Parable of the Polygons

2 November 2019

Shiri Avni

Back in 2014, Vi Hart & Nicky Case developed an awesome playable page titled Parable of the Polygons. Their purpose was to educate the public about how even slight biases on the part of individuals can lead to a strongly split society. If you haven’t heard about it yet, try it out!.

a simple pendulum

The main characters in the Polygon tale
Photo from wikipedia.org.

Anyway, Moshe Radian and I decided to make a Hebrew translation. I thought it’d be nice to quickly recap a few things that came up in the translation process - so without further ado:

Saying “You” in Hebrew

The English version parable is written in a conversational voice that speaks directly to the reader, containing sentences such as look around [you]”. In Hebrew however, the verb for 2nd person (‘you’) is conjugated differently when addressing a man or a woman, let alone several men or several women. Thus, many Hebrew articles use a male-only voice, including a small declaration at the top of the article stating that the content is also relevant for female readers (or vice versa).

We ended up going with another option, that of addressing several readers at once, as if imagining that several friends are reading the post together. The closest to an English equivalent would be if we changed the previous phrase to “look around [y’all]”. Technically, the verb conjugation in this case is for a group of men, but in modern Hebrew this conjugation is also used for women. As a native English speaker, the switch to the plural form still sounds slightly strange to me, but it’s the best we could do.

Missing Words

Just as any bilingual speaker knows, some words from language A just don’t exist in language B, and vice versa. Some of the words that caused me a bit of grief translating are:

with this term
English Word Hebrew Translation Drawbacks
Segregation "Hafrada" (Separation) For an English speaker, segregation and separation have quite different connotations.
Tipping Point "Nekudat Ha Al Chazor"
(Point of no return)
A person can return from a tipping point, but not from a "point of no return". Thus, the translated Hebrew sentence comes across as more pessimistic than the original text . The storyline corrects for this later on though!

Right-to-left Italics

In English, we tend to emphasize phrases with our handy italics. Hebrew, being a right-to-left written language, should have the italics going the other way - that is, leaning to the left, rather than to the right. We found some CSS solutions on stackexchange, but we understood that those solutions wouldn’t look good on all browsers. Neither did we find a ready-made Hebrew font that we liked and that supported italics.

In short, we stayed with the ‘backwards’ italics, and learned a few lessons on right-to-left challenges in HTML. I personally also finally understood why italics are so much less ubiquitous in web Hebrew!

Hosting the site

We hosted the translated site on Github pages, and it was our first time using the platform. It was spectacularly easy, so I’d recommend you try it out if you want a free hosting option for a stateless website (one con being that unless you’re a paying customer, the source code of the website will be made public).

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