Did you know that translation has been used since Mesopotamia?

Indeed, the Sumerian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh was translated into Asian languages in as far back as the 2nd millennium BC.  Roman poets later translated Ancient Greek texts, adapting them to create literary works.

Then the internet came along, forging the growth and expansion of translation around the world. The web has revolutionised the way we gain access to different countries, making translation an essential tool for global communication.

 

The digital transformation and the rapid rise in international trading has made translation an indispensable part of our lives.

Practically all the products and devices we use feature translation, such as user manuals and user interfaces.

How many times have you clicked off a website because the content wasn’t in your language and you didn’t understand? How many times have you complained about user and assembly manuals that just didn’t make sense in your language?

Translation needs have evolved over the years and are certainly more prevalent than in Ancient Greek times. Today we are facing yet another revolution: artificial intelligence, whose arrival is connecting more and more of the devices we use on a daily basis (fridges, smartphones, alarms, etc.).

 

They say that machines will soon outdo humans, but is this also true for translation?

In our multilingual world where exchanges are increasingly frequent, translation becomes key not only for the economy, but also for companies and, more generally, the evolution of our civilisation.

The sanitary crisis generated by the Covid-19: an unprecedented event that caught the world by surprise.

According to the Federal Office of Public Health, the number of new cases, hospitalisations and deaths recorded daily in Switzerland continues to decrease. In contrast, the United States is currently the most affected country. Russia is also facing a sharp increase in contamination. In addition, some countries that had managed to control the progression of the pandemic, such as Japan and Singapore, are now facing a second wave. In this period of global health crisis, risk communication plays a key role in order to prevent the spread of the pandemic as much as possible.

Risk communication.

Risk communication, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is: exchange of real-time information, advice and opinions between experts, community leaders, political decision-makers and people who face a threat to their wellbeing.

In fact, when a pandemic such as the current one occurs, effective risk communication enables people to understand the measures they need to adopt to protect themselves. It provides the authorities with the means to reduce misinformation and respond to the public concerns. The illustration below is an example of risk communication in Switzerland.

Risk communication is essential, but during a global crisis, the sharing of information between countries and their institutions is critical.

Sharing information

The virus has spread from country to country according to the cases of contamination. Therefore, certain countries were affected before others and, at a given moment, each country went through a different stage of the wave of contamination. For example, when Italy experienced its peak of contamination, Switzerland was still in the initial phase of the spread of the virus.

This time difference has enabled the first affected countries to share information with countries not yet affected by the pandemic. Governments benefiting from clear information sharing have been able to mobilise by being effective in their risk communication.

Information sharing has played a critical role in managing the pandemic. It remains of major importance as countries consider ending containment and returning to normal life. The success of this phase will depend on the application of the prevention directives communicated by the authorities. These guidelines are based on all the information shared by the authorities of the different countries regarding the pandemic. Consistency in the terminology used throughout the communication will be essential to ensure effective information sharing.

Terminology

According to the Universalis encyclopedia, terminology is the discipline that deals with scientific or technical vocabulary. Its aim is to study the way in which science and technology designate objects and phenomena.

When the first international organisations were founded, a multilingual terminology had to be developed in order to allow representatives of different countries to communicate clearly. The creation of multilingual glossaries has made it possible to establish terminology ensuring consistency between the different languages. Each area obviously requires its own glossary and the sanitary crisis that the world is currently going through is no exception. In the early stages of the pandemic, information was only available in a limited number of languages, preventing entire populations from having access to vital information because they could not understand it. Translators without Borders has therefore developed a glossary specific to the sanitary crisis generated by the Covid-19. This glossary includes twenty-three languages, including those in which information was not available.

(https://glossaries.translatorswb.org/covid19/ ).

What lessons can we learn from this situation?

We live in a globalised world, witnessing countless multilingual exchanges. In the context of a global sanitary crisis, the sharing of information is an important factor of saving lives. The practice of sharing information imperatively includes clarity of the terminology chosen. Priority is given to the quality of translation and interpretation in order to prevent any misunderstanding and any misinformation.

Does learning a new language feel like a trip to an unknown country? If it does, it may be because you come from a monolingual environment. Foreign languages are part of our daily lives here in Switzerland. While mastering several languages may be highly valued in France, it is expected in a multilingual country. In this article, you will find out more about multilingual countries and the issues multilingualism raises.

Multilingual regions

Did you know that there are more multilingual than monolingual countries in the world? In fact, there are almost a hundred of them. The two countries where the most languages coexist are Papua New Guinea (four official languages and more than 850 indigenous dialects) and Mexico (Spanish may be its official language, but 290 languages are recognised as national languages).

Next comes Bolivia (37 languages), followed by Zimbabwe and Poland (with 16 languages each).

Let’s have a look at the Western World: in Spain, Castilian is the official federal language, but Basque, Occitan and Catalan are recognised in their respective regions. Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.

On average Swiss people speak two foreign languages (in terms of European countries, only Luxembourg has a higher number of languages spoken with 3). Indeed, 71% of German-speaking Swiss people speak French and 67% speak English. Meanwhile 47% of French-speaking Swiss people speak German (or Swiss German) and 43% speak English.

The advantages and disadvantages of multilingualism

Mastering several languages has its advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious benefit is globalisation: speaking many languages makes interpersonal communication easier (lingua francas such as English are often very useful). What’s more, new studies have shown that a bilingual brain is faster and sharper than a monolingual brain and is also better at clarifying ambiguities and managing conflicts.

Multilingualism may be a real asset in some fields, but it has also its downsides. The European Union has almost 24 official languages, posing a real linguistic challenge. To face the challenges of intercultural dialogue, Europeans often use English as a lingua franca.

Perceiving multilingualism as a major issue of the twenty-first century, in some states, Public Education Bodies have opened bilingual classes, sometimes as early as kindergarten.  This is the case, for example, in California and Florida, where the majority language is no longer English, but Spanish.

“A language disappears every two weeks” (1). Here is the shock announcement made by linguist Claude Hagège to highlight the urgency. According to UNESCO, almost half of today’s languages are expected to disappear by the end of the 21st century. Nowadays, less than 10 languages are spoken by 40% of the world’s population. This article focuses on endangered languages and the causes of their disappearance.

 

Overview of endangered languages

As years go by, languages are disappearing at an increasing rate. This worrying phenomenon is apparent on all continents, in more or less alarming proportions. UNESCO considers that around 3,000 languages are endangered worldwide with different levels of vitality (2), varying as shown in the table below.

 

The interactive online edition of the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger presents the following data.

 

With a total of 1,113 languages, Asia is the region with the most endangered languages. Among the countries concerned, India is the most affected nation with 197 endangered languages ​​followed by China (144 endangered languages), Indonesia (143), and Russia (131). In the American continent, almost 90% of the languages are disappearing. Note that all are indigenous languages​ (spoken by Native Americans). The countries most affected by these disappearances are the United States (191 endangered languages, 54 of which are already extinct), Brazil (190), Mexico (143) and Canada (87).

In the Pacific, Australia and Papua New Guinea (the most multilingual country in the world) are massively affected, with 108 and 98 languages ​​endangered respectively. Finally, it should be noted that Africa and Europe are not spared from this phenomenon of declining languages, with a proportion in Europe that remains nonetheless lower than for the other continents.

 

Phenomena behind these disappearances

One of the fundamental reasons why half of the languages ​​spoken are likely to disappear lies in the fact … that they are spoken! Indeed, the endangered languages are predominantly languages ​​of oral tradition, making it difficult for linguists to collect data, but they do not give up hope.

Of course, one of the major factors behind these disappearances is the need to simplify trade and political exchanges. Throughout history, certain languages ​​have been privileged (English, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish and French) in order to serve as vectors of communication between different nations. In addition, from a deliberate (colonisation of an area) or unconscious (cultural domination) perspective, the linguistic compartmentalisation between two peoples has gradually given way to the disappearance of one language in favour of the other. This is the case, for example, of the majority of the states of America and Africa (mainly English-speaking, Spanish-speaking and French-speaking).

Another non-negligible aspect is the population flows following the urbanisation and industrialisation of areas. Furthermore, immigration phenomena imply that many families have gradually abandoned their native language, with a view to integration into a new society. A generation is enough to lose the heritage of a mother tongue.

Given this observation, since 2003, the United Nations has recognised linguistic diversity as “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”(3). Europe has also adopted protective measures, with the drawing up of a European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (4) in 1992. Therefore, in the face of this gradual decline, a number of actions (including the publication of the participative Atlas by UNESCO or the encouragement of learning minority languages) are carried out in order to raise awareness of authorities, communities of speakers, but also public opinion, in order to revitalise certain languages, and so maintain linguistic diversity throughout the world.

 

Sources :

(1) Claude Hagège, Halte à la mort des langues (On the Death and Life of Language), Éditions Odile Jacob, September 2002.

(2) Oseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edition. Paris, UNESCO Publishing.

(3) URL : https://ich.unesco.org/fr/qu-est-ce-que-le-patrimoine-culturel-immateriel-00003

(4) URL : https://www.coe.int/en/web/european-charter-regional-or-minority-languages

Have a Cat in Your Throat or the Translation of Fixed Expressions 

Idiomatic expressions are an integral part of our daily vocabulary. Because they are often associated with images and metaphors, it is almost impossible to translate an expression literally into another language. Thus, if a French speaker had the idea to do it, he wouldn’t be “aussi épais qu’une brique” (as thick as a brick), but rather bête comme ses pieds! Here’s a small overview of English expressions and their French equivalents.

Expressions that are (almost) transposable literally

Although an expression is never translated word for word in another language, its equivalent can sometimes be surprisingly close! For example, you will never find a hoarse French speaker who has a frog in his throat, even though he most definitely has an animal in the middle of his vocal cords. Instead, the animal would be…a cat (avoir un chat dans la gorge)! However, luckily, to wish him a rapid recovery, the expression would be the same across the Channel; all you have to do is cross your fingers (croiser les doigts).

It should be noted that some French phrases, now considered archaic, have been replaced by their literal English equivalents. Thus, nowadays, someone who does not have a sense of reality wouldn’t yawn at crows (bailler aux corneilles), but rather have his head in the clouds (avoir la tête dans les nuages). Similarly, whereas in the 19th century, a French man who had drunk too much would have ‘taken a drink’ (pris une biture), today it is sufficient to state that he is tipsy (être pompette).

 

Expressions literally untranslatable

 Because an expression is very often the showcase of a culture, most of them are absolutely literally untranslatable. For example, if an event is not around the corner, French speakers will not wait until pigs can fly, but rather until chicken have teeth (quand les poules auront des dents). Furthermore, in French, one wouldn’t nip something in the bud, but rather kill within the egg (tuer dans l’oeuf), and one wouldn’t have other fish to fry, but rather other cats to whisk, (d’autres chats à fouetter). All this to say that the use of an expression always requires prior memorisation.

Certainly, an idiom’s vocabulary does not contain only simple words; and expressions, which are often fixed and obscure, almost never allow for a literal translation. Therefore, translating certain phrases can raise issues, and all the more so when the source and target languages appertain to two completely different linguistic systems!

To explore further, here is a list of French expressions with their English equivalents.

 

Did you know that among the 7,000 languages in existence, only 2.5% of them are spoken by nearly 90% of the world population (which is more than 7 billion inhabitants)? Within this haze of languages, there are nearly 1.5 billion English and French speakers, with Mandarin and Hindi following close behind.[1] Yet, when dealing with international exchanges and diplomacy, it is the language of Shakespeare which has slowly risen to the rank of reference language.

A Means of Uniting Countries

If we refer to the population per country, Mandarin and Hindi are well ahead; but it is interesting to note that in terms of the number of countries, English, French, Arab, Spanish and Portuguese are the most common languages!

Throughout the course of history, certain languages have taken on the role of catalysts, benefiting cooperation between countries based on historic relations. Indeed, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonisation of American, African and Asian continents played a significant role in the global expansion of western languages.

This historic past has also ultimately fostered the development of international institutions, bringing together countries that are geographically and culturally far apart. In doing so, faced with a unifying linguistic challenge, these cooperation politics underpin close collaboration between member States on other strategic levels (such as economic, social and military).

A Means of Asserting Identity

Language can be perceived as a challenge of power and can become an object of conflict. It is all the more the case in certain regions where Nationalist movements exist, like in Catalonia.

Thus, preferring the local dialect to the national language is not always an innocuous choice and can be supported by a true political conviction. By imposing their language, Nationalists therefore ensure a certain recapturing of their territory.

It should also be noted that in 1992, with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Council of Europe encouraged the protection of regional and historical minority languages of Europe – some of which risk disappearing with the passing of time – in order to contribute to maintaining and developing cultural traditions and riches in Europe.[2]

 

CONCLUSION

Therefore, through the promotion of its language, a linguistic power is capable of ensuring influence on an international scale, guaranteeing a certain homogeneity. Conversely, a language can equally be a vector of differentiation and cultural assertion, like Catalan differentiating from Spanish.

It seems therefore that in one sense or another, the linguistic issue can transform into a true geopolitical instrument!

[1] Source: Ethnologue, 22th edition 2018.

[2] URL : https://www.coe.int/fr/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/148

Have you ever thought about translating your website? Be sure of one thing, more than 5 different nationalities have already visited your website. 73% of Internet users do not speak English. * At a time when international trade is gaining considerable momentum, an expansion project abroad is not possible without having first anticipated the evolution of global Internet traffic. Do not underestimate the potential of the web, everyone can find your site, and a market in another language is most certainly there just waiting for you to discover. A single language is no longer sufficient as you can easily miss valuable and potential leads. About 51% of users do not stay for more than 8 seconds on a site that is not in their native language.

 Swisstranslate gives you 6 reasons why you should translate your website:

 

1: Reach emerging markets

Your offer is interesting, we do not doubt it for a second. But have you thought about its potential in other countries? Carry out a market research! You will be pleasantly surprised at the interest generated by your brand abroad.

 

2: Make sure you have a constant income

By geolocating your market, you do not control the external impacts that can cause your predictions to fall. On the other hand, export your business and you will have multiple and more secure incomes. The French market has weaknesses? No problem, the German market will compensate your income. International is the solution to your unpredictable flaws.

 

3: Improve your SEO

By including more languages on your website, you gain SEO positions on search engines abroad. A rise in notoriety due to international visibility. No more single-language keywords, monitor your digital performance across borders by integrating keywords of other languages.

 

4: Build a relationship of trust with your clients

By exporting your market thanks to new languages on your site, you are suggesting that your business is reliable and promising. An international notoriety to certify your impact and your market strength. You had not really thought about it? Swisstranslate did it for you.

 

5: Get ahead of your competitors

Think further, faster. Globalisation is a time-consuming process for development and resources. Take a step ahead, and translate your website right now to beat your competitors. Exporting will now be your new competitive advantage. Keep in mind that everyone will eventually translate their website. It is up to you to be the first, do not lose the race of opening new trade borders.

 

6: Enhance your image

By entering overseas markets, you add the terms modern, open-minded and innovative to your current values. Always think internationally, look straight ahead and set your goals, you will then give a committed and responsive brand image.

So do not wait any longer, do not take the risk of losing the export lead, your business has international potential. Local is not a reason to lock yourself into a single-language market, why not sell your values across new borders. Your brand has its place in overseas markets. Your openness to the rest of the world begins with the translation of your website. Swisstranslate accompanies you. We offer quality translations in more than 40 languages with native and certified translators. Contact us by email info@swisstranslate.ch or by telephone on +41 (0) 22 566 13 01