A while ago I discussed how crucial it is for clients and translators to be clear about the specifications of each project from the outset. Two of the ten items listed as relevant in that article have to do with dialects: source language and regional variation, and target language and regional variation. This matter is so important that it deserves a post—or several—of its own.
Dialects are one of the elements taken into consideration when you do what’s commonly known as “localization.” This term derives from “locale,” which refers to a given geographical, political, or cultural region while also considering this region’s language and local variant.
Some scholars and professionals defend that localization is much more than “mere” translation, because it involves the adaptation of the whole message to fit a particular culture. The article “What Is Localization?” concludes that “localization is like translation but with a cultural twist and a rewrite attribute.” Nevertheless, others argue that the very notion of translation intrinsically encompasses localization: all translations necessarily involve cultural considerations and adaptations. Well, there’s certainly a lot to discuss on this topic—much more than what I have in mind for this particular post. I just wanted to introduce the issue by tackling these concepts and showing how language variants, culture, and translation/localization are interconnected.
It’s only natural that non-native speakers of a language find the divergences between two or more variants of the same language imperceptible. However, as the previous paragraph suggests, differences between countries go beyond linguistic nuances and involve cultural matters. A good, commonly known example is how sensitive language variation is for French-Canadians and for the French of France. Most people also seem to be aware of how different the language spoken in the US is from that spoken in the UK. In addition, there are many other cases of regional language variation, such as Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese, the wide array of Spanish variants, various dialects of Farsi/Persian (also known as “Dari” in Afghanistan and Tajikistan), among others I won’t even begin to detail.
The case of Spanish certainly deserves more attention than I can give it right now. But just to mention in passing, the Spanish-speaking countries have reached an implicit agreement on what’s called “international Spanish” or “neutral Spanish,” which works fine under certain circumstances. I intend to address this quite unique scenario in more depth at another time.
Problems with the translation itself
Although language variants are often mutually intelligible to some extent, sometimes the nature of the differences and their high frequency result in uncomfortable bumps in the texts: distractions and obstacles that prevent immediate understanding. For instance, a text that is simple, informal, and direct in one country might sound too formal, harsh, and wordy in another. A translation that doesn’t sound as fluent or natural as the original might fail to appeal to that particular readership. Therefore, a number of aspects of this very text will need to be adapted in order to reach the target readers appropriately and generate the desired results.
Your image and the readers’ attitude
If you are unaware of the importance of regional variants, you might hire translators from different backgrounds as if they were interchangeable. However, mismatching the target variant and audience might undermine the reception of your text and the communication as a whole.
Not taking regional linguistic differences into account might suggest disrespect on the part of the translation buyer or his/her lack of familiarity with the target culture. This often affects the way the audience responds to the text. Readers who are relegated to the position of what’s often called “chance receivers” might not interact with the text in the same way as the primary addressees.
Therefore, being aware of regional linguistic variation is the first step toward producing a translation that speaks properly to its intended readers. By appropriately translating and localizing your texts, you present your brand as culturally aware and earn the respect of your target audience by showing that your business is committed to their particular needs and interests.
Language professionals: a central piece
A serious professional should be ready to deal with language variation issues. It’s the translators’ job to raise the awareness of those involved with translation—from staff in translation agencies to members of professional associations, and translation buyers. For instance, if clients don’t specify upfront the variant they need (which happens more often than we’d imagine), translators are expected to clarify this point before going ahead with the project. I believe most colleagues would agree that it’s unethical of a professional to simply assume his/her variant is the one requested and start the translation without first checking with the client.
If you have two professionals working on the same project, for example, one in charge of the translation and one taking care of editing, avoid hiring people from different backgrounds. Save time and money by respecting regional differences and working with teams of translators and revisers who are prepared to meet the specific needs of the audience you have in mind.