Wednesday, 5 June 2013

arrested devanagari

In one of the episodes of the new Arrested Development (the one where Tobias goes to India), we can see an authentic Indian airport, straight from Google Translate:
बाॅब होप हवाई अड्डे - "Bob Hope airport". It suffers from a rendering problem - the last vowel diacritic is hanging in space.

 There's another sign that's clear enough to read:
 टर्मिनल बी - "terminal B". The vowel diacritic is misplaced, probably because of a rendering problem. (Language Log has a detailed description of the issue.) And why not conjoin some letters once in a while?

 From the same episode:
निराशा अस्पता के सिटी "city of hopelessness hospital" - there's a letter missing, it should be अस्पताल. And why transliterate "city" instead of using the Hindi word शहर?

I need to find a name for this phenomenon, where software renders a script infelicitously, and no one knows enough about the script to fix it. These signs only appear for seconds on the screen, so it's not a big deal. When it happens in government publications or posters it's a bigger deal.


ambarish said...

I'm no Hindi expert, but the word for airport used "हवाई अड्डे" sounds like the oblique case; the direct case would be "हवाई अड्डा"

One other example of this phenomenon is in the old Wikipedia logo. Here is LanguageLog's take:

goofy said...

Yes, it is the oblique case. I'm not sure why.

The problem with the old Wikipedia logo is exactly the same problem that the "Terminal B" sign has.

Unknown said...

Hi ,

A lot is made of the vowel diacritic being misplaced .But it not really such a problem.Usually while writing Hindi one does not make sure that it is aligned perfectly and you have them flying all over the place.

In Image 1) it is OK to have the the last vowel diacritic in अड्डे(course it should be अड्डा as it is singular)misplaced.That being said, this is a painted sign and one would expect the painter to make it neat.

Image 2) the direction of the vowel diacritic does matter as in the good old Wikipedia icon problem and here the sign is clearly wrong.

Image 3)It is pretty common in Indian Signs to have English words rendered in the Devanagari script.
That being said there are so many things that are wrong with the translation that I'm not sure where to begin. :)
The sign as it is in the image now reads 'Hopelessness hospital's city '( as in बाॅब िडलन के गाने - Bob Dylan's songs) .'City of hopelessness hospital' should be translated as 'निराशा सिटी अस्पताल'.

goofy said...

Thanks for your comments!

I know it's common for Hindi signs to contain English words. I'm just curious why.

Unknown said...

Many reasons one could think of:
1)The colonial heritage.
2)Hindi and the languages that it is derived from are not modern languages and there are no words for modern world stuff.For ex there is no word for 'Electronics' so it is rendered directly in Hindi as इलेक्ट्रानिक. :)
3)In this case of course there is a simple translation for city .However the tendency when translating a word like 'New York City' is generally just to render directly in Devanagari न्यू यॉर्क सिटी ..rather than translate the last word as शहर..which kind of make sense I guess.

Anyway all this makes the real sign boards pretty interesting in India :)

goofy said...

2) I don't buy it. All languages are equally modern. There's nothing stopping Hindi speakers from making Indic-derived words for modern inventions. Anyway, English has no native word for "electronics" either - it's borrowed from Latin.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Yes there is nothing stopping them , but then again there is nothing forcing them too.
Consider your (true) claim that electronics is derived from latin .That could make a latin guy wonder , why do English speaking people not come up with a old norse/Germanic derived words for the same.But then again english does derive partly from romance languages and also the word ( electricity) was coined in England itself when the english science community was carrying out their business in Latin.

Now in India , due to the colonial heritage a lot of education and almost all higher education and technical discourse happens in English , so there is just no motive to come up with indic words for stuff that they already understand in English .

There is no word for 'train' in hindi , and yes there is none in English too ( in the strict sense).But that doesn't make people wonder why it is so in English.Maybe the assimilation happened too far back for it to jar.In Hindi , its relatively recent.

goofy said...

I agree, that's a good comment. My only contention was that it has nothing to do with the age of the Hindi language. English is just as old as Hindi. It has to do with the when the colonization happened; in India it happened more recently.

goofy said...

Unknown, I'm not sure what the difference is between Hopelessness hospital's city and City of hopelessness hospital.