Monday, December 7, 2009

My language - your language

I'm in the early stages of a CRAZILY-deadlined project overseeing and administering the translation of 200+ pages (60 individual documents) into 16 languages, which I will then collate into one document per language. By January 4th.

I've received 1 document so far in each language. For the math challenged (like me with my handy behind-the-scenes calculator), this is 3200 pages. (Plus 200 more in English). Which I will gather, validate, collate, index, hyperlink, and distribute. In 27 days. 8 of which are weekend days and 4 of which are American holidays.

Anybody who has worked this kind of project can perhaps appreciate the level of insanity this is inspiring in me. And the way in which I'm kissing spending any quality holiday time with my family goodbye.

However, since this is a technical writing blog, I'll suppress my inner horrors and ask just the wordnerd question:

When working with English-to-XXX languages (European, African, Asian, SE Asian, and so forth), what sources have you/do you look to for advice in order to create the most impactful, culturally appropriate (in format) technical work?

At this point, I'm relying on my experience performing this same task for Western European language translations, and I'm trying to self-educate on how to make these documents most useful for Asian, Cyrillic and Central European readers as well. Times 17.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

He Read/She Read Review of The PowWow Highway

I originally wrote this review for the (now defunct?) He Read/She Read series by Jim Styro. Full review and site here - and I recommend Jim's review, which is far more throughtful than mine for this very good novel.

(Disclaimer: Fortunately for me, Jim Styro is not my boss. Because he would fire me. Unfortunately for Jim Styro, re-reading a book I read in college apparently triggered some of my latent deadline avoidance. Jim, I owe you beer and/or many other beverages. And this apologetic, very much not-on-time review.)

Powwow Highway is a book I loved in college. LOVED. And re-reading it, I think my LOVE has maybe turned to ~love~. BUT it's still a very worth-it novel set in a realistic, if difficult, world on the borders of my own.

Superficially, Powwow Highway is a familiar caper/road-to-redemption/endearing-cons-triumph-over-the-man story. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid...If Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid were two somewhat life-battered American Indians on a road trip to rescue a drug-dealing damsel in distress - and her kids - in a burnt-out car full of beer, porn, and marijuana. And if they spent their road trip getting high and drunk, committing larceny, pissing off some white people, and taking a number of detours - both literal and metaphysical - on the road to heroism.

The main characters are reservation Cheyennes in the 1970's, and their experiences of poverty, tragedy, history, mysticism, casual sense of oppression (and anger at same) are core to the story, but difficult for me, a middle-class, middle-aged white woman, to observe without occasional, subjective little fusspot asides, like: a) bad personal accounting! and b) random-ass-kicking! and c) drug use! while driving!! and d) child neglect!!! But it also appeals to my rebel level. And my spiritual quest level. And even my romantic level. (I'm like an onion that way...)

The book centers around Philbert, the sweet heart (and, I guess, eventually the "sweetheart") of the novel. Philbert is an overweight, methodical, traditional young Cheyenne. A little drunk. A little gullible. And Buddy, an intense, well-educated, passionate, angry Vietnam vet who is the golden boy of their tribe. Together, Philbert and Buddy take off with some "borrowed" tribal council money in Philbert's battle-scarred Buick to bail Buddy's sister Bonnie from jail and rescue her kids, Sky and Jane. (And then get themselves back to Indian land when things go, as they will in this kind of tale, crazily, chaotically awry).

Most of the book takes place on the roads which loosely, meanderingly connect Lame Deer, Montana to Santa Fe, NM. Or, at least, in the effort of transition from one place to another. As a former road-tripper, I found myself captivated by Seals' demonstration of how a destination is only one of the places a journey may take you, even as I recognize the overuse of that metaphor. But, as with powerful folklore, sometimes a strong metaphor is part of the pleasure and familiarity of the story. And stylistically the book is laid out as a series of folklore vignettes: (The Origin of the Pony, The Warriors find the Princess).

There's a moment in the book which is simultaneously gorgeous, passionate, completely spiritual, and totally vulgar: On the way to New Mexico, Philbert ends up detouring into South Dakota to a mountain which holds special religious significance to the Cheyenne. Philbert climbs the butte, gasping and marvelling at the world and struggling his way to an epiphany, and then masturbates into the dirt in a sort-of blissed-out spiritual consummation with the earth. It's a great scene, and is the site of Philbert's rebirth as a stronger, more self-confident man. (But also, you know...sperm!) But I love it for the way in which it marries the crass and physical with the sublime and esoteric, and that, more than any other scene, has stayed with me over the years. Plus Philbert is just an endearing bear of a character.

All the players find haven at the end of the trip (and occasionally along the way). And resolution, at least of a kind. It's worth the time. And although there are other, slightly more mainstream and equally brilliant Native American authors (tip hat to my secret boyfriend, Sherman Alexie), I think David Seals is a master and have always been very sad that he only has the two books (this and a semi-sequel called "Sweet Medicine") which can be easily purchased. (Wikipedia lists a few more, but I can't find them for sale anywhere).
I guess this is as good a place as any to note that this is a PROFANE book. I'd forgotten just how much. Sweet, and surprisingly touching, but maybe not meant to read aloud to your grandmother (or, since I don't know your grandmother - not to mine).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mice, lice, rice, blouses, houses, spouses, ice

Why is this?

Some grammar rules are easy to explain to my 5-year-old.

Some are not.

This one is not:

Mouse x 2 = mice
Louse x 2 = lice
Blouse x 2 = blouses
House x 2 = houses
Spouse x 2 = spouses
ice/ice = ice
rice/rice = rice

Why? Is it because typically there is never a single ice/ouse?

Or that most commonly people aren't afflicted with a multitude of hice or spice, but have just one?

Is the "ice" plural used only for the animate? Because my spouse = totally animate.

If you double-douse someone, you usually haven't diced them. At least not simultaneously.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Intent and Tone

Right now, I'm a Policy and Procedure writer.

Usually my work is more focused on training in some capacity, but I'm enjoying the pace shift.

Writing for this particular large, sports-industry corporation, I'm in a unique position, in that my work affects a lot of employees globally.

As I sit in meetings every day, I'm faced with a perpetual, interesting-possibly-only-to-me dilemma: what is the corporate INTENT when writing Human Resources Policies? And how do I use the right tone to reflect that intent?

Are Policy & Procedures meant to be PUNITIVE ("Do XXX, or face these consequences")?

Or RESPECT-BUILDING ("We expect XXX in order to uphold corporate integrity. Failure to comply may affect business and will result in consequences to employees.")?

Generally, I'd say that my job is for a company whose corporate lifestyle is so clearly NOT punitive. For example, my spacious cubicle is built from bamboo and rice paper, the campus is surrounded by acres of woodlands, and my (company lunchroom) meals are fresh and organic.

And also generally, I'd say I'm more of the Respect-Building school, and - as an employee - appreciate the softened, conspire-for-success tone.

But no matter what the corporate lifestyle is, do people, generally (aka you, 4 readers), want policies which are plain:
(Policy/Punitive response to failure)
OR softened:
(Policy phrased respectfully/Reasons for policy/Consequences of failure)?

Which is really a rabbit hole of political correctness (or touchy-feeliness) vs. old-school transparency (and bluntness).

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Today in Time, I read an article using the phrase "the data are inconclusive".

Which sounds incorrect to my ear. Even though I know it is technically and theoretically correct, I think this is a case where colloquial usage (singular) has superseded traditional grammar rules (plural).

Were I writing this phrase, I would always say "the data is inconclusive".

In the stricter echelons of grammarians, this is a particularly nasty piece of heresy. Grammar anarchy! Rrawr!

Which brings up another question:

"Day-tuh"? or "Dah-tuh"?

I find that I've adapted to the more common day-tuh over time, particularly as I spend so much of my time working with software engineers who, most often, say day-tuh.

My inclination, however, is that dah-tuh is more correct.

And singular.

Friday, September 25, 2009


When a parking spot is labeled "COMPACT", is it Informative ("I am a small parking space"), or Instructive ("This parking spot is meant for small cars")?

I have an opinion, but am actually unclear as to public intent.