GILT: Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, Translation
Reprinted by permission from
the Globalization Insider, Volume XI, Issue 1.5,
pages 1-5. Copyright the Localization Industry
As the title suggests, we should perhaps feel a little GILTy that of the above four terms, only translation is generally well understood. In a past issue of the LISA newsletter, Donald DePalma and Hans Fenstermacher argued that our industry cannot even agree on what globalization, internationalization and localization mean. Don and Hans also pointed out the lack of "coopetition", i.e. collaboration among competitors, in our industry.
This article is a modest first step in what we believe is the right direction. It is an example of coopetition between two periodicals focusing on the language industry towards a simple objective that is beneficial to our whole industry: clarifying our most basic terms. This article will be published, more or less simultaneously, in both periodicals. We hope that others will take similar small steps
From the dictionary
Table 1. GILT terms according to Webster.
It is interesting to note how old these terms all are (and the dates here are for the English language; a concept such as translation is obviously much older). It is also interesting to note that globalization was introduced towards the end of World War II. Although the last three definitions are not extremely enlightening, it remains that all five definitions are quite compatible with their current use in our industry. To be precise, only the terms locale and internationalization require a slight semantic shift in our industry. To illustrate this semantic shift, just compare the above definition of locale to the one provided by the Sun Solaris Operating System Manual: "a collection of files, data, and sometimes code, that contains the information needed to adapt Solaris to local market needs".
A short history
A locale in our industry identifies a group of people by their common language and cultural conventions; the group may or may not be in the same physical location. French-Canadians, for example, are present mainly in the province of Quebec, but there are several other groups in Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. In our industry, the word locale has become a virtual location, more akin to the concept of culture. To wit, we name locales by language-country pairs; for example, French-Canada is one locale, while French-France is another.
When multiple localization efforts were performed on the same product, it became obvious that certain steps could be performed in advance to make localization easier: separating translatable text strings from the executable code, for example. This was referred to as internationalization or localization-enablement. This definition represents a shift away from the dictionary: internationalization, in our industry, is only the first step in the overall process of making international, as the dictionary suggests.
Finally, when the "rest of the world" gained in importance, it was a marketing imperative to have a strategy to sell all over the world: a so-called globalization strategy! Unfortunately, when this commercial term was imported into the more technical space of globalizing products, two different definitions arose.
The IBM internationalization glossary at www-106.ibm.com shows:
The globalization of a thing - be it a social program, a marketing strategy, a web site, or a software product - is simply about spreading a thing to several different countries, and making it applicable and useable in those countries. We suggest therefore that our industry should follow the general meaning the word globalization already has in other domains, which is simply the dictionary meaning.
Another important aspect to globalization is
that it is never all-encompassing; the target
is never all the countries nor all the languages
of the world. In fact, of the approximately
6,000 languages on the planet today, typical
globalization efforts rarely target more than
six at a time.
So where does internationalization fit into the above formula? Although we did not need the internationalization concept to define the objective of globalization, we will need it to define an effective globalization process.
To define internationalization, let's consider a couple of examples:
Internationalization of source code consists,
among other things, of centralizing text strings
in resource files to make it easier for the
translator to do his job (and avoid accidental
changes to source code).
That is the most general and fundamental intent:
if you are going to do localization N times,
it makes sense to work out what operations you
can perform just once beforehand so that it
makes the next N steps easier. If you consider
the on-going maintenance of a product, internationalization
is effective even in the N=1 case. But as the
world gets smaller and smaller, we see N=6,
10, 12, etc. In such cases, internationalization
is simply inevitable.
Some may be surprised or disappointed not too see the more usual definitions:
These so-called definitions suffer from several faults:
A good definition tells us what something is, not how it is done. The definition above defines internationalization for what it truly is, in a very general way, independent of the specific thing to be internationalized. By reminding us that internationalization is a very general idea, by reminding us that many people can contribute in many different ways, it will ultimately allow us to generate a better, more complete list of tasks for the specific thing to be internationalized.
The new formula for an efficient process thus
The "GILT slide" below puts it all together.
Figure 1. Globalization = Internationalization + N x Localization
So what about translation?
To complete our quartet of terms, we can show how translation fits into these key processes. Once again, we can probably rely on the vernacular understanding of the word and say that translation refers to the specifically linguistic operations, performed by human or machine, that actually replaces the expressions in one natural language into those of another. This has the effect of making translation just one task possibly the most time consuming, costly and vital, but as we have seen not the only one in adapting something to the needs of the given locale.
An interesting phenomenon is that much of today's new, emerging publishing standards, such as content management systems and XML, place a new focus on the art of translation. Where localization previously incorporated translation as "just one" of the activities, these new publishing standards strip all the complexities from the raw text, i.e. separate layout and structure from the "content", which is one of the primary goals of internationalization. This means translators in localization can finally start focusing on what they should really be focusing on changing one natural language into another.
We can see more and more practices and technologies that were previously very specific to the "localization world" entering into the more traditional translation industry. For example, translation memory tools are now commonly used by translators who translate material which is not software related. Similarly, legal translators may be faced with XML documentation while life sciences translators may have to translate a piece of software running on a medical device.
As humanity evolves, so do languages and definitions.
The concepts of translation and localization
may progressively merge. Localization may no
longer be a separate discipline since sooner
or later all translators will have to know at
least the basics of localization from
translation to localization, and back again.
1 In the very early days before writing and communication, a different location meant a different language.