Language

The Rise of the Machines

The Rise of the Machines 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

If you’re fond of ’80s movies, chances are you’ve seen what they envisioned the 2010s to look like: full of hovercrafts, futuristic cities, and murderous robot machines. For better or worse, none of those things have become commonplace yet, but we are making strides in the technology department. The self-driving car will soon be commercially available, and our lives are very much devoted to smartphones and the Internet.

Speech Recognition

But why are we so behind on speech recognition? This is a hugely debated topic in the transcription and translation industries, as many don’t want their jobs to become obsolete. Though while that is a worry, the ability for a machine to accurately transcribe or translate will provide cheap access to many who need language services, which would be a huge step forward.

The problem is that language is so, so difficult (especially English) in so many ways. It may seem like speech recognition should be easy to develop, but just think about an elderly person having a conversation with a pre-teen. Even if they’re both speaking English, it can sometimes feel like conversations between two different worlds due to how quickly language evolves, context, and speaking styles.

Machines have this same problem. While we are extremely close to machines being able to understand monotonous, clear English spoken by a single speaker, problems arise when you have recordings with groups of people (which is what we specialize in).

Where Machines Fail

Here’s an example: a market research company is holding a 10-person focus group with folks who do speak English but aren’t native speakers. The group is comprised of teenagers from the rural south. So that’s 10 people, many talking over each other at certain points, who don’t speak English well, use regional dialect, and also use many newly-created words. That’s hard enough for a human to transcribe. But for machines, at this time, it’s not possible to achieve anywhere near 100% accuracy.

In the future, this will likely be solved in some technical way that my non-scientific brain cannot fathom. When it does, Atomic Scribe will evolve, just as language does. For now, it’s best to use human-powered services if you’re looking for accuracy. The rise of the machines will have to wait just a little bit longer.

Why Businesses Should Translate Their Materials

Why Businesses Should Translate Their Materials 2500 1668 Atomic Scribe

Anyone who works with a business knows there are countless numbers of written materials they look over in the course of a day. There’s emails, web sites, reports, contracts, orders, marketing materials, social media, articles, and so much more.

But in the United States, these materials are usually exclusively in English, even though we’re living through a period of non-English language growth that will only increase in the future. That’s millions of consumers businesses might not be reaching.

Increased Reach

It’s imperative to be able to reach as many people as you can with your business. So instead of waiting for a huge percentage of the population to learn English, isn’t it more efficient to translate your materials into popular languages? And since many non-native speakers have difficulty even if they do become proficient in English (let’s face it, English is difficult!), most are more comfortable reading materials in their primary language anyway.

Studies show that 75% of consumers in non-English countries prefer purchasing from sites in their native language, and a whopping 60% say they never or rarely bought from English-only sites. Those are huge numbers.

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Online Presence

So what should you translate? Well, your web site is a good start, as it’s usually the first impression a consumer will have of your business. Glaring mistakes from Google Translate or cheap agencies will also be noticed and can impact credibility, so make sure to use a high-quality service.

It may be beyond your budget to translate all your social media into other languages, but you could occasionally translate some of your tweets or Facebook posts. Likewise, blog posts in other languages will bring more people to your site and allow you to impart your business message to millions more. Remember that consumers don’t Google only in English.

One-Time Cost

Translation is just a one-time cost. You pay once, and then you can disseminate those materials to however many people you want for as long as you want. And by translating your materials into Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, German, and other popular business languages, you’re reaching more people, thereby increasing your sales and likely making back your translation investment quickly. Don’t delay and improve your reach today!

The Seri Language: Recent Growth Against the Odds

The Seri Language: Recent Growth Against the Odds 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

The Seri language is spoken by the Seri people in northwestern Mexico, in two small communities along the Gulf of California. It has no known related language, and a written alphabet was not published until the 1950s.

In contrast to most languages with few speakers, the Seri language has actually grown over the last century. While there were believed to be just 200 Seri people in the 1920s, as of 2015 it is estimated that there are between 600 and 1,000 native speakers.

No known language that exists still today is related to Seri, making it an isolated language. Some have theorized it is a part of the Hokan language family, though this has been rebuffed by scholars who see few links between the languages.

Language Complexity

The isolation has made Seri a fascinating language. It is comprised of 18 consonants and eight vowels, and it has a very large lexicon. Kinship, for example, has over 50 primary terms, making it one of the most extensive lexicons in any language in the world.

Another complexity is the use of plurals. Explained by Stephen A. Marlett in the Journal of the Southwest:

“Unlike languages that either do not have any indicator of number (some Zapotec languages in Oaxaca, for example), or just add the suffix –m to the noun (as some neighboring Uto-Aztecan languages in Sonora, such as Yaqui), or usually add –s (like English), Seri flourishes here. In fact, every noun and verb has to have its plural listed in the dictionary because one simply has to learn it.

In Seri, one could ask for a couple of dozen words at random and never see a common way for plurals to be formed. Verbs are similar in that they have different forms depending on whether the action was done by one person or more than one, and whether the action was repeated or not repeated (roughly speaking). And these forms display about the same kind of complexity as the nouns.”

Eclectic Serian Expressions

Seri also has some truly great expressions. From National Geographic, one such example is “Miixöni quih zó hant ano tiij?” which translates to “Where is your placenta buried?” The phrase is meant to ask where someone is from, as before hospital births the Seri people would bury the afterbirth in the ground and mark the burial spot, never forgetting where it lay.

Want to learn more about the Seri language? A good place to start is Marlett’s article, which looks at the phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon of the language. The Summer Institute of Linguistics in Mexico also has a good list of resources on the small, yet extensive language.

We Are Still Here: The Yuchi Language Project

We Are Still Here: The Yuchi Language Project 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

Yuchi (Euchee) is a unique language spoken by the Yuchi people, who were forcibly relocated from Tennessee, Georgia and other neighboring states to Oklahoma in the 1800s. As of 2014, the number of first-language Yuchi speakers has dwindled to just four, and all of those speakers are above the age of 80.

A Unique Language

Yuchi is a fascinating language. It is not known to be related to any other language on the planet, and there was no written alphabet until the 1970s. There are 49 phonetic sounds (38 consonant sounds and 11 vowel sounds), which is twice the number of most Indigenous languages from the Southeast.

It also has different speeches for males and females, and today the number of first-language male speakers is down to only one. From Yuchi.org:

“The language more than has gender – in fact it is very nearly two different languages – a men’s speech and a women’s speech. The way something is said in these two variations is often quite different. Further, Yuchean not only has tenses, but it varies its structure according to whether a Yuchi is talking or a non-Yuchi is talking, preserving contexts of time and circumstance. All these variations can add a number of complicating layers to the grammar and the effort needed to master it.”

Efforts to Save Yuchi

The short documentary above is a beautiful look at how the community is attempting to keep the language alive by fully immersing young people in the language at the Euchee Language Project in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Also of interest is their site dedicated to the non-profit, where you can donate, listen to audio and learn more about the Yuchi language.

“What we want, what we need in our communities, what our goal is, is to keep alive our languages so our young people will have breath-to breath knowledge of their traditions, of their ceremonies, of their medicines, of the stars.” – Dr. Richard Grounds
As they say, ÔnzO yUdjEha gO’wAdAnA-A n@wadOnô – “Our Yuchi language will not die.”