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Localization Not Occupation community event, 7 Oct 2012,
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Semantic overload is the term to describe a word with multiple meanings. This could be due to various reasons, such as whether the usages share or differ in etymology, application, idiom, and context. A large number of different linguistic terms fall under semantic overload: homonym, homograph, homophone, heteronym, heterograph, and more, all depending on whether their spelling or pronunciation are the same or different.

For example, a piece of heavy-lifting equipment with a long arm, bending your neck to look at something, or a stilt-legged waterfowl may all be expressed in English by the word “crane.” These other meanings all derive etymologically from the same basic word for the long-necked waterfowl, the Old English cran, or Germanic krano. Over time, the homonyms spawned from the original word.

As another example, “cool” can alternatively mean lower in relative temperature (either as an adjective or a verb), calm and composed, fashionable or trendy, or just as an exclamation or superlative like awesome, neat or great.

Alternatively, the word spelled as “content” is a heteronym: spelled the same, but with different pronunciation and meanings. Stressed as “con-TENT,” it means to be happy, pleased or reasonably satisfied. Stressed on the other syllable, “CON-tent,” it means things included or contained, such as information in a web page, or, pluralized the enclosed items in an express-shipped package.

Overloaded Localization

Our own industry suffers from semantic overloading. The term “localization” itself can mean different things in different contexts. Googling the term can result in a myriad of articles for various industries, which may or may not be referring to linguistics.

  • Mapping, Navigation, and Geolocation: Vehicles of all stripes, self-driving cars, robots, and other real-world navigating systems need to know how to define “here.” They need to answer questions such as, “Where am I now?” Or “Which way am I heading?” Or “What is my orientation?” This type of localization is literal, to fix a locus of position: whether using cartesian or polar coordinates, latitude, longitude, altitude, heading, speed, or so on.
  • Industry: Often referred to as “production localization” or “manufacturing localization.” In the United States, it refers to what percentage of foreign manufacturing or assembly is allowed before you can slap on a label that says “Made in the U.S.A.” Such labelling, which requires “all or virtually all” parts to be of U.S. origin, is standardized by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The same applies to automobiles made in Russia, China, or any other country for that matter. And it can apply to aircraft, computers, or weapons systems. In cases of overseas business expansion, localization requires tailoring manufacturing practices and labor relations to comply with local needs and requirements.
  • Economies-of-Scale: Though it may sound similar, it is not quite the same as the industrial definition above. Rather than serve as compliance to laws or regulations of local production, this is the intrinsic attraction to produce goods in the same place for economies-of-scale. Localization economies refer to any industry that is agglomerated (concentrated) in a locale or region (see Rosenthal-Strange, 2004, based on Marshal, 1920). Such agglomeration self-reinforces as it attracts talent, investment, and expansion. Prime examples of this are the high-tech industries of Silicon Valley and the mass media production of Hollywood in California, and, on the opposite coast, the advertising on Madison Avenue and finance on Wall Street in New York City.
  • Sustainable Economies: A different, more holistic understanding of economic localization comes from a reaction against globalism. Helena Norberg-Hodge and others have argued for localization of production, as a practical antonym to globalization, to reduce monoculture, reduce transportation time, energy and costs, to improve local economic viability and sustainability, and to foster peace through the “economics of happiness.” Such thinking spawned the “locavore” movement, where people seek to eat foods grown and prepared near where they lived.

Yes, it can get quite confusing when you have overloaded semantics spanning multiple domains. What if you are localizing documents related to localization of cancer treatments? Or localizing documents about localization of a new automotive production chain of vendors in a foreign market? Or if you want your robot to deliver a localized message based on its geolocation?

So when you say “localization” — what, exactly, do you mean?

What other instances of overloaded semantics have you run into? How do you feel it best to resolve them? We’d love to hear! Tell us your overloaded semantic stories by emailing us at [email protected].