Translink Languages.

Frequent commenter Hans wrote me about Vancouver’s “excellent public transportation system” TransLink:

I’ve subscribed to Translink’s news bulletin. In their last update, they included this link to the list of languages they do customer service in. They claim “over 300” in the bulletin, but the list only has ca. 120, with some double-counting because some are spoken on more than one continent. It also has a “I speak X” entry next to the name of the language, so if you ever need to say “I speak Oromo” in Oromo, you can look that up here.

Needless to say, I approve, and not only do they have pretty obscure languages like Dinka and Oromo, they separate Portuguese from Portuguese (Azores) and even have a language I’d never heard of, Chittagonian (“mutually intelligible with Rohingya and to a lesser extent with Noakhailla”). Good for them!


  1. Christopher says

    Note that these services are provided by a private company called MCIS language solutions.

    Call my cynical, but I do wonder how it actually works in the practice. I assume that for many of those languages, you’ll be waiting for some time before you get a translator, and maybe just talking in broken English might be faster and more convenient.

  2. Sadly, you’re probably right.

  3. I never needed the translation service, obviously, But my experience with Translink services is quite good in general, so I wouldn’t doubt the quality of this specific one only because it’s outsourced. Maybe next time I go there I’ll call them and test – well, maybe not their Oromo, but their German or Russian 🙂

  4. Do it, and report back!

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    The Welsh version is that kind of peculiar animal that one only ever sees in contexts like this (nobody actually says “rwyf.” Par for the course, though.

    Of the absence of Kusaal I shall not speak. I will simply nod sorrowfully at the ways of this sad sublunar sphere as I dream of a better.

    The Hausa given there actually means “I understand Hausa.” That is the usual way you would normally convey that you (potentially can) speak Hausa, though (ji means “hear.”) It’s misspelt (should be Ina ji Hausa) though very possibly misspelt by an actual speaker, as that is in fact how it’s pronounced, more or less, at least in Kano.

    In the same way, “I speak Twi” should really be expressed as Mete Twi “I hear (i.e. understand) Twi.” This is a West African areal thing (thus M wʋm Kʋsaal, not M pian’adnɛ Kʋsaal “I am speaking Kusaal”, an utterance liable to elicit the Kusaal equivalent of “Duh!”)

    Got to admire them for trying, though.

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    According to the link in the OP, speakers of Chittagonian are commonly afflicted by what the producers of the relevant wikipedia article think is the delusion that they are speaking Bengali, or at least some regional version thereof. It is not surprising that a language not identified as such by its own speakers would have a fairly low profile …

    Also, I want some Lusophone to call and get the “regular” Portuguese interpreter but then after a sentence or two say the equivalent of “I can’t quite make out what you’re saying, man. Can you transfer me to the Azores-specific translator?” Although in light of a prior threat maybe their Celtic-speaking staff should include both a “Donegal Irish” option and a non-Donegal option?

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    The NYC metro area’s public transit agency offers translations of certain English-language documents into a mere eight other languages here: But maybe there are more available orally on a custom-order basis. I think I have seen (generally temporary) signage in the subway system in at least seven of those eight languages, and I think I’ve read that one of their when’s-the-next-train-arriving apps you can download to your smartphone is available in at least one language (Yiddish) outside that eight.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Given the Danish-like qualities of European Portuguese in particular, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Azores version is easier to understand.

    Or even harder.

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve long felt that spoken Portuguese is basically a conspiracy to hide a fairly mainstream Romance language in plain sight. Or plain hearing. Whatever. (They haven’t gone to the extreme lengths that the French have, though.)

  10. Indeed, one of the Ecolinguist videos I mentioned on the other thread had a Z-language of Galician and A-, B-, and C-languages of Brazilian, Azorean, and European Portuguese. I couldn’t see that any of them were any better or worse at understanding Galician, though.

  11. David Eddyshaw says

    Now I think of it, the Hausa should actually be Ina jin Hausa. Clearly, insufficient pedantry has been deployed by the translation service. (But not everybody can talk “like a Kano donkey”, as the proverb goes. I think my old interpreter in Nigeria would probably have rebuked me here for using the correct form instead of talking like a proper foreigner. He didn’t like it when I used the correct grammatical gender, instead of ignoring such things like an L2 speaker should. In Ghana we said Nna zi Hausa anyway, and everybody was happy. Ghanaians don’t get uptight about these things.)

  12. I conversely did not know a language “Rohingya”…

    I of course heard about the people. But I have no idea what dialects they speak:-/

  13. My understanding is that Azorean Portuguese tends to be difficult to understand for speakers from the mainland. I could be wrong but that’s what I’ve gathered from reading comments under Youtube videos.

  14. Zeleny Drak says

    I’m not a native speaker of Portuguese (or any kind of speaker of it), but I have been to the Azores. There is no Azorean Portuguese, there are differences between the islands. Most are perfectly understandable as Portuguese, at least for a foreigner. The one in the largest island, Sao Miguel, is very different. The pronunciation is very different from the other islands and from Mainland Portugal. My brain was hearing French.

  15. I like to enjoy myself pointing out that [kvætagɐ] meangs “what’s that mushroom.” Guess the language. It IS Welsh! (not really). It’s what a hungover person who’s waking up in northwest Greek “Macedonia”, Sowthwest “North Macedonia” or “Pirin Macedonia” says when they wake up and the Shkeme Chorba is vegan — pretty good vegan shkembe chorba recetly, actually

  16. shkembe chorba

    That’s a bunch of tripe.

  17. Well, it was Сирни заговезни the day before yesterday by _some_ particular, rite?

  18. Please tell me you got my attempt at a pun in English :<

    Don't tell me if you did not, obviously.

    EDIT: of if you thought it silly. Do or do not comment in that case, depending on your personal sense of humour and/or how much you hate it.

  19. I think I got the rite pun!

  20. Rite on the button !

  21. mutual intelligibility: do they mean Chittagong / eastern Bengali (e.g. from Dacca streets) or Chittagong / educated Bengali form Calcutta?

  22. JWB, their reference does not claim anything about attitudes of speakers. It says: “Thus the Rajbangsi dialect of the Rangpur District (Bangladesh), and the adjacent Indian Districts of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, has been classed with Bengali because its speakers identify with the Bengali culture and literary language, although it is linguistically closer to Assamese. So has the Chittagong dialect of southeastern Bangladesh, which differs from Standard Bengali more than Assamese itself does”

    The author (Masica) also calls it a Bengali dialect.

  23. Bengali is primarily a cultural descriptor, not a linguistic one.* In fact, I think it is probably a mistake to refer to the most common (?) native language among culturally Bengali peoples using the same word, Bengali. The Bengalis are a multilingual population; many of them speak Assamese languages (“Assamese” normally being used as an explicit contrast with the related-but-clearly-distinct “Bengali” languages). However, I don’t know how much linguistic diversity ethnically and culturally Bengali peoples would actually accept within the “Bengali” identity. For example, could nearby groups who are speakers of non-Eastern-Indo=Aryan* languages really be considered “Bengali”?

    * Note the further irony that the name Bengal is most likely of Dravidian origin. This only serves to make the use of Bengali for a specific subgroup of Indo-Aryan languages seem more inapt.

  24. I just found out there’s a Bengali nationalist movement predating the partition of the Raj last week.

    Brett: “that the name Bengal is most likely of Dravidian origin” but I did not know that.

    EDIT: I seem to recall a discussion here a few months/years ago where someone pointed out that renaming Calcutta was a Modi / BJP / Hindutva pseudo-etymology and its etymology is actually unclear and it was just a small fishing village before the Raj?

    EDIT2: curiously enough, that’s the opposite of the Soviet tendency of renaming names of cities whose names are religious in origin — notable exceptions: they did not rename Sofia, and they did rename Varna “Stalin” for a while, although Varna, AFAIC, is not religious.

  25. Sorry, the the time counter was over — doubly ironic, considering it was Stalin who bombed Varna _before_ declaring war on Bulgaria.

    EDIT (final): (I hope I can link to youtube videos here; if not delete the EDIT, Hat) :

  26. David Marjanović says

    Chemnitz isn’t a religious name either; it was renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt because somebody wanted to name some place after Marx. Maybe it was chosen because it was neither too important nor too unimportant; Marx never went there and has nothing to do with the place.

  27. PlasticPaddy says

    Am 1. Januar 1953 erklärte das Zentralkomitee der SED das neue Jahr zum Karl-Marx-Jahr. Anlässlich seines 135. Geburtstages plante man, den Begründer des wissenschaftlichen Sozialismus mit einer Reihe von Maßnahmen zu ehren….
    An diesem Sonntag [10. Mai 1953] wurden Stadt und Bezirk Chemnitz in Karl-Marx-Stadt umbenannt.

    Dabei war die sächsische Arbeiterstadt allenfalls die dritte Wahl. Ursprünglich war Eisenhüttenstadt dafür vorgesehen, ab 1953 den Namen des großen Theoretikers zu tragen. Doch der Tod des “Vaters aller Werktätigen” im März des Jahres ließ dieses Vorhaben platzen: Aus der ersten sozialistischen Stadt wurde kurzerhand Stalinstadt.
    …Das in der Wunschliste des Zentralkomitees folgende Leipzig blieb durch seine lange Messetradition und die vorgesehene Rolle als Tor zur Welt vor einer Umbenennung verschont, obwohl man auch mutmaßte, dass Walter Ulbricht persönlich den Plan zu Fall brachte, um später selbst Namenspatron seines Geburtsortes zu werden.

    To paraphrase: 1953 was designated Karl Marx Year. Among various honorary measures and on Sunday 10 May 1953 (Marx’s birthday) Chemnitz (city+”county”) was renamed. But Chemnitz was only the third choice; The original candidate Eisenhüttenstadt was renamed instead Stalin, due to his death in March 1953. And Leipzig, the second choice,was considered too famous a “brand”, although some people suspected that Ulbricht vetoed the change, hoping later that his hometown would be renamed in his own honour.

  28. @JWB:
    the nyc city government’s yiddish (on signage, forms, etc) is generally appallingly bad – i don’t have any examples ready to mind, but it’s bad enough that it’s not really possible to tell whether or not they’re even aiming at the hasidic yiddish that’s widely spoken in the city. part of what was so striking about the Times’ yiddish translation of their report on hasidic schools was that it was not just high-quality but aimed at the actual potential hasidic readership (rather than YIVO-oriented academics).

    the Major Western European Powers’ languages seem to get better treatment; i can’t judge beyond that (though i have often wondered if the russian versions are at all tuned towards nyc’s mostly-inorodtsy (and largely ukrainian, central asian, and caucasian) russophone population).

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    @rozele: As I may have mentioned before, my suburban NYC school district has recently become trilingual – with all major emailed communications to parents now being available by default in English, Spanish, and (newcomer) Albanian.* They just announced some sort of anonymous online survey where folks can give feedback on the quality of the district’s communications to relevant constituencies, but the survey is only offered in English and Spanish, meaning it’s not well-calculated to investigate the interesting-to-me question of whether the Albanian translations are done in a way that is actually comprehensible-to-idiomatic to our town’s actual population of LEP Albanophone adults. (I don’t have the impression that we have any material population of Albanianly-surnamed LEP students, but it’s obviously a common pattern for US-born kids to have notably greater fluency than their immigrant parents who may still want to know what’s going on at school.)

    *Example from a recent day when school opening was delayed two hours because of overnight snowfall: “Ju lutemi udhëtoni të sigurt dhe ne mezi presim t’i shohim së shpejti studentët tanë,” which supposedly equates to “Please travel safely and we look forward to seeing our students soon.”

  30. What is known about langauges of Rohingya?

  31. David Marjanović says

    Rohingya language and writing systems.


    I’d be surprised if schoolchildren are called “students” anywhere outside the US and probably Canada. Elsewhere, university is not school, and “student” refers to learners at a university.

  32. Michael Gierhake says

    What’s going on with the Yiddish? ‘Ikh redn’?

  33. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    In Danish, learners at a university are studerende, using the native present participle. Student = ‘graduate of gymnasium’, until then they are elever. (But we still say de bliver studenter since that was the original state of affairs: the gymnasium was strictly preparatory to university. All other courses of education end when de består XXX or de bliver færdige som/med YYY).

    My impression is that Sp estudiante is both ‘pupil’ and ‘student’.

  34. @DM, yes, I read it.
    But are they homogenous?

    What I see in the article looks more like applied rather than descriptive stuff. Existence of a single uniform langauge is implied, I don’t know based on what.
    After all what unites them is that they are Indo-Aryan speakers and Muslims in Arakan – this guarrantees nothing (though yes, our shops sell “Muslim tea”*:-))

    *tea with arabic inscriptions… well, not quite.
    Not just tea imported from an Arabic-speaking country. It is tea styled as arabophone tea. The inscriptions are wishes.

  35. To clarify: on some level Bangladesh speaks Bengali.
    On another level the Chittagong Hill Tracts is a diversity hot-spot and Chittagong itself speaks something that is farther from literary Bengali than Assamese, and Dacca vernacular and Calcutta vernacular and literary Bengali are 3 differen things.
    So it seems the WP article this first level and their references are not entirely descriptive.

    Then there is their horrible situation (which makes one think that the world could be better if states disposed of land as willingly as they dispose of people) and its scholarly extension is the discussion of various migration to and from Aracan. But this is not why I am curious.

  36. David L. Gold says

    “What’s going on with the Yiddish? ‘Ikh redn’?”


    It reads איך רעדן ײדיש, which in romanization is ikh redn yidish.

    For a long time, Google Translate knew no more than one form of Yidish verbs (namely, the infinitive), one form of Yidish nouns (namely, the singular), one form of Yidish adjectives (namely, the uninflected form), and so on.

    “ikh redn yidish” dates to that time: ikh ‘I’ is one variant of the first-person singular subject pronoun (the others of ekh, yakh, and kh’) but redn ‘speak’ is an infinitive here, hence inappropriate.

    The transitive English verb “speak” (being too lazy to learn how to get italics here, I use double quotation marks instead) has two meanings, each of which is expressed by a different verb in Yidish:

    Sense 1 ‘be able to use in speaking’, as in “She speaks Spanish well, some French, and a bit of Italian.”

    Sense 2 ‘use in speaking’, as in “My wife and I speak only Finnish to each other.”

    To express sense 1, Yidish has קאָנען ~ קענען (konen ~ kenen) and to express sense 2, רעדן ~ רײדן (redn ~ reydn).

    The context of “I speak Yiddish” in “HELP IN YOUR LANGUAGE: MCIS LANGUAGE SOLUTIONS” tells us that sense 1 is intended, hence the first-person present-tense singular form of konen or kenen is needed.

    The forms of the Yidish first-person singular subject pronoun are ekh ~ ikh ~ yakh ~ kh’.

    The possibilities are therefore ikh ~ ekh ~ yakh ~ kh’ / kon ~ ken / yidish.

  37. it’s obviously a common pattern for US-born kids to have notably greater fluency than their immigrant parents who may still want to know what’s going on at school

    and having quality multilingual materials takes the pressure of having to be institutional go-betweens off those multilingual kids, which is incredibly important! and not just for the kids’ own sake, though that might be the most ignored part – it’s hard to know that parents are getting the information they need when it’s all passing through a 10-year-old)

    @JWB: and good on your district for getting support out there in a language that’s not high on the usual lists!

  38. I had a classmate in my first year in high school from Kosovo; he was a transfer — his hometown had been bombed to smithereens by the Serbians (Yougoslavs?*) . It was only for a year, or half an year — I don’t really remember. His Bulgarian got quite good in a very short period of time.

    A few years later I was sat next to a couple on a bus and I didn’t recognize their language and I guessed Hungarian. They replied, offended, that it was Albanian.

  39. John Cowan says

    Dangling footnote.

  40. John Cowan: Sorry, I meant to check if it was still called Yugoslavia at that point in time, but it was around the time they changed the name to Serbia and Montenegro, so I don’t really know what it was called at the time.

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