On Translating geographical names

I was working with Meelad Zakaria (a fellow Persian translator of GNOME)
on translating Evolution, and the problem of translation of geographical
names came into our attention. This was rather important to me since me
and Behdad Esfahbod are trying to internationalize GNU miscfiles, which
contains lots of geographical names.

This is the problem:

1) You cannot simply keep the original name of a city (or country),
specially if the language is not written in Latin. Even if your language
is written in the Latin alphabet, the name may be spelled differently.
For example, "London" becomes "Londra" in Turkish.

2) You cannot simply transcribe the English or the original
pronunciation of the city or country, when your language uses a
non-Latin script. Specially if you the city is in a neighboring country,
is in a geographically disputed area or has once belonged to an empire
with the same official language of yours. For example, "Yerevan" becomes
"iravaan" (ØÛØÙØÙ) in Persian.

3) You cannot even find the pronunciation of the city names sometimes,
or find where it is located. For example, we could not find much about
"Araguina", a city in Brazil, or "Yakutat", a city/borough in Alaska
with a population of 808 which are needed in translation of timezone
data in Evolution on the Internet or in our Persian Atlas.

These are a few of our recommendations. We are assuming that you are the
first person to try to translate (or copy-edit) the translations:

1) Try official bodies. Your national institute of standards may have a
translation of the ISO 3166 standard around, or your Ministry of Foreign
Affairs may have a website or publication with the names of countries or
embassies in their capitals or important cities.

2) Try encyclopedias. Start with Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/) to
find where the city is located or what is the language the country
speaks. For cities, look at the articles about the country in your local
language encyclopedia and browse. For countries, try to come with a
guess about the pronunciation/translation and look for that. Use the
most authoritative encyclopedia in your language only, not anything that
you had at hand.

3) Try an Atlas in your language. You usually won't need an English
language Atlas, since you can find about the whereabouts of the place
using Wikipedia or Google. Try to find the most recent Atlas published
by the most authoritative/educated map publishing house in your
language. If they don't have a recent one which doesn't consider East
Timor a country or still calls Serbia and Montenegro "Yugoslavia", see
if you can find a more recent one by any publisher. But use both, since
worse publishers usually get the pronounciation or the common name

4) Check dictionaries. We assumed you've already checked them, of
course. But there are certain dictionaries for pronunciation of
geographical or historical names. In English, they are usually named a
"Pronunciation Dictionary" or a "Geographical Dictionary", and both
Oxford, Cambridge, and Merriam-Webster have their own editions. We could
find one for Persian, and you may be able to find one for yourself.
Check the best known dictionary publisher in your language.

5) If all fails, try to find the English pronunciation and transcribe
that to your language. Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary
(http://m-w.com) has the pronunciation of many important cities and

6) If you find absolutely nothing, like the problem we had with
"Araguina", don't translate it, or mark it as fuzzy. Don't get into a
competition with other languages. The English name may be much more
useful than a wrong translation to your user.

We appreciate feedbacks, or incorporation of some info from above into
the translation guidelines document.


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