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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Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.