Localization is an inventive principle

When Gendrich Altshuller analyzed thousands of patents, he noticed that many inventions involved disrupting the uniformity of some quality of an object such that parts of the object can fulfill different and useful functions. Thus, besides chopping things into pieces (principle 1: segmentation) and pulling some pieces out (principle 2: extraction), objects or parts of objects are modified in or for certain situations. He called this third principle “local quality” – probably because the word for this particular activity had not been invented yet or had at least not been popularized. From today’s vantage point, it is fairly clear that he meant: localization.

When it is defined in such general terms (“adapt parts to local conditions”), localization is clearly ubiquitous. The examples in TRIZ literature range from ergonomics (modify the handle of a hair brush to make it easier to grip) over multifunction tools to customizable software or targeted TV ads. Not surprisingly, we can find this principle at work in every area of our own activity as translators and localizers.

As we have seen before, translation typically happens on *extracted* content, which is then *segmented*. These segments then become part of our “translation units”, i.e. the minimal building blocks of the texts we work on. Translation units are usually stored with a unique id and contain the source segment as well as the target segment. Often, they include information about the date and time when the unit was created and when it was last modified and by whom. The unit may keep a reference to the document it came from as well as the specific location inside the document and it may possibly also point to the immediately preceding and following segments. These bits of information become relevant in different situations and perform various useful functions at different times. The act of creating translation units is thus an application of “localization” in the sense of TRIZ.

A translation project manager works with many different translators. While there are translation agencies that require translators to work with a specific tool, many agencies do not. In order to give translators the choice of tool, the project manager needs to provide them with documents either in a format that is specifically compatible with the translators’ tools or in a format that is generic enough that all tools can work with them. In many cases, this means that the project manager converts the source document into one or multiple formats. In other words, the project manager “localizes” the source format for the specific translator situation.

Then, of course, our whole business as translation suppliers aims at helping our customers localize their content. We adapt websites to different countries, we make catalogs available in different languages, we provide software users with language choices for their applications. Thus, in order to perform what our industry knows as L10n (localization), we localize our workflow for many different participants and send files around that have a highly localized internal structure. And, most importantly, we enable our clients to adapt the products to specific market conditions in other countries.

L10n is thus just a special case of a general principle of adaptation. Aspects of it can be found almost wherever innovation takes place.

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