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Six Things Arrival Taught Us About Language

An award winning thriller and critically acclaimed hit, hopeful in its message and founded in realism; Arrival proved a fascinating viewing not just for sci fi fans but for linguists and translators alike. In fact, we loved the film so much, it became the inspiration behind our latest promo vid. But what can we really learn about language from the film – and how can we apply these lessons to translation, language and localisation services?

Language influences the way we think.

Central to Arrival’s plot is a real theory that dates back to 1929, first outlined by anthropologist Edward Sapir, but later developed upon by the linguist Benjamin Whorf. Now known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, this idea is sometimes referred to as ‘linguistic relativity’.
The theory is that one’s perception of reality is either determined, or else greatly influenced, by the language we speak. Since language is the tool we use to mentally categorize emotions and communicate experiences, one can describe it as the primary method through which to organize and express thought. In other words, our mindset is shaped by our native tongue, and learning another language could help broaden it.
In fact, experiences that we may otherwise have thought to be universal – such as that of time – may be perceived differently depending on the language we use to express said experience. The idea that time moves forward in a straight line, with the future lying ‘ahead of you’ and the past ‘behind you’ was once thought to be a globally accepted notion by Westerners, but has since been realized as a merely cultural interpretation. Take the Yupnas for example. This remote tribe in Papua New Guinea have a different take on the nature of time. For these people, time travels up, rather than forward, and tribe members will gesture uphill when speaking of something to come. The past, therefore, is below them – or downhill.
In Arrival, Dr Banks’ comprehension of the aliens’ language allows her to perceive time as a simultaneous experience. While we’re unlikely to ever experience time as simultaneous, there’s no denying that some cultures experience time at a slower pace than others. There seems to be a correlation between how far society has developed, and the pace of its general lifestyle. Compare the sense of urgency and haste felt by the average person living in Tokyo with that of someone living in a small Greek village, for example.
Multilingualism improves cognitive abilities by opening the mind to alternative perspectives – but not just in relation to abstract theories. A person’s understanding of a culture can be vastly improved by learning its language. Often we’ll find that a culture’s vocabulary is very telling of its history, social values and environmental setting. All Danish speakers will be familiar with the word ‘hygge’, the cosy feeling of enjoying life’s simple pleasures, which is reflective of the cultural value Danes place on good food, family get-togethers, and sitting around the fireplace in comfy clothes. Meanwhile in France, there’s ‘seigneur-terraces’, a term for so-called ‘coffee shop dwellers’ – those who spend a long time sitting around in coffee shops without spending much money (no doubt a common occurrence in a country filled with young tourists and irresistibly quaint coffee shops). We also know that the Inuits have multiple ways of describing snow; various words that help differentiate between snow’s texture, form and even its relationship to humans.

Roy Pedersen

Our CEO Roy Pedersen dressed as Dr. Banks at a Purim party. The rest of the pictures in this blog article are screen captures from our promo video.

Literal translation causes miscommunication.

Why is a human translation so much more reliable than an automated translation? Why is a translator immersed in a particular culture so much more likely to produce better text in that culture’s language? The answer is simple; context is everything. Pluck a word out of a sentence, and it will have, singularly, one or two specific meanings. Only when placed back in the sentence can its meaning in relation to the rest of the words be understood. The meaning of any one single word is vague, malleable – almost always reliant upon its context. A single incorrect vocab choice can change the entire meaning of a sentence. To convey correct meaning, therefore, localization must be central to any cross-cultural translation. In Arrival, a literal translation of the aliens’ message causes a miscommunication so grave it almost results in war.
Even in those cases when a literal translation succeeds in expressing the general gist of the original meaning, the message’s initial clarity will be lost and, when not expressed in a manner that sounds natural to a native, will fail to captivate or instill trust in readers.
As a marketer, this has important implications in terms of how we approach cross-cultural content and advertising. If we are to build a relationship with our audience, we must convey a message in a tone and style both consistent to our brand and natural to the language with which we are marketing. At All-in Translations, the importance of localizing content for each specific market has been a central principle which underlies all our translations. Our writers are native not just in the language, but in the culture, you are targeting. Furthermore, they are specialized in the terminology of each translation and content subject matter, minimizing the risk of miscommunication and giving your content the authority that comes with correct lingo.
All-In Translations Arrival

A simple sentence is not always so simple.

What is your purpose on Earth?” In Arrival, this was the pressing question humans were desperate to pose the aliens. The film’s compelling suspense rested on the possible responses these extraterrestrial creatures might give. Yet Dr Banks takes her time in asking the big question. She argues that when we take our cultural concepts and forms of expressions for granted, we fail to appreciate how differing perspectives or communication styles could render a literal translation meaningless.
When our frustrated heroine is urged by her supervisors to ask the aliens their purpose as quickly as possible, she demonstrates how an apparently simple sentence can be more complex than it might initially appear. “First, we need to make sure they understand what a question is. The nature of a request for information, along with a response. Then, we need to clarify the difference between a specific ‘you’ and a collective ‘you’, because we don’t want to know why ‘Joe Alien’ is here, we want to know why they all landed. And purpose requires an understanding of intent. We need to find out: do they make conscious choices, or is their motivation so instinctive they don’t understand a “why” question at all,” she explains to a colonel in one the film’s most eye-opening scenes.
Even the most seemingly straightforward of sentences may leave room for alternative interpretations if not translated correctly. The way in which we form sentences, and the concepts upon which these sentences are based, are unique to centuries of linguistic development that can differ widely from culture to culture.
Roy Pedersen

Games provide a universally popular method of language learning.

Using a classic game called Mahjong, the Chinese try teaching the Octopods (the aliens) to communicate through four-player competition. Mahjong is typically played with 136 tiles; each featuring a unique symbol representative of different traditional objects and natural elements. This betting game has been of great cultural significance in China since the Qing dynasty and can even be found at many of the top online casino sites today.
It would not be an outlandish proposal, should we ever be visited by an alien species, to engage in dialogue with them through the use of games. In humans, we know that the nature of play facilitates and expedites learning. The hugely popular language learning app Duolingo has become such a success in part because of the addictive nature of its level progression. Just like in any other mobile game, players are rewarded for advancing, and enjoy the satisfaction of ‘unlocking’ achievements and bonuses along the way.
Games play a central part in numerous types of education across the world, and the prevalence of the ‘learn-through-play’ method is evident when looking at children’s’ toys like alphabet blocks and shape sorters. Learning through play has been shown to hold numerous advantageous because of the way it stimulates our memory and other cognitive functions, while heightening motivation and emotional intelligence. In short, games can be extremely useful in the learning of a new language. One might also argue that communicating with aliens through play would also be appropriate because games are indicative of human’s unique nature – we love a challenge.
In Arrival, however, Dr Banks criticizes the Chinese approach, highlighting how this method of teaching is dangerous in practise because it reduces relationships to a competition. Whilst the differentiation between playful competition and hostile competition is understood by most humans, the presentation of a winners-or-losers mindset to an alien species would  not allow them the contextual understanding we use in making that distinction.
language services

Language is the foundation of civilization.

Language is the glue that holds people together. So says heroine Dr Banks, although the film’s physicist Iain Donnelly disagrees, arguing that science is the foundation of civilization. The side one takes in this debate invariably depends on what you consider to be the catalyst of human advancement; the use of science in building and preserving the structures and objects key to our survival, or the ability to spread the knowledge of these inventions through the use of language?
Science exists with or without humans. Language, on the other hand, is something uniquely complex – created specifically by, and for, humans. Without language, there is no global sharing of knowledge, organisation, and storytelling with which to strengthen human connections and cooperation. As such, we’re tempted to take Dr Banks’ side in the debate. Language is the foundation of civilization.
Global language services

The study of linguistics is essential.

There’s no action hero saving the day in Arrival – just a nerdy linguist, and it makes the story all the more convincing. What if we do someday make contact with an alien species? Lingual anthropologists and translation experts will no doubt play an integral role in the first-contact scenario with any intelligent life we encounter. But before we have to worry about building a relationship with extraterrestrial creatures, there are countless ways we can employ the study of linguistics in broadening our current understanding in matters of sociology, psychology, history and global development.
Have you seen Arrival yet? What about our new promo vid based on the film? Check out All-in Translations’ latest movie spoof above to discover what we do, where we come from, and what our purpose is…

I’ve seen the future. In a PowerPoint presentation

Cryptocurrency translation service
If you are looking for cryptocurrency predictions this ain’t it. This is just a blog post about my trip to Phuket where I had a rendezvous with a cruise ship full of blockchain people. My life will never be the same, and apparently neither will yours.
The meeting point was at Paradise Beach in Phuket, Thailand. The 600 guests, most of them blockchain enthusiasts, investors and industry professionals, arrived in shuttle boats from the MS Mariner of the Seas. I arrived a few hours late in a pink took-took, just missing John McAfee’s morning session.
Paradise Beach Blockchain conference

Understanding blockchain, mining and crypto

I felt a bit out of place. After 10 years of gaming conferences I am used to finding familiar faces but here there were none. To be completely honest I didn’t really understand what blockchain, mining and cryptocurrency meant until late last year.
Around that time I read the Q3 sales numbers for All-in Translations, and my interest was quickly piqued when I learned that one of our top clients in 2017, was a company primarily working with mining.
Blockchain conference

Bitcoin skyrockets, then plummets

Prior to this, the first encounter between All-in Translations and cryptocurrency occured when we translated a website into a dozen languages, and the company wanted to pay us in Bitcoin. We accepted. Unfortunately most of these Bitcoins were sold shortly after, but not all.
Almost coincidentally we had left €200 worth in our cryptowallet back in August, and by mid December this was worth about €12000. A few days later, after seeing this video, we sold half and since then the  Bitcoin price has plummeted about 50%. (I am not sure how much influence the video actually had but it’s funny.)

Nevertheless, since I was spending the winter on an island in Thailand not far from Phuket, to be close to our Asian expansion, it was an easy decision to purchase a ticket to Coinsbank’s Blockchain Thailand when I saw it announced. I figured I would learn more, and also test the waters – since the intention of All-in Translations is to include blockchain, cryptocurrency and mining as subjects we specialise in*.
Roy Pedersen
I found a stool in the tropical beach bar. Beer was only served in the VIP section, so I settled for a Gin Tonic. The next speaker, the last one before lunch, was Andrew J Filipowski. He is a Polish American technology entrepreneur born in 1950 in Chicago, currently the CEO of SilkRoad Equity.

2017 Disruptive Technologies

I couldn’t help noticing Mr. Filipowski’s resemblance to Willie Nelson. He even had a calm and warm voice. The stage gave me the feeling of being at a music festival. Everything was modern, everything except the on-screen presentation which looked like a school project from the 90s.
It was a document, probably made with PowerPoint or MS Word, and the list of bullet points was so long that the bottom part was reflected on the edge of the stage under the screen. The title was 2017 Disruptive Technologies and I will never forget what Mr. Filipowski had to say. It was perhaps the most interesting presentation I have ever witnessed at a conference. It was like catching a glimpse of the future.
Flipowski Disruptive Technologies

Mr. Filipowski seemed extremely knowledgeable and experienced. There was clearly no doubt in his mind that the scenario he described would occur. That much was obvious. He spoke in capital letters when he said “this WILL happen”. In fact, and as he pointed out, a lot of it is happening already.

Robot driven cars and organ printing

What particularly caught my attention was the way he explained how certain things are closely connected. For example robot driven cars. They will drastically reduce the number of accidents as the element of human error is largely removed. And with much fewer deaths in traffic, the amount of organs good for donation will be practically zero. So what to do? The technology of growing or even printing human organs already exists. 

Robot driven cars will also reduce the need for car mechanics, and  I wouldn’t suggest taxi driving as a career path for my children either. Insurance sales person? Car insurance will practically be free. In general Filipowski expressed concern about the reduction of jobs on a global basis.
“But one of the bright minds in your generation will solve this problem. Personally I don’t have a solution. Maybe even old people can learn how to code just a little bit. This I don’t know”, he said.

The energy consumption of Bitcoin(!)

Filipowski is convinced that we can achieve 100% renewable energy production with blockchain. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Most people don’t know how much energy is consumed in the process of mining digital currency. To give an example, the entire Bitcoin network consumes more energy than the country of Iraq. It also consumes more energy than Peru and Hong Kong, and a bit less than Singapore and Portugal.
This is according to an article in which I read just before Christmas. It was very enlightening but I felt it was a bit one-sided. For example this sentence:
“With the help of these numbers, it is possible to compare both networks and show that Bitcoin is extremely more energy intensive per transaction than VISA (note that the chart below compares a single Bitcoin transaction to 100,000 VISA transactions). Of course, these numbers are far from perfect (e.g. energy consumption of VISA offices isn’t included)”.
It just seems unbalanced to go into depths about the energy consumption of the Bitcoin network but to dismiss the energy consumption of VISA offices with half a sentence between brackets. It’s obviously in the interest of banks and the establishment to hinder the expansion of cryptocurrencies, but at the same time it’s in the interest of anyone that owns some cryptocurrency to get more people to buy it, so it is important to be critical of your sources here.

An interview with a crypto/esports expert

To balance it out I interviewed an old colleague of mine from PokerStars, Lars Lien. He is now the CEO of, a Malta based company which is creating a licensed platform where you can bet on esports using cryptocurrencies.

All-in Translations: Are you concerned about the energy consumption involved here?
Lars: The current energy consumption is abhorrent and is a gigantic waste of resources that could be better utilised for other purposes. Bitcoin is unfortunately plagued with a governance structure that is not conducive to structural changes, which also affects other aspects such as quarrels and self-interest among core stakeholders on what should be done to improve its transaction capacity and speed. We are currently seeing the emergence of a large number of alternative technologies built around the same philosophy – trustless distributed ledgers – taking advantage of other methods of creating consensus/trust around transactions such as “Proof of Stake”, utilising other algorithms to share, spread and confirm transactions are legitimate, or by offering additional functionality such as smart contracts and proof of asset ownerships. These mitigate or eliminate the resource consumption issues and instead make people put up large “interest bearing” deposits that are lost in case they do not conform to consensus.
luckbox esports betting
All-in Translations:  I am suggesting internally that we should continue to accept payment for our services in cryptocurrencies but people are a bit skeptical. Are there many companies doing this? And since Bitcoin for example can be exchanged for euros, what is ultimately the difference? Is it merely that of the exchange rate? Are there ways of accepting payment in different cryptocurrencies without this causing a headache for our accountant? 
Lars:  You absolutely should. There is a tremendous market opportunity for All-In Translations by participating in this market, due to your established global reach and excellent reputation. There will necessarily be complications, but services such as BitPay will let you invoice clients in your currency, but accept cryptocurrency as payments which are then automatically converted to fiat. There is also an argument to be made that the financial system is changing – Bitcoin with all of its issues offer significantly faster (and typically cheaper) transactions than are possible with traditional international payments. With the economy of traditional currency overloaded with debts, modern currencies may be a good hedge against another financial crisis. One thing to be mindful of, however is the resistance and outright hostility many banks have to cryptocurrencies as the democratization of payments and ability to directly own your own currencies threaten their very existence.  
All-in Translations: Clearly you have a strong focus on language localization. Has this focus been a contributing factor to your success? And if yes, in what way?
Lars:  Our goal is to be a global operator. We’re a platform dedicated to esports, which is massive across the world. Clearly, we need to be able to engage and communicate with people in a multitude of languages as these are our potential customers. Community will be a huge part of how Luckbox grows and retains customers – players need to be able to talk to each other and our staff. Even before that, though, is our crowdsale – the project is being supported by contributors from across the world. But for that to happen, we need to be able explain what we’re doing and, more than that, the nuances of a quite complicated process and what makes us trustworthy and the project credible. So while we do not yet have a large array of languages available, the fact that we WILL have it, and that we are working with a reputable partner makes a lot of difference.
So what’s next with All-in Translations and our cryptic… sorry I mean crypto adventure? We already have several clients lined up so the agenda now is to:
♣ Find and hire more translators and writers that understands this better than me.
♣ Examine the language used and look at how we can convey it in a meaningful way, perhaps avoiding an excessive amount of Anglicism. “The bible” on how to localize texts related to blockchain, mining and cryptocurrencies has not been written yet and we intend to be first to market here. 
♣ Figure out if and how we can make it easier for companies to use our services by accepting payment in cryptocurrencies.
PS: Did you know that the first bank we used in Malta struggled with spelling and incorporated our company as ALL-IN TRANSACTIONS? You can read more about that (and get advice on how to apply for a job with us) here. But what’s in a name, right? Well, we have a feeling that might have some challenges in the French speaking parts of the world. After all we are talking about digital, not genital, currencies.
*The same goes for esports, which also seems to be a natural progression from iGaming, which will of course remain our main focus.


♣ Cryptocurrency: A specific form of digital currency which utilizes encryption technology (or ‘cryptography’) in regulating the creation of currency units and verifying the transfer of funds between parties. Cryptocurrencies are decentralized and do not rely on intermediaries like banks. As such, international bank transfer fees are not imposed on global transactions.
Digital currency: A currency which exists exclusively in an electronic format (i.e not in a physical form). Some digital currencies are considered legal tender by governments, while others are recognized only by their users.
Blockchain: Best described as a public ‘digital ledger’, the Blockchain is a continuously growing record of crypto transactions. The nature of the Blockchain means attempted modification is extremely difficult, as changing one ‘block’ in the transaction chain requires the changing of every other block to which it is connected. Blockchain is managed by peer-to-peer networks and typically allows for transactions to remain anonymous.
John McAfee: An influential computer programmer who founded McAfee Associates, the company behind the first successful anti-virus software.
Mining: A term to describe the process of adding transactions (or blocks) to the Blockchain, which subsequently creates a record of the transaction.
Cryptowallet: An online wallet where one can securely store their digital currency. A cryptowallet is typically connected to a regular bank account or debit/credit card so that the digital currency can be exchanged into one’s local currency.
Bitcoin: The most popular and valuable cryptocurrency, and the most famous form of decentralized currency. Bitcoin is open-source, meaning the software’s source code can be accessed and modified by anyone.
Bitcoin network: The peer-to-peer network which operates according to cryptographic protocol and allows for transactions between Bitcoin users.
BitPay: An international payment service provider focused on Bitcoin. BitPay is the largest Bitcoin payment processor of its kind.
Smart contract: A computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and enforces the adherence to a contract, allowing for credible transactions peer-to-peer without the need for a third party.
Disruptive technology: A new technology which becomes a game-changer for an existing industry, by rendering previous technologies irrelevant or unnecessary. A disruptive technology might also refer to a technology which is so ground-breaking it created an entirely new industry.
Proof-of-stake: The concept that Bitcoin users have more mining power depending on the number of bitcoins they have in their possession. The more bitcoins a user has, the easier it is for them to mine more bitcoins. This lessens the burden of the traditional time- and power-consuming mining which is described as ‘proof-of-work’.
Crowdsale: A crowdsale generates funds for a project in its development stage and awards contributors ‘tokens’ that can be used in relation to the project once it is completed. One might donate to a crowdsale because they believe in the pitched product or service’s potential, and because they want ‘tokens’ to spend on that product or service once it is launched.

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