The debate regarding the origin of language has been going on for several millennia. Within the past few years however, linguists have spread out across the globe looking for evidence of primitive languages. One of the more compelling areas of discussion is the continuing prevalence of languages based on whistling, perhaps whose origins sprang from the imitation of bird songs. Below is a link to an BBC Future article called “The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds”.
What can we learn from this and how does it apply to our contemporary world? Like the people who talk like birds, we as modern day humans tend to alter our speech patterns, vocabulary, and accent based on our neighbors and local community. This explains the evolution of the American accent versus British, Scottish, Kiwi, etc.
But accents usually don’t alter how we translate the written word. Just like speech, there have been slight adjustments in sentence structure and spelling throughout the course of the english language. For example, the word “color” as we would spell it in America is different that what the folks on the other side of the pond write which is “colour”. Now how did this come to be? With this one- it’s political.
Noah Webster (yes, of dictionary fame) was a famous lexicographer who, when America was establishing herself as an independent entity from England, developed updated spellings of certain words to make them more unique. Color is one of these. Grammarly.com dives in even deeper here.
As the owner of a translation company, it’s subtleties like this that are extremely important when understanding where your client’s final product will land in the world. Spanish in Spain is drastically different than Mexico or Puerto Rico. It’s these little subtleties that make a translated document read “native” as opposed to “foreign” and one of the reasons we strive to use translators whose native tongue best fits our client’s needs. Good luck doing that with a computer!
Considering the popularity of emoticons, emojis and animojis, who knows- perhaps someday we will be translating those as well.
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I’ve often heard clients ask, “What’s the most important thing I need to understand about translation? Is it the size of the project or the difficulty of the language or the country where the document will be used, etc.”
The short answer is, none of the above. In a few words, translation involves converting the source language (eg. English) into a target language (eg. Chinese). I use Chinese as an example because it is one of the fastest growing languages in our field of work and it comes with specific issues that will be discussed later on. The answer to the main question is the source language. You’ve most likely heard the expression “garbage in, garbage out (GIGO).” Although this typically relates to the scientific and mathematical world, it also has significance when it comes to translations.
Making Sense Out of Nonsense
I’m not writing about nonsense in a pejorative or derogatory way, but rather to indicate writing that is not understandable. It’s like reading a paragraph, a sentence or even a phrase and not knowing what the writer is attempting to convey. This happens more often than not, and for this reason, among others, at Translation Services International we thoroughly proofread every document that comes in. If we are given a document in English that for whatever reason we can’t understand, how could we possibly expect a translator, whose native language is not English to understand it. That’s why it is imperative and absolutely necessary for us to take the time to make sure that we don’t have garbage or poorly written documents going into the process. What are the causes of bad source documents?
In this business there’s no room for garbage in, garbage out. If we don’t understand it, it doesn’t get delivered to our team of translators. For those reading this blog who are writers and want to hone your proofreading skills, I’ll be adding a section called, “How to prepare your documents for translation into any and all languages.” Feel free to reach out for a quote.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.