Steps to ensure error-free Tamil use in govt

Mr Chee speaking at the appreciation event for the Review Panel on Government Tamil Translation in Little India on Thursday. With him are (from left) panel member Ramasamy Dhinakaran, managing director of Jay Gee Melwani Group; panel head A. Palaniap
Mr Chee speaking at the appreciation event for the Review Panel on Government Tamil Translation in Little India on Thursday. With him are (from left) panel member Ramasamy Dhinakaran, managing director of Jay Gee Melwani Group; panel head A. Palaniappan, head specialist (English/Tamil) at the Language Services Department in Parliament; and fellow panel member T. Venugobal, assistant director and Tamil language/senior specialist at the Education Ministry's curriculum planning and development division.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Review panel recommends more rigorous vetting after series of translation errors in recent years

The quality of Tamil translations for government materials is set to improve.

A review panel has put forth a string of recommendations to catch potential mistakes before they are published.

This comes after a series of Tamil translation errors in recent years, such as the inaccurate translation of Tan Kah Kee MRT station in December 2015. It had read wrongly as "paan kah kee" instead.

Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Health Chee Hong Tat, who made the announcement on Thursday, said the first measure is to tighten vetting procedures.

He said: "We will require all government agencies to adopt a more rigorous process to vet and check their translated materials before they are made public."

MORE STRINGENT PROCESS

We will require all government agencies to adopt a more rigorous process to vet and check their translated materials before they are made public.

MR CHEE HONG TAT, Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Health.

  • Inaccurate translations

  • NOVEMBER 2014

    A photograph of a signboard with an erroneous translation of the food centre Lau Pa Sat's name made the rounds on Facebook. While the Tamil words for "Lau" and "Pa" were correct, the word "Sat" was translated as "Sani", which means Saturday in Tamil.

    NOVEMBER 2014

    A badly translated Tamil poster on high-rise littering by the National Environment Agency (NEA) was highlighted by a student member of the Tamil Language Society at the National University of Singapore.The NEA said the error "arose during the digital transfer of the artwork to the printer". The posters were recalled and replaced.

    DECEMBER 2015

    During an open house for the second stage of the Downtown Line, a commuter noticed that one of the 12 new stations, Tan Kah Kee, had an inaccurately translated Tamil name - it read as "paan kah kee" instead.

    The Land Transport Authority apologised and rectified the mistake. Shortly after, it reviewed the Tamil names for all Downtown Line stations and changed the translations of the Promenade, Downtown, Telok Ayer and Cashew stations for better clarity and accuracy.

    Melody Zaccheus

He said that this could be done in-house or outsourced, with the review panel providing a list of experienced vetters for those who cannot do it themselves.

Mr Chee, who chairs the National Translation Committee (NTC), was speaking at an appreciation event for the 11-member review panel at the Indian Heritage Centre in Little India.

The panel comprised communication experts, academics and editors of Tamil news media. It had found that Tamil translation errors in official materials ranged from typographical and grammatical mistakes, to technical issues with font conversion as a result of incompatible computer software used by government agencies and their printing vendors.

The second recommendation, therefore, requires agencies to work only with publishing companies equipped with compatible Tamil software. This should be specified as a requirement in contracts with printers.

The third is to improve capabilities, which involves establishing a network of public officers who are proficient in Tamil, issuing a glossary of commonly used terms and holding training workshops for Tamil-speaking public officers and translators to improve their translation skills.

The NTC, which was established by the Ministry of Communications and Information in 2014, works alongside three resource panels for Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

The Review Panel on Government Tamil Translation was set up after Mr Chee told Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate last April that a systemic review would be conducted following the series of mistakes in government Tamil translations.

On Thursday, Mr Chee said: "Quality translations are essential for effective communication and are also a sign of respect to our different ethnic communities. We are committed to doing better and getting our translations correct."

The review panel, which completed its work late last year, was headed by Mr A. Palaniappan, head specialist (English/Tamil) at the Language Services Department in Parliament. Mr Palaniappan said the translation glossary will contain about 3,000 general terms and the translated titles of 400 statutes, among other things.

Mr Palaniappan also gave the example of how the senior citizen concession card had been wrongly translated to "expired senior kissing generation concession card". This error was the result of a misspelling, and a misplaced Tamil word, he said.

Mr Shawn Ganasan, 40, a process executive, said the review was long overdue. He added: "Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are three of Singapore's official languages and should be treated with reverence. More effort should be made in checking and vetting."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Steps to ensure error-free Tamil use in govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe