Translation and Language Variants

Yer bum’s oot the windae. Gonnae no’ dae that! If you don’t know what this means and you are an English speaker, what appears to be the problem? The problem is that the Scottish variation or dialect of English is not the same as the American, the Irish, the British, the Australian, etc. In case you were wondering, in American English, the phrase says, “You’re talking rubbish. I’m not going to do that!” This is more than just a local dialect (Scotland had a number of those, too: Aberdonian, Glaswegian, Edinburgh, Fife, Perthshire, Dundonian), this is an example of an entirely different variation of English.

During your localization process, it is important to understand if you are working with a language that has a significant linguistic variation within a major language. While most speakers of the local variation can comprehend the main language, others may not understand them, and they would know in an instant that the text was not written or addressed to them (one of the main purposes of localization).

Consider another example. Suppose somebody asked you to pop your bonnet and let them check out your dickie. In America, you might get punched in the nose for such language. In England, this is simple car talk you might hear at the mechanic. You are supposed to open up the engine compartment (pop the bonnet) and open up the rear compartment or trunk (check out your dickie), likely to see if you have a spare tire or a car jack.

The standard English of England comes from London English, American English is said to be the purest in the Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, etc.), the standard Italian is that of Tuscany, and the highest form of Spanish is Castillian. In India, the national language is Hindi, but don’t try to argue that with somebody from South India. If you wanted to be certain a person from India could read your document translated into Hindi, you would want to ensure they were from a Hindi-speaking area prior to translation (at most 60 percent of Indians speak Hindi, there are 22 other recognized official languages, but nearly all well-educated Indians speak English).

What Do Language Variations Mean for Translation?

The purpose of localization during translation is to adapt your text to the needs of a particular language or culture. After a document is localized is should have the “look-and-feel” of the target language. It should appear that the information was actually written or developed within the local culture.

Consider the following translation of a document from Japanese to English. You want your document to meet all of the rules of the language, the culture, and the region. Without more information, however, this is not possible. The English language is too vast. Some machine translators have accounted for language variants, as have some CAT systems, but the majority of computers simply translate to “English”. Sometimes there is a choice of British English instead of American English, but even this is not universal. The same is true for Portuguese, where European and Brazilian Portuguese have any number of differences.

In Spanish, there are many variations in the language, and not all countries follow the rules of Castillian Spanish within their official language. Even within Spain there are distinct language groups such as Catalan and Basque (which is actually nothing like Spanish). The Spanish of the Canary Islands has many Portuguese influences, Latin American and Caribbean Spanish are both close to Castillian Spanish, but still different than each other. Argentina and Uraguay speak a variant that is almost closer to Italian than Spanish.

While there are dozens of Arabic dialects, and Chinese dialects number in the hundreds, all official documents in these two languages are written in Literary Arabic and Mandarin, respectively. This makes translation to and from these languages much easier.

When selecting a translation service provider, it is important to look beyond the direct language pairs listed on the website and ask questions about the ability of their translators to localize your documents when the source language has distinct variations. An American may speak English, but it would be almost impossible for them to translate a document into a Scottish dialect.

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