Thursday 21 July 2011

Spam, scams, phishing, junk mail and cold calling - why it's good to speak Welsh

David Crystal wonders in his blog whether phishing occurs in languages other than English. The short answer is that it does, but the question made me think. Are other languages, including "small" and minority languages, somehow less susceptible to the unwelcome attentions of phishing scams, junk mail and cold calling?

So let's turn over a few stones at random to see what is happening in these murky waters, starting with those infuriating cold calls from factory-like centres in India and elsewhere.

It is estimated that about half a million people are employed in call centres in Germany, and since cold calling (Kaltakquise  as well as cold call in German) is illegal there, it is safe to assume that the vast majority of these will be employed in answering calls rather than pestering people at home. I can also state from personal experience that in seven years spent in the German speaking part of Switzerland, I never once received a cold call, possibly because Swiss German is not big in India.

Until relatively recently, the big Indian outsourcing companies concentrated on English-speaking countries, but in the search for new markets, some attempts have been made to recruit staff from several European countries. The fact is, however, that most Europeans outside the UK live their lives largely untroubled by cold callers from India, etc. trying to sell various products and services.

Germans, Swedes, Swiss, Dutch and other nationalities who call their banks or insurance companies are also very unlikely to find themselves speaking to a non-native speaker based in another part of the world, and Welsh speakers who want to contact BT or one of the other large companies in the UK are at a distinct advantage. Calls made to BT in English are notoriously frustrating, but select the Welsh option, and you are much more likely to be a happy customer.

Spam is also a largely Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. When did you last receive spam (sbam) in Welsh? In the Nordic countries most e-mails advertising Viagra, penis enlargements, etc. are in English, although there are reports of an increase in spam mail advertising gambling. Many Internet users in Norway, Sweden and Denmark say that they have never received spam in their own language, and the most commonly used term for spam in all three countries is, well, spam. The Swedes differ from their neighbours in often preferring to coin a native term for Anglo-Saxon imports, and the suggestion for spam is skräppost (skräp = rubbish),  a term which also serves to translate junk mail, for which the suggested Welsh term is post sothach.

Moving on from cold calling and spam, both of which are illegal in some countries, to activities which are criminal offences everywhere.

Scams are not restricted to the Internet, of course. Dodgy geezers in pubs, shady characters offering cut-price Chanel perfumes on the high street, Welsh farmers doing interesting things with VAT - their ancestors were at it back in Ancient Rome. No matter which language you speak, there have been scams in it. The suggested Welsh translation for boiler room scam is twyll ystafell bwyler, although it is probably safe to assume that there has never been one through the medium of Welsh.

Thanks to the Internet, however, we now have phishing. Phishing is definitely a multi-lingual phenomenon, although I have yet to hear of gwe-rwydo (web netting) conducted through Welsh.

A report from the Swedish University of Åbo in Finland talks about an attempt to acquire passwords in an e-mail which, "if not completely free of errors, was written in unusually good Swedish". German, Danish and Norwegian sources all report illegal attempts to acquire bank account details and other personal information, including e-mails announcing tax rebates. As usual, German tends to stick to the Anglo-Saxon phishing, while Norwegian and Swedish have tried phisking, nettfiske and nätfiske, fiskeri respectively.

What they all have in common is unusual or incorrect use of the target language. Could the culprit be Google Translate?

Here is an example quoted by David Crystal (the italics are his to highlight non-standard English):

This is an important information regarding your Google account. We have just realized that your account information on our database system is out of date, as a result of that we request that you to verify your Information by filling your account information below.

Here is what Google makes of this in Welsh:

Mae hon yn wybodaeth bwysig am eich cyfrif Google. Rydym newydd sylweddoli bod eich gwybodaeth cyfrif ar ein system cronfa ddata yn hen, yn sgil ein bod yn gofyn i chi i wirio eich gwybodaeth drwy lenwi eich gwybodaeth cyfrif isod.
It does a pretty good job with the mutations, and anyone reading this would have a reasonably clear idea of what the message meant. But it sounds odd, and the term "gwybodaeth cyfrif" is definitely wrong.

The story is the same for French and the Nordic languages. My old French teacher would probably have awarded a C+ to this:

Ceci est une information importante concernant votre compte Google. Nous avons juste rendu compte que vos informations de compte sur notre système de base de données est à jour, à la suite de cela nous vous demandons de vérifier vos informations en remplissant vos informations de compte ci-dessous.

Surprisingly, Google makes a much better stab at Welsh than it does of German. The grammatical genders are wrong, the case endings are incorrect, the structures are odd and the vocabulary used is not what a native speaker would expect. This one gets a D-. Nevertheless, it still makes sense.

Dies ist ein wichtiger Informationen zu Ihrem Google-Konto. Wir haben gerade festgestellt, dass Ihr Account-Informationen auf unserer Datenbank-System nicht mehr aktuell ist, als Ergebnis, dass wir verlangen, dass Sie Ihre Informationen, indem Sie Ihre Kontoinformationen zu überprüfen unten.

Top marks go to Welsh if you want to steer clear of cold calls, spam and phishing. Speakers of many other European languages are also less likely than their Anglo-Saxon neighbours to be plagued with unwanted telephone calls or spam, although it is likely that French and Spanish will be more susceptible because of their wider geographical distribution. Phishing seems to be a universal phenomenon, although the complexities of German grammar come to the rescue. The same is almost certainly true for the Slavonic languages, Finnish, Hungarian and the highly inflected Lithuanian and Latvian languages.

Without doubt, speakers of English are more likely to be pestered with unwanted telephone calls and spam; they are also more likely than most to be the targets of phishing, but since Anglo-Saxon capitalism has been the driving force behind outsourcing, call centres and the general commercialisation of life, there may be some justice in all of this.


Nic said...

Mae'r TPS yn gweithio'n dda iawn i atal galwyr oer ym Mhrydain. Byddwn ni'n cael llai nag un y mis, fel arfer o India, a dw i'n jyst siarad Cymraeg â nhw nes iddyn nhw roi'r gorau. Sbort.

nitz said...

The importance of a welsh translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.