Tuesday, May 17

Developers around the world race to translate Wordle game

A person plays “Wordle” online on their cell phone in Washington DC, January 11, 2022Stefani Reynolds

Despite the differences in alphabets and the subtleties of each language, developers from all over the world have taken up the challenge of translating and adapting Wordle, an American online game with global success, bought Monday by the New York Times.

Five letters, six essays, and only one word to discover per day: the “Wordle” formula is very simple, but it has hooked players all over the world, even attracting the attention of the famous American newspaper which made its acquisition for several million dollars.

From Germany to Pakistan, web developers and language enthusiasts have therefore embarked on a race to translate the game, hoping to be the first to create a version in their own language.

“It has become a trend on social networks, which has made it possible to highlight the creativity of small developers who each want to do their own translation,” laughs Louan Bengmah, 21.

The 21-year-old tackled the French adaptation of Wordle, receiving help from other developers on the Twitch streaming platform, and managed to publish his version after a weekend.

“We had a lot of debates on the words to choose, and we finally agreed to take those of the ODS, the Scrabble dictionary”, says Louan Bengmah, who did not derive any profit from its free version.

In countries that do not use the Latin alphabet, the transposition of Wordle with other characters, while retaining the principle of the five-letter word, has however proved to be particularly complex.

To remedy this, a Hong Kong linguistics professor, Lau Chaak-ming, developed a Cantonese version called “Zidou”, using the “Jyutping” character romanization method created in 1993.

“We would have been delighted if a few hundred people were playing our version, but I couldn’t believe it when more than 10,000, then 100,000 people started using it,” he said.

– Linguistic challenge –

Wordle fever also took hold of Israeli mathematician and developer Amir Livne Bar-on, who was quickly frustrated at not being a good player in English.

“As it’s not my native language, I wanted to create a similar game in Hebrew so I could really enjoy it,” he says.

While working on his version called “Meduyeket”, he also came up against some linguistic barriers: “the words in Hebrew are more compact, with a lot less double letters and vowels”, he explains.

Once posted, it was a big hit with young Israelis. “People have told me that the game brightened up their quarantine during the wave of the Covid Omicron variant, and nothing could have made me happier,” he said.

Wayne McDougall, for his part, has taken up an even more formidable challenge: the New Zealander has embarked on the creation of a version in the Maori language, Te Reo… which he does not speak himself.

“As no one had done it yet, I thought someone had to get started,” jokes McDougall, who worked out, not without difficulty, a list of words with their definitions.

“The biggest difficulty is that the Te Reo alphabet has a limited number of consonants and vowels”, details the developer, who has not given up and gone to the end of his version.

“I was afraid of stepping into other people’s territory, as the language is something of a cultural treasure, but all of the feedback has been positive, and the native speakers have provided me with additional resources and words to include.”


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