Mightyverse is not a translation web site or a language learning site… sure you can use Mightyverse for those things, but they are not the primary raison d’être, they don’t capture the gestalt. The purpose of Mightyverse is to help each of us convey meaning, to help us communicate across language and culture — not by ignoring differences, but by embracing them.
Many phrases cannot be translated directly. You cannot understand it unless you also understand some of the context and culture where that stream of sound evolved. “10-4 good buddy,” “Where’s the beef?” or “LOL” have complex, whimsical meaning that tie to culture. Each language has such phrases and learning them allows us to connect in surprising ways.
Even when listening to someone who appears speak the same language, one can discover that direct translations don’t work. I speak English, but am also fluent in geek. I can hear someone say that their mongrels are all tied up and understand that they are concerned about web site server performance and not the mistreatment of animals. Whatever language you learned as a child, it is likely that you also speak a domain specific language in some aspect of your life.
Humans are driven to invent specific words to resolve problems that we face together, whether it be something as mundane as server performance or as dramatic as global warming. David Harrison speaks about the value of languages that are currently threatened by extinction. He describes the Yupik of Alaska who have the ability to name, and thereby precisely distinguish, 99 different formations of sea ice. The naming of a thing sharpens our perception of it. Harrison describes language as a technology, and the Yupik language may be one of the most sensitive instruments to detect the signs of climate change and global warming. Perhaps that vocabulary is worth learning.
So when you look at Mightyverse I hope you won’t only see a fun website with entertaining quotes or a tool for learning basic conversational phrases in a foreign language. I hope you will catch a glimpse of what will happen when it is populated with a wide swath of human language, including dialects and vocabulary too new for the dictionary, languages threatened by extinction, as well as the essential expressions of commonly spoken languages that are just as commonly misunderstood. We have a million ideas for how we can get from here to there, but we’re taking it one feature at a time, and recording phrases at every opportunity. We don’t have the community features that we had hoped for at launch, but we do have a forum, twitter and this blog. We’re interested in hearing what you think.
Well, we travel a lot. And… we like people… a lot.
A favorite peak...
In a normal year, I might spend as much as 10 full 24 hour days or more in the air. When I land, I often find myself in the midst of a new culture for a few days, on assignment as a filmmaker. What that translates to – or more accurately doesn’t translate to – is the need to be able to navigate and connect with people in a language that I’m not native in.
One might argue that English is becoming the language of business everywhere. I kinda prefer to try to connect with people on their terms, or more accurately, in their own language.
So what is someone from the midwest who has taken all of about two semesters of French and a smattering of Japanese classes to do?
Surveying the options I’ve tried over the past several years:
– cram for days before each trip and try to resemble a sponge… – hire translators wherever I go (how do you say, “that’s not in the budget” in that language?) – be a maniac with a phrasebook (note to self: improve charades skills……) – make friends with people around the world and have them be my personal translators (Gomen nasai (I’m sorry!), Shimizu-san!)
We had an idea: what if there was something that would allow us to make someone laugh in their native language? Or to express gratitude in a way that was genuine and authentic to the area we were in? What if we had a global utility that was always there whenever we needed it – online or on our phones – that could answer the question, “How do I say ________ in any language?”
It’s a big dream. One that we can’t hold by ourselves. We invite you to be part of something truly global and truly human – to help us create a community and utility that doesn’t exist yet: to be a part of Mightyverse. At the center of this is a bridge that we’ve been seeking between language and cultures – an enormous collection of native speaker video phrases that are cross-translated into other languages.
We’re excited you’re here.
For now, we invite you to browse through an early smattering of phrases (more than 20,000) that we’ve pulled together in over 20 languages. You’re bound to find holes – that’s part of the journey. Soon, you’ll be able to help us fill those in. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. And if you’re in the bay area and would like to get more involved, drop us a note – we’d love your help!
Welcome to Mightyverse! There’s much more to come…
The speaker is Fujita-san, the CTO of Knowledgelink, our wonderful Japanese partners. His voice is almost overwhelmed by crickets as we shot him in the little park across from KL’s offices in a little park in Akasaka section of Tokyo last summer.
We will be very active in the coming months and years to bring you wonderful phrases from many fantastic, expressive individuals. In the meantime, if you have a request for any phrases, or ideas for the site, let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you speak several languages and would like to record phrases for the site, we’d love to host you at our studio in Sausalito for a session. We’ll buy lunch!