Language, dialect, translation and localisation

Language and linguistics

A lot of what a specialist in taxonomy does is wrangle words. We are cunning linguists 🙈🤣.

For that purpose alone, I’m sharing a few differences and why they’re important to remember them.

Language

What is language? a bit of a daft question you’re probably thinking. Well, not necessarily.

When I talk about language, I’m talking about a base language. Here are some examples of base languages

  • English
  • French
  • Spanish
  • German
  • Ukrainian
  • Japanese

That list tells you that those languages exist and you speak at least one of them (English, as this is currently what the course is written in).

The thing is, we rarely write in just languages alone. What we actually tend to write is a dialectic version of a language. So I’m going to dive in and talk about dialects.

Dialect

A dialect is a version of a base language that is unique to a specific country. It alters the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation of the base language.

In England we speak english and there are regional dialects, but for the most part, words are spelled the same way. Where it tends to differ is regionally one word could have a different meaning.

In America, American english is spoken. Vocabulary and grammar is altered. Words are spelled and pronounced differently.

Translation vs localisation

If you’ve worked on anything digital that has a requirement for it to be in another language you may well have thought about getting something translated into another language.

It took me a while, and a particularly frustrating Welsh language project to understand that there is a big difference between the two.

Translation

Translation is taking a site built in a local dialect and translating it into a standard base language spoken in anther country. This could mean taking an American english website and translating it into base french to deliver in Canada.

Localisation

Localisation is taking a local dialect in one country or region and translating it into another dialect for a region or a country. This would mean taking an American english website and translating it into quebecois, a French dialect spoken in Quebec.

Same, same, but different

I have a very weird freaky super power, no it’s not the one where I can tell what dialect of English someone is speaking on a video that’s muted (freaky, am I right?).

No, it’s the one where I can scan a website and tell you from the labelling what market its in.

There are subtleties between dialects that make things stand out to me. Here are some examples

A table showing British English and American English label variations.  British English it shows: Shopping basket, shop, subscribe and save, and delivery. Under American English it shows Shopping cart, store, autoship and shipping.

Impact

I think most people appreciate that if a company has its base of operations in one country but makes their services available in others the language and currency are specific to that country.

However, when a website is translated and stood up in another country there is a feeling to it. It usually manifests with felling like it doesn’t belong. It’s like the language is a second language and is being spoken in a very clunky way.

You tend to see this less often, but it usually happens with global companies where the websites are merely marketing tools and are owned by the marketing department. The sites are cold and full of jargon.

The overall impact of translating a site vs localising it, is that the people who use it don’t feel like you really know them. It’s functional at best.

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