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Translation in Wikimedia Projects

One of the sessions I attended at Wikimania was Translation in Wikimedia Projects by Aphaia and Arria Belli. I knew Arria through Wikimedia Commons where she is a cheerful and helpful admin.

This session had two parts. In the first, Aphaia talked about the challenges in “official translation” (translating foundationwiki & official information, esp. for community elections, also Commons documentation and POTY information; software translation would have been covered by Gerard), and Arria talked about her experience in the informal “content translation”: where contributors create or improve articles by translating articles from other language projects.

This is undoubtedly a huge kind of undercurrent of activity within Wikimedia. There are no estimates anywhere about how much of this kind of work is done, how it is carried out, what role it tends to play in a young vs older project, how such material is treated by other project contributors, etc etc….

Open Translation Tools (google cache) was an event held in Zagreb, Croatia in December 2007. It was all about open source translation tools and just completely and utterly the kind of event that we (Wikimedia) should have had a presence at. We are probably – are there any other contenders? – the largest informal translation network and community on the web. Or ever in existence? There is no doubt that “the wiki way” of translating permanently unfinished works is a new era for the world of translation.

And yet we are hampered by poor tools that lead to awkward methodology relying on manual maintenance. No wonder we can’t keep track of what we’re doing.

Anyway, Arria surveyed some of Wikimedia’s “underground translators” to find out what they do, how they do it and why. I love surveys :) so here’s some of my favourite charts cherry-picked from her presentation. I think there were around 50-60 respondents in total. (Full set of questions is on meta)


How long have you been translating on Wikipedia? Well, if you’re responding to a survey on a mailing list, it’s not a surprise that you’ve been around Wikimedia for a fair while.


What languages do you translate from? Looks like roughly half of article translation is EN->other, and half is other->other or other->EN.


How do you choose the articles you translate? Most people use more than one method, and while “by interest” is unsurprisingly high, the cumulative popularity of the other reasons is good to see — that’s the “altruism bug” that Wikipedians get, where you suddenly find yourself researching and writing articles on topics you have never had an interest in, just because someone listed it on a TODO list somewhere, and you like helping tick things off. :)


Have you ever translated text in images? Nearly half said “yes” which is great. I hope all translators are aware of the excellent SVG Translate tool, which hides all the scary image-file part of the translating.


Have you translated at your real life job? About a third said yes, which is not too surprising — multilingual people are just so useful. :) It’s not clear how many of those are people employed as translators, although I’m guessing not nearly as many (if, in fact, any).

Surveying people: fun, easy, interesting and useful! Try it today. :)

Arria also showed off the Cross Lingual Wiki Engine demo screencast of TikiWiki. (It is mentioned here that they aim to extend this capability to Twiki and MediaWiki too, although I don’t know of any work that’s been done for it for MW.)

Looking to the future, I was very pleased to read this week that a MediaWiki extension called Translate is being developed. I think this will be basically for the “official translation” side of things.

Coming up in about a month, too, is WikiSym, which is having a Babel Wiki Workshop. Now if we Wikimedians don’t have some people at that, it will be quite criminal.

Some useful links for further exploration:

03 August, 2008 • , ,

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Blog memes in translation

I discovered today that my post Templatology, an essay was partially translated, commented-on and adapted to the situation of the Spanish Wikipedia, by Drini: Templatología (versión eswiki). Even the screenshots are of the Spanish Wikipedia! Now that’s nice. :)

That we can have this kind of “cross-stream” communication between the different flavours of Planet Wikimedia (currently ar, en, de, pl, pt, ru and zh) is really lovely. (…eh! there is no Spanish one yet. Is there only Drini, then?)

The idea of learning from one another (as in the various wiki communities), while widely agreed to be a good one, is not often seen in practice. It has not worked well on meta or mailing lists. I wonder if it has a chance in the blogosphere? It will likely suffer from the same problem as in other venues – bilingual people have better things to do than constantly translate for lazy bloody monolinguals! :)

Wiki borrowing, on the other hand, is widespread (userboxes are like a virulent virus — Template:Userbox lists no less than eight interwiki links (and likely more that are unlinked exist). The concept gets borrowed, but I wonder if fall-out from the original conflict is absorbed, dully repeated, or not even an issue. Probably all three situations exist, for different kinds of borrowing.

Translation is such a fascinating practice. I wonder if sometimes skilled bilingual speakers get tired of being treated as translation engines. I suppose they can stick to a monolingual community if it is too annoying.

At its worst, the task of translation can be dull and mechanical — I have seen known mistakes faithfully transcribed, rather than corrected in the original (and yes, on a wiki!) — but at its best it is a seamless, creative and thoughtful work of art, no less effort than creating the original and sometimes, maybe more effort. For functional type text that I usually deal with (help texts), it tends closer to the mechanical than creative.

One of my favourite things about Wikimedia Commons is that it is multilingual — or rather, tries to be. It is really a joyful thing when you create a help text, for example, and notice translations spring up from unknown souls, unbidden. It is a small thing that usually no one asked the writer to do, and usually no one thanked them when it was complete. To see such a red link turn blue reminds me that I am part of a diverse world-wide community committed to the Wikimedia mission. Such reminders are heartening and make it easier to assess petty and unimportant issues for what they are.

If you are bilingual and are interested in regularly, or irregularly, summarising or translating content from one of the non-English Wikimedia planets, please leave a comment or contact me – I would love to help set up a blog for that, or have such posts on my own blog.

26 March, 2008 • , ,

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Free content roundup, 2007-12-18

Well, news is creating itself faster than one can write it down within Wikimedia at the moment, but I have no interesting comments to make yet so here are some pointers to interesting free content stuff happening elsewhere.

18 December, 2007 • ,

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wikimedia commonswikipedialinkscommunitymediawikiconferenceslinux.conf.auwmfcreative commonswikimaniapoty2008australiawikimedia chapterswikimedia australiavideo
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free culture

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