Language flavors: Dialects vs. languages

Aug 26, 2016

In terms of localization and also marketing customization of written content (e.g. in catalogs, websites, or promotional material), professional translation providers should be able to adjust the language and its style to match specifics of a region, ethnicity, or even a social group. But what is a dialect to begin with? And how does it relate to a language?

Localizing to dialects vs. localizing to languages

A dialect can be explained in two ways. It can be a subordinate language variant of a regional or national standard / official language, where the variant is, interestingly, not derived from, but related to the dominant language. However, the term dialect is also used to define a variant of a language that is characteristic to a certain group of language speakers. In this point of view, it is actually a matter of a scientific linguistic debate where to draw the border between a dialect and a language. There is also anopinion, that it's not possible to exactly determine where a dialect ends and a language begins. And here we come to the essence of professional and high-quality localization: knowing what language variant and form to use to grasp the essence of the locale. As languages and dialects evolve similar to living organisms, influenced by a number of factors from geographical and social, to historical and political, it is sometimes highly delicate to determine how to translate content to maximize impact.

When dialect is a language and language is a dialect

Yes, dialect and language can mean different things around the world. Let's take Chinese language, for example. All its variants share the same writing system, but in terms of mutual interchangeability e.g. the Cantonese and Mandarin dialects relate similarly as Spanish does with Italian, or Czech with Polish. The same goes for Arabic language and its dialects.

The understanding of a language as dominant over the dialect can also be reversed so that even though the language is considered "standard" or "official", the dialect of the target area or social / ethnic group is emphasized and "wins" over the language. Recognizing that this is an ongoing process, these days often accelerated by political forces, the translation industry needs to react in a flexible way and target evolving dialects, especially those that one day will turn into independent languages.

Language facts: Greenlandic

Aug 22, 2016

Greenlandic is a language spoken by the Inuit people in Greenland. The main dialect, Kalaallisut, of Western Greenland belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut family (closely related to other Inuit languages, e.g. in Canada and basically accross the Arctic area).

It became the only official language of Greenland when it gained autonomy from Denmark in 2009, after abandoning the Danish language. Greenlandic has around 58,000 native speakers.

Parents don't understand their kids – literally

It is not exactly known what language was spoken in Greenland by it's original inhabitants, however, the roots of today's Greenlandic was brought to the island around 13th century (by the ancestors of Inuits, the Thule people). There was no mention of the language in written form until the 17th century and the process of Greenlandic grammar constitution and the introduction of dictionaries accelerated with the Danish colonization of Greenland. The very first Danish-Greenlandic dictionary was introduced in 1750, and the first grammar followed in 1760.

Interestingly, similar to colonialism also the independence tendencies boosted development of the language. Since a home rule agreement in 1979, Greenlandic is the only language used in primary schooling and also by a lot of media, causing many young people to be bilingual in both Greenlandic and Danish, while their parents are monolingual in Danish. Modern Greenlandic has loaned many words from both English and Danish, but when adopting new technologies, attempts are made to construct words based on Greenlandic roots. Today, the language is regulated by the Greenland Language Committee and is still considered as "vulnerable" by UNESCO in terms of its endangerment.


Greenlandic is written in Latin script since it became a Danish colony in the 1700s. The alphabet is very short, consisting of just 18 characters, but it uses the letters b, c, d, h, x, y, z, w, æ, ø and å to enable spelling of loan words from Danish and English.

Manage your very first translation project like a pro: Is know-how important?

Aug 12, 2016

If you are the lucky one assigned to manage, say, translation of an annual product catalog, and you have never managed any translation project before, don't panic.

  1. Search for translation resources. You could save a lot of effort.
  2. Map the suppliers thoroughly. The difference is night and day.
  3. Document your company's language management.
  4. Establish a translation management workflow in your company.

In our mini-series, we already explained the first steps of the process regarding translation resources search as well asmapping and choosing your translation supplier.

Now that you know the who and the where, it is important to define how.

3. Define your company language.

Every company has its own terminology and specific company jargon. Special terms and their meaning are defined in a glossary. If you have not built a glossary yet, this is an undertaking that can be part of the translation process. You can then request your translation supplier to use specific terms and expressions to achieve correct meaning (e.g. “battery” in certain languages needs to be translated differently depending on the subject matter and intended use) – this is a standard process that should be included in a company's translation resources. Also, you should be aware of many language and cultural specifics that must be taken into consideration when translating, such as text formatting rules, use of diacritics and numbers. Many companies often have specific rules for publishing text, which are not always the same, and they of course differ for different languages. They are collected in so-called style sheets or style guides.

Fortify and defend your translation management workflow and preserve it for your successors.

Once you have managed to get a translation project delivered, don't let this be the end. To relieve others in your company and possible successors from having to repeat your hardships (remember, next time it could still be you who has to do it again!), you need to establish a written protocol for managing translation projects in your company. Don't forget to:

  • Get your translation supplier on the company map – include them in the list of vendors, store contact information for the project manager you communicated with and visibly record these. A good idea is to share the contacts, e.g. with your purchasing department.
  • Write down why you chose your current supplier (price, services, feedback on handled translations, etc.).
  • Leave instructions about using created translation resources and where to find them.

There! Now you are set to professionally handle translation projects, and impress your managers and potential clients with translated text that will promote your company and save your day.

Manage your very first translation project like a pro: Who should be your supplier?

Aug 5, 2016

If you are the lucky one assigned to manage, say, translation of an annual product catalog, and you have never managed any translation project before, don't panic.

  1. Search for translation resources. You could save a lot of effort.
  2. Map the suppliers thoroughly. The difference is night and day.
  3. Document your company's language management.
  4. Establish a translation management workflow in your company.

In this mini-series, we already explained the first steps of the process and the issue of translation resources search. Now, let's focus on the second point – mapping and choosing your translation supplier.

Map your potential suppliers. It matters more than you think.

There are numerous suppliers out in the market and they are available virtually by a few clicks on the Internet. The general issues, however, are quality, rates, as well as workflow and featured services, and then of course for what purpose the translation will be used. For anything you want to publish and which will be used in the public domain, make sure you make the right choice.

There are basically 4 types of translation suppliers companies tend to choose from (although sometimes the final choice might seem – and often is – illogical), including these general pros and cons:

A. Friend, or friend of a friend, who speaks the target language

+ usually friendly price

+ no need of thorough market research

- not a professional translator

- no translation software or CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools

- no complementary services, aftercare or indemnity insurance

- usually no non-disclosure agreement

B. In-house employee who speaks the target language

+ no extra cost

+ no need of thorough market research

+ familiarity with subject field

- not a professional translator

- often no translation software or CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools, or lacking experience if a license is bought

- no complementary services, aftercare or indemnity insurance

C. Freelance translator

+ professional translator

+ potentially uses some CAT tools (although usually to limited extent)

- the rates depend on the language and sometimes also the project scope

- no complementary services, aftercare or indemnity insurance

- limited availability (think sickness, holidays, family issues)

D. Tanslation agency/LSP

+ has access to qualified professional translators

+ often apply a quality assurance process (the top standard is when every project is translated by one native professional translator, reviewed by another native professional translator, and then proofread and checked using CAT tools and internal LSP employees)

+ usually includes complementary services including translation resources, such as creation and storage of memories, DTP and layout services, or aftercare services (post-editing, back translation, professional project management, etc.) as well as other attractive services like indemnity insurance and other assurances.

+ usually attractive pricing for volume projects and regular work.

How to pick a suitable translation supplier?

It is pretty obvious which type of supplier we would recommend.

If you have cooperated with an LSP before and you find their current services and rates attractive, this is the cleanest option for optimized handling and probably the easiest way to manage the translation process. If you handle translation differently, do your homework and carry out a market research, while focusing on:

  • rates and prices in general
  • LSP's references, certifications and terms & conditions
  • services included in the price (mainly translation memory and access to glossaries and special terminology)
  • ordering process

A lot of LSPs offer to supply you with a free quote and an estimate of delivery terms. Requesting a quote is a natural way to engage with potential suppliers, find out the necessary facts and get supportive reason for making a decision.

To know more about establishing an efficient work-flow for your company's translation management, read our next blog --->