Gmail Myanmar

Gmail in Burmese: how do the translations stack up?

On Wednesday, Gmail officially announced on its blog that Burmese was added as Gmail’s 74th supported language:

To capture the nuances of this language and make sure the translations were accurate, consistent and complete, we relied on an array of Myanmar speakers from within the country, and around the world. In April 2013 we launched Google Search in Myanmar, and today we’re excited to announce that Gmail now supports Myanmar (Burmese), our 74th language. [link]

There’s more information up on Google’s Asia Pacific Blog.

A screenshot of what Gmail in Burmese looks like.

A screenshot of what Gmail in Burmese looks like.

I’ve been using Gmail in Burmese for about a day now, and it is definitely an adjustment. I mean, my entire life, I’ve been used to English language user interfaces, so it’s quite an abrupt change to switch over to unfamiliar vocabulary and lingo (a world where Gmail “labels” are suddenly called တံဆိပ်, “stamps”).

Obviously, Gmail in Burmese, like most Google products, uses 100% Unicode encoding, meaning that Zawgyi will not work. I’m also surprised that Gmail’s Burmese font doesn’t default to Google’s own Burmese font, Noto Sans Myanmar.

On my Windows 8 computer, the font defaults to Myanmar Text, which is Microsoft’s official Burmese font. Like most Microsoft-designed fonts, rendering of Myanmar Text is clean and crisp. But if you have other Burmese Unicode fonts installed, like Padauk or Myanmar 3, your mileage may vary in terms of readability.

Translation Quality

The Burmese language doesn’t have a standardizing body for modern terms, especially IT lingo used today. So most often, tech-related terminology usually end up being approximations of English words. Think “email,” which is most often translated into Burmese as အီးမေလ် (i meil). Consequently, there are huge variations in what Burmese speakers use to reference different terms.

All that to say, So it’s definitely an interesting endeavor, when an Internet giant like Google decides to get into the translation business and weighs in on what these terms are and should be, in effect granting them almost de facto legitimate status.

There are quite a few peculiarities in the Burmese version with respect to Gmail’s translation. For instance, let’s look at Gmail’s default categories:

Burmese English Remarks
ဝင်စာ Inbox
စတားပါ Starred စတား is a literal approximation of English “star.” I would have translated it ကြယ်ပွင့်ပါ (kyebwin pa, “[emails] with stars”) or ကြယ်ပွင့်တပ် (kyebwin tat)
အရေးကြီး Important
ထွက်စာ Sent
မူကြမ်းစာ Drafts
စပမ် Spam စပမ် is a literal approximation of English “spam.” Perhaps အမှိုက်စာ (ahmaik sa, “rubbish mail”) is a better translation.
အမှိုက်ပုံး Trash
လူမှုရေး Social
ဈေးရောင်းမှုများ Promotions ဈေးရောင်းမှုများ literally translates “things related to selling.” Perhaps ကြော်ငြာ (kyawnya, “advertisements”) could work, because that category really is a dumping ground for website sale ads.
မွမ်းမံမှုများ Updates မွမ်းမံမှုများ just sounds awkward to me, because it’s usually used in the context of refresher training (မွမ်းမံသင်တန်း) or improvements.
ဖိုရမ်းများ Forums ဖိုရမ်း is an approximation of English “forum,” although the spelling of ဖော်ရမ် is more common. I suppose the native Burmese equivalent would be စကားဝိုင်း (zagawaing, lit. “roundtable”).
Gmail's create message interface in Burmese.

Gmail’s create message interface in Burmese.

In the compose email interface, I came across these translations:

Burmese English Remarks
အကြောင်းအရာ Subject The Burmese translation sounds quite awkward to me…seems more applicable for describing subject matter or even “About Us ” pages. I would have used ခေါင်းစဉ် (gaungzin, “headline”) or ခေါင်းစီး (gaungzi, “heading”), both native Burmese words.
လက်ခံသူများ Recipients ရရှိသူ (yashi thu) could also work. လက်ခံ (letkhan) tends to have a connotation of acceptance or permission.
ပုံစံချပေးရေး ရွေးစရာများ Formatting options Quite wordy, 4 syllables just to say formatting (ပုံစံချပေးရေး). Why not just ပုံစံ ရွေးစရာများ (format options)?
ဖွန့် Font ဖွန့် is a less commonly used approximation of English “font.” ဖောင့် is far more commonly used. The native Burmese equivalent is အက္ခရာပုံစံ (ekkhaya ponzan), although that’s also quite wordy…
ဆိုက် Size ဆိုက် is a direct English approximation of “size,” even though there’s a perfectly good native Burmese word for that, [စာလုံး] အရွယ် (aywe).
စာလုံးမည်း Bold
စာလုံးစောင်း Italic
မျဉ်းသားပေးရန် Underline I would use ဆွဲ (hswe, “draw”) or even ထား (hta, “put”), not ပေး (pei, “give”).
စာသားအရောင် Text Color
ညှိရန် Align
နံပါတ်တပ် စာရင်း Numbered List
အထူးမှတ်ထား စာရင်း Bulleted List
လျှော့ပြီး အင်တင်းရန် Indent Less အင်တင်း is an English approximation of “indent,” combined with native Burmese “give.” Visually speaking, native words like ထစ် or ချိုင့် have comparable meaning.
နောက်ထပ် အင်တင်းပေးရန် Indent More
ကိုးကားရန် Quote
ပုံစံချထားမှုကို ဖယ်ရှားရန် Remove Formatting
ဖိုင်များကို ပူးတွဲရန် Attach files ဖိုင် is an English approximation of “file” and is now commonly accepted in Burmese.
ဓါတ်ပုံ ထည့်သွင်းရန် Insert photo
လင့်ကို ထည့်သွင်းရန် Insert link လင့် is an English approximation of “link.” Not sure how this could be indigenized. Chinese uses 超連結, literally “hyper + connect + tie.”
အီမိုတီကွန် ထည့်ရန် Insert emoticon အီမိုတီကွန် is another English approximation of “emoticon.” Since “emoticon” is really just a portmanteau of emotion + icon, Thai uses a blend of Thai and Pali words, สัญรูป อารมณ์ (san rup arom, “icon + emotion”, rup = Pali ရူပ > Burmese ရုပ်, arom = Pali အာရမ္မဏ > Burmese အာရုံ), Perhaps Burmese could borrow something similar.

Also, in message prompts, I’ve noticed that the offered button choices, interestingly enough, are:

  • အပြောင်းအလဲများကို သိမ်းဆည်းရန် (“Save Changes”) – literally “put away the changes”
  • အိုကေ (“Okay”) – approximation of English “okay.” Why wouldn’t native Burmese ဟုတ်ကဲ့ (hot ke) work?
  • ထားတော့ (“Cancel”) – literally “[just] leave it alone”

I guess the real lesson here is that Burmese can be a tricky language to create words for, because Burmese translations can end up sounding like wordy definitions compared to their English counterparts. Given that Burma’s internet penetration is really just in its nascency, it’s definitely an exciting time to establish a Burmese jargon for the internet age. And Google is definitely trying to capitalize on that.

Hopefully the Myanma Language Commission (မြန်မာစာအဖွဲ့) is taking note of the Burmese language’s quickly evolving linguistic landscape. But at the pace things are going, it’s really taken a back seat and will probably react, instead of proactively addressing emerging needs in the Burmese vocabulary.

How to use Gmail in Burmese

For Burmese speakers, here’s how to use Gmail in Burmese:

Setting > Languages > မြန်မာဘာသာ (Myanmar language (Burmese))

  1. Go to Gmail’s settings.
  2. In the General tab, under first heading of Language, click on the drop down menu and select “မြန်မာဘာသာ (Myanmar language (Burmese)).”
  3. Click the “Save Changes” button and let Gmail reload.

2 thoughts on “Gmail in Burmese: how do the translations stack up?

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