Translating Web Apps into Urdu

Urdu language was born out of several languages. Mainly it borrowed its vocabulary from Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian (Farsi), Turkish, and Arabic. Urdu is extremely flexible in adapting words from other languages. For example, currently in every day Urdu language, as well as Urdu literature, words from Western languages are commonly used. Words like editor, president, university, college, school, and many others, are commonly used and understood.

The reason that why several literary giants, newspapers, and educational experts, prefer to use English words instead of finding their Urdu replacement, is simply because Urdu is not designed to invent or make words up as you go. When you are finding a translation for a word like University in Urdu, you are basically looking for a word from any of the Urdu’s parent languages such as (Arabic, Turkish, Sanskrit, Farsi, etc). These other words are not as commonly spoken as the original English language word, hence trying to translate these words into Urdu is basically an attempt to make Urdu a much less practical language.

Urdu is a very practical language, mainly because it can swiftly and smoothly accommodate new words. Let’s take a look at some examples. I was looking at how some people are trying to translate Facebook. There was this phrase:

{name1} shared {=a link}.

Some suggested translations for this sentence were:


‎{name1}‎‏ نے ‎{=a link}‎‏ بانٹا۔

‎{name1}‎‏ نے ‎{=a link}‎‏ کی تشہیر کی۔

‎{name1}‎‏ نے ‎{=a link}‎‏ کا اشثراک کیا۔

‎{name1}‎‏ نے ‎{=a link}‎‏ مشترک کیا ہے۔

For any Urdu speaking Facebook user, these words make no sense. Simply because Sharing is a web feature, Facebook users associate this with a feature provided by the Facebook. This feature is common in thousands of other web applications, and every Urdu speaking internet user knows what sharing means. Insisting on translating this into a Urdu word would cause confusion.

Since there is no organization or authority that can validate and recommend people to stick to one word for a web feature, and since translating web applications has been democratized, translators are going to submit multiple translations for each sentence.

Now let’s take a look at who is actually translating web apps into Urdu? These are usually people who self-driven and motivated to keep their language alive on the web. Many of these users think that translating means they should literally translate everything, even if translating means rendering the web app practically useless for the average user. This means that there is a much greater chance of Facebook starting using sentence:

‎{name1}‎‏ نے ‎{=a link}‎‏ بانٹا۔

For an average Urdu speaking Facebook user, this sentence is not only incorrect, but it is also confusing, and they would find it hard to guess whether it is the same sharing feature or something else. Same goes for the rest of the translations. The most accurate, user-friendly, and ideal translation for the sentence would be:

‎{name1}‎‏ نے ‎{=a link}‎‏ شیئر کیا

In this sentence the word Share is written as it is in Urdu alphabet, making it easy to understand, user-friendly and practical.

I believe that there is no need to reinvent words that are part of the lives of Urdu speaking internet users. Words such as copy, paste, submit, email, web page, and many others are part of our every day lives where we use them in our every day Urdu fluently and with in context. These words are understood, recognized and are already part of the vocabulary. I feel that our fear of importing too much Western words into language are baseless and unrealistic. Trying to combat this battle will drive people away from using Urdu on their web applications.

If we just want to translate web applications that no one will use, then sure go a head, use alien-sounding, Persian and Arabic words for common tasks, functions and features. But if we want people to use web applications in Urdu then we must make translations smooth, fun, easy and practical.

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