Friday, November 18, 2011

Kumail Nanjiani on the Age of McLocalization

I first heard this comedian on the This American Life podcast. It was a short two-minute bit that closes his show called “Cheese.” It is one of the funniest things around, mainly because of the stress he places on certain words. Go ahead and watch it here.

Another clip taken from his act has Nanjiani discussing a video game called Call of Duty (full disclosure, I also play it). He remarks that previous installments of the game were based on real wars, but subsequent versions of the game have been set in current conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq. He expresses surprise that one level is even based in Karachi, the city in which he grew up. The joke is that he thinks this might give him an edge in playing: “Hey, guys we can hide out there. I used to rent videos there. Mr. Sadiqqi will let us hide out.”

But then he goes on to make a further observation that is symptomatic of the current state of McLocalization and how it combines a very unconscious Anglocentrism with a naïve but clumsy universalism. The game makes a huge investment in creating realistic settings. Except for one small detail, as Nanjiani points out: 

The name of the language you speak in Pakistan is Urdu. That’s the name: Urdu. But all the street signs in Karachi in Call of Duty are in Arabic. Yeah. Totally different language. And I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but this game took three years to make. If you look at it, they get every detail perfect, like the graphics. You can see individual hairs on people’s heads. When they run, they sweat. When they run, their shoelaces bounce. All they had to do was google “Pakistan language.” They were literally like: “What language do they speak in Pakistan?” “Uh… I don’t care. I can’t get this guy’s sideburns right.”

Watch the whole video here:

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, and H.B.O. International. To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. You can also join his LinkedIn network by visiting the profile or follow him on Twitter.


patenttranslator said...

I saw a number of American spy movies about the Cold War era in which an American actor who is chased by bad guys in Russia speaks Russian.

I speak pretty good Russian, but what comes out of the mouth of the actors is completely unintelligible to me. It does not really sound much like a human language.

But it's just fine for American audience.

Caffelatte Cancon said...

Reminds me of one of the Herbie the Love Bug movies set in a kid my Mum spoke Spanish and we did not (yet). One of the "Mexicans" started babbling away and I said to my Mum, "What is he saying?" Her response: "I don't know, it's in Italian."