The Story of Human Language

The Story of Human Language

Looking for a good audiobook? If you’re a linguist, you will enjoy The Story of Human Language, a series of captivating lectures by Professor John McWhorter. I’m listening to them for what must the third time. This is durable educational material.

Learn about grammaticalization, language change, dialects, pidgins, creoles, language death, and much more. If you’ve listened to these lecture already, which one did you like the most? What was your favorite insight?

Beware of Contranyms

Contranyms, also known as auto-antonyms, are a linguistic phenomenon that can trip up inexperienced human translators and machine translation systems. What is a contranym?

Contranym: a word with two opposite meanings, e.g. sanction (which can mean both ‘a penalty for disobeying a law’ and ‘official permission or approval for an action’).

Let’s look at some examples:

Clip can mean “attach” or “cut off”.

Ambiguous sentence: “I’m going to clip that.” Are we applying a barrette to hair or trimming a floral arrangement? Or might this refer to making a short video clip?

Dust can mean “to remove dust (cleaning a house)” or “to add dust” (e.g. to dust a cake with powdered sugar).

Ambiguous sentence: “Dust that.” Are we cleaning a shelf or sprinkling powdered sugar on a cake?

Oversight can mean “accidental omission or error”, or “close scrutiny and control”.

Ambiguous sentence: “Their oversight caused delays.” Were the delays caused by an accidental omission or by close scrutiny?

In each instance, context is the key to understanding. An experienced translator will be aware of contranyms in both the source and target languages, and skillfully discern the correct meaning from contextual clues in the surrounding text. What are your favorite contranyms in English or a different language?

Read more about contranyms on Wikipedia.

Localization No-No: Programmatically Constructing Strings

Given my technical specialization, several of my clients are small-to-medium Russian software companies. Asking me to provide an English translation of their apps/services is often their first step toward software localization. In this post, I want to raise awareness about a common localization no-no: programmatically constructing UI strings.

Don’t construct UI strings programmatically

Why is this a problem? When programmers assemble strings programmatically they do not provide translators with the ability to rearrange elements of a string according to the grammatical and stylistic requirements of the target language. Consider this real-world example.

Source provided to translator: “Будет удалено {messagesCount, plural, one {# письмо} few {# письма} other {# писем}} от”

The client takes this string and programmatically generates a UI string by appending an email address, e.g.

  • If messagesCount = 1: “Будет удалено 1 письмо от”
  • If messagesCount = 2: “Будет удалено 2 письма от”
  • If messagesCount = 5: “Будет удалено 5 писем от”

All of this assumes that the email address properly belongs at the end of the string. This assumption is true for Russian, but it is not true for many other languages, including English. This imposes unnecessary limitations on how translators can translate the string, sometimes preventing a correct translation.

The desired English translation in this case is something like “1 message from will be deleted”, but the client’s code always puts the email address at the end of the string. Don’t do this!

If programmatically generated strings are the wrong way, then what’s the right way?

Do use format strings

The correct way is to provide a format string that includes all elements of the UI string: numbers, email addresses, dates, etc. Translators need the ability to rearrange everything as required by the target language.

Correct source string: “Будет удалено %d письмо от %s”

Correct target string: ” 1 message from will be deleted “

Rely on a tech-savvy linguist

Avoid costly localization errors by writing your code in a localization-friendly way. I can help you bring your app and/or website to a wider audience. Get in touch today for a quote.

TM-Town – a new way to find translators

My profile on

I recently polished up my profile on, a platform that connects translators with companies and clients looking for their services.

Finding the right translator

Finding the right translator means finding someone with the relevant subject matter expertise, research skills, language skills, technical skills, and dependability necessary to meet your project’s needs. A translator who is right for one project may not be the right fit for another. In my opinion, you should always find a translator that is native in the target language.

Traditional directory search

You can, of course, find qualified linguists by searching TM-Town’s directory. Various filters are available to narrow your search based on fields of expertise, years of experience, and CAT tools, for example. Here is the listing of Russian to English translators specializing in technical, legal, and financial texts.

Traditional directory listing on TM-Town's website

Nakodo search engine

Nakodo, which means matchmaker in Japanese, is TM-Town’s patent-pending search engine for matching a translator to your content. You submit a representative sample of text to Nakodo, and it tells you which translators have translated content that is most similar to your text, as well as how much similar content they have translated. Here’s an example of search results based on a few paragraphs of text from a sample services contract.

You can see that I have a very high similarity score, while two other linguists have lower similarity scores but higher quantity scores. Try it out for yourself here. You will need to enter the source language and target language, and paste some representative text.

Of course, you can also find the right translator by reading his blog post and perusing his website. 🙂 If I’m the right fit for your translation project, reach out today.

Software localization

Ready to go global with your killer app? I can help. With an educational and professional background in software development, I understand what happens with translated strings once they are passed back to the client and how they are ultimately rendered on a computer screen or smartphone. I am often able to provide insights about how to streamline or improve the localization process, especially for my smaller clients.

Software localization projects

My clients include major Russian software companies in computer security, virtualization, email services, social networking, messaging, forex and cryptocurrencies, test automation, education, video game development, and more.

  • Websites – Extend your reach by creating an English version of your site.
  • User interfaces – For apps and desktop applications, get the right terms for all your interface elements.
  • Documentation – Everything from design docs and technical specifications to help files and API references.
  • Video games – I have translated content for several hidden object games, puzzle games, other casual games, real-time strategy games, and fantasy role-playing games.
  • Linguistic testing – I can review UI screenshots or actually use your app/website to check for language-related issues.

Supported file formats

I can handle just about any file format that is convenient for your localization workflow:

  • .xml
  • .json
  • .html, .htm
  • .xliff, .xlf
  • .properties
  • .resx
  • .yaml
  • .csv
  • .po
  • .txt
  • .ini
  • source code files
  • Microsoft Office and OpenDocument formats (.doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .odt, .ods, etc.)
  • and much more

Didn’t see your preferred file format in the list? Just ask me whether I can support it. I probably can.

Experience that matters

Because I have been a programmer, I understand format strings and markup. I recognize malformed source HTML and escape sequences and am often able to identify what was intended. I grasp the pitfalls that can arise when using programmatically constructed UI strings. If I see potential problems, I notify my clients.

And depending on the nature of your project, my knowledge of APIs, algorithms, multithreading, databases, programming paradigms, and debugging may make the difference between correct translation and nonsense.

Highly responsive ongoing linguistic support

Releasing a new version of your app? Refreshing your website? Let me earn your repeat business and I will become an expert on your products/services, ensuring that terminology is used consistently and correctly from one version to the next. You will find that I am highly responsive to your questions and needs.

Let’s get started

Get in touch today to get a quote.

Trusted around the world

Map of clients

Pinson Linguistic Services Inc provides top-notch translation, editing, and proofreading services, earning the trust of clients around the world. I work with global translation agencies as well as direct clients. Whatever your project – technical documentation, software interfaces, websites, diplomas, certificates, contracts, court rulings, annual reports, and more – you can trust me to produce high-quality text that will meet your needs.

I want your repeat business and guarantee your satisfaction with my work.

Map of clients
Here are where some my clients are located

Knowing where to look

In my decade of experience as a full-time translator, I have discovered several resources that help me produce the best translation/localization of your text. In addition to search engines, I often rely on:

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. What are your favorite Russian-language resources for translation research?

Photo by Olenka Sergienko on

Russian idioms

Dictionary of Russian Idioms

While living in Russia, I collected a small library of Russian language references, dictionaries, encyclopedias, cookbooks, and novels. One of my favorite books is the Школьный Фразеологический Словарь Русского Языка.

And some of my favorite idioms include:

  • За уши не оттянешь
  • Все идёт как по маслу
  • Без бумажки, ты букашка

What’s your favorite Russian idiom? How would you render it in English? What’s your favorite English idiom? How would you render it in Russian?

A website is reborn

Earlier this year, ended its web hosting offering and I didn’t get my website content backed up and offloaded in time. That means you get all-new fresh content! Wahoo! By maintaining this website and blogging, I hope to earn your trust and win your business.

Some topics I expect to address:

  • General descriptions of the types of projects I am working on
  • Helpful tools and workflows
  • Tricky phrases/concepts that trip up machine translation and/or inexperienced translators
  • Translation pitfalls