US FEMA's aid instructions translated into "Alaska Native languages" that turned out to be gibberish

Originally published at: US FEMA's aid instructions translated into "Alaska Native languages" that turned out to be gibberish | Boing Boing


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That is fantastically cool, I’ll have to go read about him. Interestingly, this is a long-standing issue with the US government (shocking, I know) and other tribes have created written languages in efforts to preserve and protect their culture. Most notably, Sequoyah created the written Cherokee syllabary in an attempt to convince the US that they were a “civilized” tribe that should have their treaty rights honored (you probably have the Cherokee alphabet in your device’s keyboard language options!). After their forced death march to Oklahoma, the Cherokee nation established some of the first schools in Oklahoma and within a few decades had the highest literacy rate on the continent… until the Fed intentionally destroyed those communities via allotment, child kidnapping and other “divide and conquer” strategies. The strategy was so effective that my niece and nephew weren’t allowed to go to Sequoyah HS where Cherokee is the primary language spoken because their father grew up in an era where it was considered the low-caste option. Now it is considered one of the best schools in the area and exemplary of tribes re-establishing their cultural heritage through education.

ETA: Having a hard time finding much info about him. Other than this fun little anecdote of him getting whacked with a broom by his wife.


Unlike that Welsh street sign that said, in Welsh, something along the lines of, “We’re out of the office and won’t be able to take on any new translation jobs until we return on this date…” this can only be explained by outright scamming. Someone (sub) contracted to do the job, knowing they didn’t speak the languages, but did have access to existing texts in those languages, and could rely on the fact that no one they reported to would know the difference (or, apparently, check). So a scam on top of which was incompetence, at best.



Yikes. I appreciate making the form available in a Native language, but you really really need someone who is a fluent speaker translating them. Machine translation is not nearly good enough and honestly insulting.

I’m learning some Potawatomi as I am taking a tribal leadership course, and I’ve read many articles my 2nd cousin, who is head of the tribe’s language department, has written about the preservation of the language. It really isn’t something you should trust to someone outside of the tribe, IMO.


I’ve done freelance translating for a few translation agencies and they never asked for any proof of my ability. I’ve also been hired by them to proofread translations, but I don’t know how often they do that.


It’s true!



The Lakota Language Consortium had promised to preserve the tribe’s native language and had spent years gathering recordings of elders, including Taken Alive’s grandmother, to create a new, standardized Lakota dictionary and textbooks.

But when Taken Alive, 35, asked for copies, he was shocked to learn that the consortium, run by a white man, had copyrighted the language materials, which were based on generations of Lakota tradition. The traditional knowledge gathered from the tribe was now being sold back to it in the form of textbooks.


Reputable companies will always have translations proofread by a native speaker if the translator is not a native speaker of the target language. It increases the cost considerably, so fly-by-night operations that offer cheap translation services will often skip this step.

Even though I am a native speaker of English, a lot of the freelance documents that I translate will be checked by another native just to be sure. I sometimes get questions, though these almost always relate to subtle differences between US and British English.

ETA: Of course, this may be logistically impossible for languages that have few native speakers.


Following the storm surge, my hovercraft was full of eels.



Jesus Christ, what the actual fuck?


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