Waze Is Just the Beginning

A bunch of my good friends from Banavasi Balaga, Mr. Suhruta Yajaman taking the lead, went ahead and produced the Kannada version of the Waze app.

First things first. Critics, fence sitters and everyone out there, let’s congratulate the team for attempting a Kannada version of an upcoming app with promise. The speed with which it was brought out is really amazing.

Having said that, there’s a problem. The problem is, the translation team seems to have underestimated the task at hand. In other words, the quality of the transactions doesn’t exactly seem to be superb.

Mr. Hamsanandi, an old critic of the ongoing reforms in Kannada, whose friends are wont to patriotically wonder why the damned app isn’t out in Sanskrit yet (because Akhand Bharat), actually has useful criticism for us, i.e., Kannadigas interested in language planning done right.

He tweeted:

I agree with the substance of his criticism, which is that ‘ದಾರಿ ತೋರಿಸಿ’ is the right way to do it in Kannada, not ‘ದಿಕ್ಕುಗಳನ್ನು ಪಡೆಯಿರಿ’. I haven’t seen the Waze app, but I’m afraid the problem could be deeper than what we’re seeing in this one screenshot. Here’s what I see in this one screenshot already:

  1. ಬಳಕದ ನುಡಿ seems to be an attempt to use the newly coined word ಬಳಕ (for app), which I don’t exactly like, in at least one sentence (“Look, the word is being used!”). As I think Hamsanandi pointed out in another tweet, ಬಳಕೆಯ ನುಡಿ is there for anyone who isn’t as obsessed with coining new words and wants to prove that it has actually been used.
  2. I’m having a hard time decoding “ನಿಮ್ಮ ಬಳಕದ ನುಡಿ ಹೊಸದಾಗಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳಿ”. Really, guys? What the?
  3. What is ಹಿಗ್ಗಿಸುವ ಗಾಜು, and how is anyone supposed to utter the word ಕೆಳ ಎಡ ಮೂಲೆ? And ತಟ್ಟು? Why not ಒತ್ತು? Oh I get it, someone threw the word “tap” at you and you rolled up your shoulders.
  4. ಏರ್ಪಾಡುಗಳಿಂದ is a bad translation of “From Settings”. I don’t like the word ಏರ್ಪಾಡು being used for Setting – if Setting is what it is.
  5. And why is anyone placing an ಅರ್ಕಾವೊತ್ತು after ಆ in the name at the bottom? This is a major goof-up.
  6. ಆರಿಸಿ is the wrong way of saying it. ಆರಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳಿ would have been better. If a word can be misinterpreted, it must be avoided. You can ಆರಿಸು the entire phone or the light in your room.

So it’s not as if we’re blind to these things. This is just the beginning.

In fact, I even grant that these errors are due to too much focus on words. We shouldn’t act as if words are everything.

For the record, I haven’t exactly had an obsession with new words myself, except maybe in brief spells. In fact, I have taken part in ಪದ ಪದ ಕನ್ನಡ ಪದಾನೇ quite actively, but not without voicing my criticisms. I have always found it a waste of time to coin new words when old words suffice, and when there’s no proof that they’re required to be coined in the first place. The group also has an obsession to create one Kannada word for one English word which results in crazy outcomes. In fact, I don’t think the question “What is the Kannada word for X?” is the right question in the first place. Folks on that group should ask “How do we say X in Kannada?”.

It’s easy to blame Dr. DNS Bhat for this. But those who do (Mr. Hamsanandi included) don’t understand why he’s coining words in Kannada by the minute as if his life depended on it. He’s doing it because he simply wants to show that it’s possible before he’s dead. That proof is required for the Hamsanandis, the Ra Ganeshes of the world, and pretty much everyone who has an interest in Kannada’s future.

Let us not forget that Dr. DNS Bhat is not interested in those words actually getting used. He doesn’t care if society rejects those words; he is only interested in proving his point. And yes, it’s a point worth proving.

I will also grant that initially, some of our Balaga friends didn’t fully grasp Dr. Bhat’s mind. One can’t blame anyone for not doing that: Bhat doesn’t speak his mind very often.

Therefore, for example, a few years ago, some of my friends in the Balaga began to unleash their newfound skill of coining new words in Kannada (gained via Dr. DNS Bhat) on poor Facebook users by way of participating in the Facebook Translation project.

That’s when I stepped in to create Honalu.net with help from the exact same guys. The very idea of Honalu was to channel all that newfound creative energy into something solid without subjecting innocent members of society to an experiment with unspecified goals. You read Honalu if you want to. Facebook Kannada wouldn’t be like that. Why should anyone have to contend with our experimental words before we are ourselves sure that they’re good? Honalu’s purpose was to stop that and act as a wonderful platform for our experimentation.

Today, Honalu has grown beyond all our expectations and even spun off arime.org, another great project for those who are interested – not all Facebook users.

Coming back to Waze, localizing an app, or anything that can potentially be used by every Kannadiga, requires skills over and above the ability to use the correct words (even if they’re all existing words). Every English speaker can’t design the user interface of an iOS or Android app. It’s a separate skill. If we want to do Waze kind of projects, we must acquire that skill. No shortcuts.

So guys, let’s redo the translations in the next version!

I also want to take this opportunity to request Mr. Hamsanandi and other able critics to pitch in. At this stage in the reform movement, we need not just the old thesis (that we can’t coin Kannada words in Kannada) or our new antithesis (that we can coin Kannada words in Kannada) but a synthesis. Let’s work out this synthesis, fellows. It’s possible. We don’t differ as much as it appears. Our critics imagine things in us, and we imagine things in them. Let’s talk, guys, let’s talk.

I am absolutely sure that Mr. Hamsanandi and many of his friends secretly appreciate a good number of the words we’re churning out. If any don’t, it’s time to pick up the ಪದನೆರಕೆ and actually read it a bit.

And yes, I remember Hamsanandi’s request to join PPKP was rejected. But it wasn’t on the grounds that he wouldn’t write for Honalu. It was on the grounds that we didn’t think he’d add value. PPKP requires a sort of obsession with creating new Kannada words which he clearly doesn’t possess. Nor do I do, and I’m also out.

One more thing: I absolutely love the way Ra Ganesh, Hamsanandi, etc., are running their poetry projects. I have some grouses about it (including the use of too much Halagannada and Sanskrit), but I’ve learnt from them like Ekalavya from Drona. I also believe I have something very interesting to show. More on that later. Poetry is one area where the two camps can actually come together and appreciate each others’ work.

This is the thing my Balaga friends should never forget: we need to be careful where and how we introduce new words. Put them down in poetry and people will love it. Put them down in science and people will love it. Put it down in the Waze app and you yourself will hate some of them tomorrow. Let’s not hurry when trying to do good, and let’s be very careful with quality and aesthetics — something our critics have actually demonstrated. We should learn from them, involve them, and make sure we produce quality stuff. If we can’t, the entire reform movement will get a bad name.