Menu in Breton from the game Steredenn.

The video game: A challenging universe for minority languages

r12n
r12n
Mar 20, 2018 · 5 min read

The arrival of the Breton game Steredenn on Nintendo Switch expands the limited catalog of games available in minority languages. The first game in Corsican, Winterfall, is expected on PC at the end of 2018.

Patxi Berhouet

Steredenn landed on Nintendo Switch on March 8 and is the first portable console game playable in Breton. The space shooter game was developed by Breton studio Pixelnest, initially in a PC version, and translated by a fan.

“I want my computer and my games to speak to me in Breton,” explains Gwenn Meynier, a computer engineer, who spends a good deal of his free time translating software such as LibreOffice and browsers such as Firefox. “When the game was announced, I questioned its name, which means star in Breton, so I offered to run with the idea and translate it. The developers had thought about it but as they didn’t know any Breton speakers, they didn’t go any further.”

The arrival of Steredenn on Switch expands the limited catalog of games available in minority languages. There are only around ten games in Basque and Breton and the first game in Corsican (subtitled in English), Winterfall, is expected at the end of the year. This is a low number, given that these languages manage to live in other cultural domains like music, literature and cinema. Handia, the Basque-language film directed by Jon Garaño and José Mari Goenaga, was the most successful feature film at the 2018 Goya Awards, the Spanish Oscars.

Trailer for Winterfall, with Corsican narration.

How can this be explained? “There are few, if any, public grants available for video games,” explains Fulup Jakez, from the Public Office for the Breton Language. “Most likely because they’re not considered part of the culture, in the way of public policies, therefore their development can’t be subsidized and rests solely with volunteers. Public decision-makers and cultural players of cinema and literature are generally older, they’re not familiar with video games and aren’t interested in them.”

“Publishers have limited interest in translating games into minority languages”

Publishers generally have little interest in minority languages. “Most publishers are foreign companies that don’t even know these languages exist,” says Urtzi Odriozola, who is part of Game Erauntsia, a group of Basque gamers who campaign for using the Basque language in the video game world. “They see no benefit in developing a game in Basque.”

“Publishers have limited interest in translating games into minority languages,” observes Derek Lackaff, communications faculty at Elon University in the United States, who has examined the role of minority languages in video games. “They won’t reach a larger audience by multiplying the minority language translations of their games.” Almost all those who speak a minority language are bilingual, also speaking a global language such as French or English.

A scene from “Pokémon Ruby”, translated into Basque by the Game Erauntsia collective.

Fans then turn to free games which let the community translate the games, like SuperTuxKart (inspired by Mario Kart). “We need recognize that by translating these games for free, we’re allowing private companies to save money by doing their job,” remarks Odriozola. “As well as translating these free games, which are largely unknown, should we also translate for free the ‘best sellers’ by publishers who already earn millions?”

For Lackaff, “the ‘small languages’ still have considerable interest in being present in this world. The interactivity of games can provide the user with great engagement with the language. It’s also a way to show new generations that these languages don’t belong to the past but that they can serve the modern world very well.”

“Boss” becomes “enebour-meur”

In Basque Country, Brittany or Corsica, video games have led fans to invent words or to give certain terms new meaning. The Game Erauntsia collective has created a lexicon of terms to use. Meynier has also started on neologisms, “We have to experiment and see what works, or doesn’t. For me it’s a breath of fresh air, it’s much more interesting to translate than error messages!” In Breton a “boss” becomes “enebour-meur” (which could be translated as “great enemy”) or “pennenebour” (main enemy). In Basque it is “etsai nagusia”.

“I didn’t want to announce it as a ‘Corsican game project’, or limit myself to Corsica. I want to make a quality video game first.”

In Corsican, the lexicon is still in its infancy but words appear, “interfaccia”, “mondu apertu” … “Sometimes we say ‘ghjocu videò’, which is a literal translation of the French,” explains Frédéric Antonpietri, who helped Fabien Mariani create the game Winterfall in Corsican. “We used ‘videoghjocu’ instead, which is a more logical form and close to the way words are constructed in the Corsican language. Sometimes we keep the English term, otherwise we need to get closer to Corsican logic while staying in the everyday language. We avoid words that are too convoluted and words that ‘sound’ wrong.”

“We’re opening doors”

But writing a game in Basque, Breton or Corsican is not enough, the game still needs to find an audience. Free games, which allow communities to translate, are known only by insiders. SuperTuxKart has only been downloaded around ten thousand times on Android, while the flagship games reach tens of millions of downloads. The strategy video game 0 A.D., also available in Basque, has been viewed thousands of times, while successful games receive millions of views. There are some educational games that use minority languages, but their quality is often poor.

“I didn’t talk about my game in Corsican until very late,” says Mariani who developed Winterfall. “I’ve been working on this game since 2015, but I made the decision to share it first with an English-speaking audience, to gaming fans. I didn’t want to announce it as a ‘Corsican game project’, or limit myself to Corsica. I want to make a quality video game first, that’s most important. Winterfall isn’t intended to promote the Corsican language, I incorporated the language into the game because I found the sound suited the wonderful world that I wanted to create. This will be the first game in the Corsican language, we’re opening doors, and if this can inspire other projects that’s great.”

Original article published in French in La Croix on March 9, 2018, presented here with permission. English translation by r12n.

For more on video gaming and localization in minority languages, check out Conquering digital worlds in Scottish Gaelic.

r12n is an irregular publication that features interesting people, projects, and ideas that connect with language revitalization and technology. Feedback appreciated. If you like it, please recommend or share the link!

r12n: technology and language revitalization

r12n features stories on innovative uses of technology in the race to revitalize the world’s indigenous, endangered, and minoritized languages.

r12n

Written by

r12n

technology and language revitalization

r12n: technology and language revitalization

r12n features stories on innovative uses of technology in the race to revitalize the world’s indigenous, endangered, and minoritized languages.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade