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.