:
Ibrahima Sarr, a Senegalese coder, led the translation of Firefox into Fulah, which is spoken by 20m people from Senegal to Nigeria. “Crash” became hookii (a cow falling over but not dying); “timeout” became a honaama (your fish has got away). “Aspect ratio” became jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven. In Malawi’s Chichewa language, which has 10m speakers, “cached pages” became mfutso wa tsamba, or bits of leftover food. The windowless houses of the 440,000 speakers of Zapotec, a family of indigenous languages in Mexico, meant that computer “windows” became “eyes”.
Of course, the other alternative would be just to use loanwords from English (or some other common vehicular language), possibly adapting them to the grammar of the language, which apparently ends up happening informally a lot of the time.

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