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July 19, 2012

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Here’s some input from a non-native speaker. I am Italian and I was not familiar with the name Livemocha. Out of context, I might have thought of some kind of programming language / platform (because of Java and the Java decompiler), but not of any type of language-related service. I think most Italians would pronounce “live” correctly – it is widely used internationally – but might be unfamiliar with the word mocha and might tentatively pronounce it /moka/, influenced by the Italian names moka (coffee maker) and moca (coffee variety).

I work in the software industry, where pre-launch linguistic screening are part of the so-called globalization reviews, aimed at determining if unlocalizabe product and service names, nonverbal messages and visual representations are acceptable in local markets. They require specific cultural competencies – the ability to recognize any characteristics that are peculiar to the language and culture of the source context, identify any implicit information contained in the source text and/or visual items, compare them with the cultural framework of the local market and determine if they carry across also into the target culture.

Although language professionals are usually well suited to provide meaningful contributions in this area, in my experience not all multilingual individuals are aware of the different types of cultural implications that might require attention. The review of English names is often limited to how easy it is to say them in a close approximation of the original pronunciation, but, as you point out above, it’s very important to consider how the name would sound if pronounced following the local language rules. For example, some product versions are called “lite” in American English, but if an Italian reads “lite” as if it were an Italian word, /lite/, it will mean “argument, fight” and give unwanted connotations to the product name. I heard from a Russian colleague that older Russians might read words in the Latin-alphabet, including English ones, by applying the German reading rules they learned at school, an additional scenario that needs to be taken into account for their market. Prosodic aspects should also be considered, e.g. Windows and Vista are two neutral-sounding words that Italians find very easy to say, however, when put together they tend to be pronounced /ˈwindouˈzvista/ and unfortunately “svista” /zvista/ in Italian means “mistake, oversight”.

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