Friday, January 21, 2005

The MSN Atlas on Việt Nam

I found myself at the MSN Atlas, and decided to check their representation of this country. My observations:

  • Microsoft should be commended for trying to represent names "as is". They have not decided to anglicize names by removing diacritics - well, not all of them. Anglicization removes information, which is not what you want in an atlas. So you see Biên Hoà as "Biên Hoà", and not "Bien Hoa". Good one for Microsoft.
  • Unfortunately, the font is too small. The "ẵ" in "Đà Nẵng" looks like an "a" with an indeterminate squiggle on top. This does not help people who are working on a school project.
  • I wonder if the compilers got their information from a pre-1975 atlas. For example, they use "Tan Son Nhut Airport". (In Vietnamese, that's Tân Sơn Nhựt Airport"). No-one uses that nowadays.  It's an old term dating from when the South rose up. According to my Vietnamese teacher, the proper name was, is, and always will be "Tân Sơn Nhất". Back when Ngô Ðình Diệm ran the country, literacy levels were lower than today, and many Vietnamese confused the "Nhựt" with the "Nhất". It doesn't help that "â" sound similar to to short "u" in "cut". So many of the military "advisers" took that funny transliteration back home with them.
  • There are no province names. Instead, they use pre-1945 names like "Cochin China". Nobody, and I mean nobody, uses that either. It's an archaic remnant from when the country was run as three separate satraphies by the French.
  • Finally, there are some bad mistakes. There are mistakes in capitalizations ("Xóm MớI"), there are mistakes in writing diphthongs foreign to the language (such as "uơ") and there are really egregious mistakes that would be laughed at by anyone knowledgeable of the country, such as "Ba Truưoờng". This makes this project typically Microsoft. They're good at using vast resources of manpower and money to make a project work. They're not so good at quality control.

It would not be hard to subcontract some locals for error checking. Nor would it be expensive.