Language facts: Bosnian
Bosnian is a variant of Serbo-Croatian. It is the official language in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Montenegro and a native language of a little over 2 million people.
The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina officially has three languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serb. All three languages are mutually understandable. For various reasons, Bosnian is in wide use throughout the Balkans. The Serbo-Croatian concept, as well as the separate variants of the language (Serb, Croatian, Bosnian), was in fact based on the most wide-spread dialect in the area, the Shtokavian one from Eastern Herzegovina.
Bosniak is (not) Bosnian
It is not uncommon for Bosnian being also referred to as Bosniak. This is actually one of many things considered controversial on the Balkan Peninsula – while Bosnians insist the only correct name for their language is Bosnian, the Croats and Serbs insist on Bosniak being used to refer to the language within the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bosnian as a term to include also Bosnian Croats and Serbs living outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It went even as far as Serbs refering to the Bosnian language as "the Language spoken by Bosniaks" in official documents, only to not having to recognize the language at all. Symbols and details really do matter in these lands, and based on previous experience, it won't be easy to overcome these disputes (mainly if the tensions are being deliberately encouaged, as seen in latest efforts in destabilizing Bosnian society through stirring debate about the Republika Srpska national day in 2018, etc.).
Internationally and within the language and translation industry, as well as here at idioma, the recognized name is Bosnian, though.
Not interested elites, no codified language
Since the 1990s, Bosnian has developed considerably, integrating literary traditions from the 20th century and adopting loan words from the Islamic and Oriental worlds. Arabic, Persian and Ottoman words differentiate the Bosnian version of Serbo-Croatian vocabuly from its siblings noticably, due to the religious ties with the Islamic world. In fact, due to this close bond of the Bosnian elite to Oriental cultures and lack of true emancipation of the Bosnians, the language failed to be codified in the 19th century, unlike Serbian and Croatian.
Bosnian originally used the Cyrillic alphabet, but today also the Latin alphabet is in use due to the influence of Serbo-Croatian when Bosnia was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Both alphabets are equal, but Cyrillic is used increasingly less today. Cyrillic, however, has greatly influenced the development of the Bosnian language and remains a link to the past. Latin
A B C Č Ć D Dž ĐE F G H I J K Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž
a b c č ć d dž đ e f g h I j k l lj m n nj o p r s š t u v z ž
А Б Ц Ч Ћ Д Џ Ђ Е Ф Г Х И Ј К Л Љ М Н Њ О П Р С Ш Т У В З Ж
а б ц ч ћ д џ ђ е ф г х и ј к л љ м н њ о п р с ш т у в з ж
Language facts: Thai
Thai, also called Siamese, is the official language of Thailand, a country in Southeast Asia with a population of 63 million people. However, only about 20 million of the people in Thailand are native speakers.
Thai is a tonal language. Different tones give different meaning, which makes it quite difficult to learn the language in the beginning. In spoken form, Thai is very similar and in fact mutually intelligible with Lao (the language of Laos). Both Thai and Lao belong to the Kra–Dai language family that covers dialects in the area of southern China, northeast of India and parts of Southeast Asia.
There are various dialects of Thai used in Thailand and while scholars and linguists consider these to be separate, albeit related languages, the native speakers tend to perceive it as one language with regional dialects.
‘Corruption’ in Thai vocabulary
Thai vocabulary consists of many foreign expressions, and paints a picture of historical development in the region. The Chinese influence, mainly until the 13th century when the Chinese script was replaced with Sanskrit and Pali scripts, caused there to be a good deal of words from Middle China. Trade relations with the West has also influenced the language considerably. Notably, basic trade-related and religious words were taken over from Portuguese, as that was also the first European nation to arrive in Thailand in the 16th century (words such as padre for a priest, carta for paper or real for a coin, etc.). English has become the most influential language since the 20th century, mainly when it comes to technical, scientific and modern society terms (such as computer, graph, government, technology, visa, taxi, diesel, and even corruption and wreath).
Alphabet includes tone forms
The Thai alphabets were first introduced in the 13th century by an ancient great king. Over time, the characters have changed in appearance. Today the language contains 44 consonants with 42 that are still in use, and 21 vowels in 32 combinations.
Thai words are often – although not always – composed of characters. That means in one single column, there may be up to three characters including consonant, vowel, and tone composed together.
When it comes to transcription of the Thai alphabet into Latin, there is no universally accepted method to follow, resulting in Thai words being transcripted differently. In fact, an ISO standard for Thai-Latin transcription exists since 2003 and is even used by Google Translate, but yet not very common in daily use (e.g. in textbooks or instructional texts).
For this reason, it is highly recommended to learn the Thai script in order to master the language itself.
ถ ท ธ น บ ป ผ ฝ พ ฟ ภ ม ย ร ล ว ศ ษ ส ห ฬ อ ฮ ก ข ฃ ค ฅ ฆ ง จ ฉ ช ซ ฌ ญ ฎ ฏ ฐ ฑ ฒ ณ ด ต
ะ ั า ํ ิ ่ ่ ่ ุ ู เ โ ใ ไ ็ อ ว ย ฤ ฤๅ ฦ ฦๅ
Tone forms: ่ ้ ๊ ๋
Language facts: Finnish
Finnish is a member of the Finno-Ugric language family (Uralic languages) and is closely related to Estonian and Saami (also known as Lapp). It is one of the two official languages in Finland (the other being Swedish) as well as one of the official EU languages. Additionally, it is used by Finnish-speaking minorities in Sweden and Estonia. The majority (more than 90%) of Finland’s population speaks Finnish, while the remainder speaks Swedish and Sami. Overall, Finnish is spoken by a little more than 5 million people.
Thanks to the existence of Nordic Language Convention, Finnish-speaking citizens can interact with governments and official bodies in other Nordic countries in their native language.
A language with a few relatives but many phonemes
Finnish is related also to some other of the few Uralic languages (such as Hungarian for example) in many aspects, including shared morphology, similar grammar, as well as basic vocabulary. The origin of Uralic languages is not entirely clear even today, but the most widely accepted theory is that this branch originated in the boreal forests around the Ural mountains and around the middle Volga river. Actually, Uralic languages, such as Finnish, are believed to be the proto-language of the area.
The Finnish language gained its official status no sooner than in 1863, after the rise of the Finnish nationalistic movement. The first Finnish writing system was, however, created already in the 16th century by a Finnish bishop Mikael Agricola, who wanted to translate the Bible, and thus needed to standardize the Finnish dialects into a comprehensive system. He failed to do so, as he wasn't able to unify the signs with different phonemes (the intent was for each phoneme to have a corresponding one letter). Later, Finnish actually lost several phonemes from the standardized language due to this unification.
In the Finnish alphabet, 'Å’ is carried over from the Swedish alphabet and is redundant in Finnish; it is merely retained for writing Finland-Swedish proper names.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V X Y Z Å Ä Ö
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v x y z å ä ö
Language facts: Azerbaijani
Azerbaijani, also known as Azeri (or Azeri Turkish), belongs to the Turkic language family and is spoken by some 25-35 million people. There are two variants of the language, North and South, and it is used by the Azerbaijani people in southwestern Asia (also referred to as Transcaucasia, or the South Caucasus region).
North Azerbaijani is the official language of Azerbaijan and is spoken mainly in Azerbaijan, southern Dagestan and along the Caspian coast. South Azerbaijani is spoken in East and West Azerbaijan and in parts of Iran and Kurdistan, Iraq, Syria and Asian Turkey.
Azerbaijani is closely related to Turkish, Qashqai and Turkmen. There are various levels of mutual intelligibility between each of the named languages. Turkish and Azerbaijani speakers are actually able to communicate with each other quite easily, not only due to historical reasons, but also due to being exposed to each other's cultures via radio and television.
Lingua franca of Transcaucasia
From about the 16th to 20th century, Azeri served as a lingua franca of the Transcaucasia region, which could also be a reason why it adopted so many loan words and expressions from the Persian, Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Russian languages. After the region was conquered by the Russian empire in the 19th century, there was a split in the development of the language, as the Azeri-speaking community was divided between two states (Russia – later the Soviet union, and Persia – now Iran). The Soviets, albeit promoting the language development, made two significant changes to the language by changing its script two times in a relatively short period of time, from the Persian script to the Latin script and later to the Cyrillic one. The Azerbaijani community in Iran kept using the Persian script. Azerbaijani did not become an official language until 1956.
The country decided to abandon Azbuka and switch to the Latin Script after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1990's. The language and its variants are practically still using 3 writing systems: Latin, Cyrillic, and Perso-Arabic. The North Azerbaijani use both Latin and Cyrillic scripts, while South Azerbaijani have adopted the Perso-Arabic writing system.
This is the Latin alphabet:
A Ə B C Ç D E F G Ğ H X I İ J K Q L M N O Ö P R S Ş T U Ü V Y Z a ə b c ç d e f g ğ ı i j k q l m n o ö p r s ş t u ü v y z
Language facts: Flemish
Flemish, or Vlaams in Dutch, is the standard Dutch variant spoken in the Belgian region of Flanders by around 6.1 million speakers, sometimes also referred to as Southern Dutch. It includes several dialects, all of which (depending on who you ask) are interrelated with the southwestern dialects of Dutch.
Differences between Flemish and Dutch
Flemish, or Vlaams, is actually highly similar to the Dutch language used in the Netherlands. The official language in Belgium's Flemish region is indeed Dutch, and along with German and French you then have the country's three official languages. In essence, the Dutch languages are the same, and the only main differences are in pronunciation and frequency of some words. Because certain expressions (around 3-4,000) are more frequent in Belgian Dutch, many people refer to the language as Flemish, however, the words are really part of standard Dutch. There are no spelling differences between Dutch in Belgium and Dutch in the Netherlands.
However, in actual practice, many Dutch nationals often question Dutch text content when they find it 'suspicious' or slightly off. This is probably a natural reaction and similar to what Germans things of Austrian and Swiss German: it simply sounds wrong.
Loan words in Dutch
In case of loan words, interestingly, Flemish speakers tend to apply Dutch pronunciation, whereas speakers in Netherlands maintain the original foreign pronunciation. Compared to Dutch, Flemish has also adopted many more loan words from French. The main difference between the languages is exposed in informal usage though. The pronunciation, slang expressions, and also common phrases can be very different, so different that Dutch television programs are sometimes even subtitled in Belgium and vice versa.
The Flemish alphabet is identical to the Dutch alphabet. The most frequently used letter is "e". Also, notice the unique Ĳ character.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Ĳ Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y ĳ z
Language facts: Portuguese and its spelling reform
Portuguese is the official language of Portugal and Brazil, a number of African nations, as well as an official EU language. Portuguese is a Romance language that originated in what is now Galicia (Spain) and northern Portugal. It is derived from the Latin language spoken by the Romanized Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula around 2,000 years ago. The language spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal established a colonial and commercial empire. It is one of the world's major languages, ranked 6th according to number of native speakers (approx 180 million). Together with Spanish, Portuguese is the fastest growing language in Europe.
One language, two separate spellings
After the Portuguese Republic was established in 1911, a lot of efforts were put into standardisation of Portugal's orthography, for a very noble reason of increasing literacy of its people. It's rather interesting that unlike French and Spanish, Portuguese actually had no official spelling until 1911, and people literally wrote at will. After the new standard became official in Portugal, it was adopted also in the (then Portuguese) overseas territories of Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Moçambique, São Tomé and Príncipe,Guinea-Bissau, Macau, and Portuguese-controlled Indian territories.
However, the country with most Portuguese native speakers in the world, Brazil, was never consulted about the 1911 reform, and thus did not accept it. After decades-long negotiations, Brazil finally introduced its own orthography in 1938, based on an agreement with Portugal from 1931 that defined the general orthographic principles.
Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that the orthographies, albeit similar, were not identical. In some cases, there was different spelling between the two language variants due to differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese pronunciation.
In 1990 (sic!), after a series of failed negotiations, The Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement was reached. Ratified in 2004 in Brazil and in 2008 in Portugal, the Agreement has been mandatory since January 1st, 2015 in all Portuguese-speaking nations in the world.
Stark reality, however, suggests the two countries have not managed to meet the goal of merging their languages. The peoples of Brazil and Portugal still use different words and expressions for the same ideas, concepts and things. Especially in technical translation, where idioma is very active, the expressions differ. Despite the good intent of the language reform mediators, it is indeed difficult to make two countries merge into a common language and apply it 100%. Brazil and Portugal are still not there, and all the other other Portuguese enclaves are probably even further afar, many of them, like Moçambique, taking in loanwords from neighboring countries.
Portuguese uses 23 letters of the Latin alphabet with five types of diacritics, as Portuguese also recognizes Á, Â, Ã, À, Ç, É, Ê, Í, Ó, Ô, Õ, Ú. These are not regarded as independent letters and do not have separate entries in dictionaries.
A B C D E F G H I J L M N O P Q R S T U V X Z
a b c d e f g h i j l m n o p q r s t u v x z
Language facts: Serbian
Serbian is a member of the South Slavic group of languages and is the official language of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are about 6.5 million speakers of the language in Serbia, and also 500,000 speakers in Montenegro plus 1.6 million speakers in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbian is also recognized as a minority language in Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czechia (partly due to immigration during the Balkan war in the 1990s).
War of languages
Serbian language actually shares it's base with Serbo-Croatian, the official language of former Yugoslavia, from which also Standard Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin were derived. During the existence of the socialist Yugoslavian federation, there was a fierce emphasis on the "One Language" policy pursued by the federal government. This language policy was in line with the general "Unification" policy of Yugoslavia, aiming for suppression of the historical division lines between the regions, as well as nationalistic tendencies in Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. In fact, the now-accepted stand-alone languages in the separate national states of the former Yugoslavian federation were considered merely regional variants of the same Serbo-Croatian language that simply served to "enrich" the constitutional version.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 90s and the ensuing war, the language differences became one of the subjects of the conflict between the former federal nations and one of the biggest symbols for individual national identities.
Serbian is the only European language that practically uses two different writing systems, and can be written in both the Serbian Cyrillic script and Serbian Latin. Both writing systems were promoted in Yugoslavia. The Cyrillic script has official status under the 2006 Constitution of Serbia, but the Latin script continues to gain ground as a result of its popularity among the business community and urban population. The basic principle of Serbian is “Write as you speak and read as it is written”.
А Б В Г Д Ђ Е Ж З И Ј К Л Љ М Н Њ О П Р С Т Ћ У Ф Х Ц Ч Џ Ш
а б в г д ђ е ж з и ј к л љ м н њ о п р с т ћ у ф х ц ч џ ш
A B C Č Ć D Dž Đ E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž
a b c č ć d dž đ e f g h i j k l lj m n nj o p r s š t u v z ž
Language facts: US Spanish
To begin with, it is interesting to know that according to the Instituto Cervantes' study, there is actually more Spanish speakers in the USA than in Spain itself. Wow!
With more than 40 million native speakers and 11 million bilinguals (mostly children of Spanish-speaking immigrants), the USA is, in fact, the world's second largest Spanish-speaking country, right after Mexico.
For real facts, according to the US Census Office estimates, the USA will become the largest Spanish-speaking country by 2050 with around 138 million of speakers, that means approx. 1 in 3 Americans (and not counting on any Wall building).
Status of the Spanish language in the USA
Since 1980, the number of Spanish-speakers in the US has almost quadrupled in absolute numbers, while their share of the population went from 5 to 13%. Most Spanish-speakers are concentrated in states bordering with Mexico (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) and the havens for immigrants on the East coast, mainly Florida, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. However, it's the long history of Mexicans vs. Americans as well as the general immigration that puts Spanish into its current standing. The USA do not have any language constituted as an Official Language, although the most dominant working language used by institutions is obviously English, and on top of that the American version. In states with a large distribution of Spanish speakers, such as New Mexico or California, official documents are issued bilingually. The exception is Puerto Rico, which, despite being part of the US Commonwealth, uses Spanish as the official primary language.
US Spanish dialects
Spanish used around in the US can be distinguished by dialects and origin, mainly Mexican, Caribbean and Central American Spanish. The English language influenced the Spanish used in the US (and vice versa), while it is quite common for the Latino community to mix Spanish and English, resulting in a fusion called Spanglish (popular mainly among younger generations). The environment is also a factor here, while the US Spanish-speakers tend to color the language with local US English accents and convenient English words thrown in.
Spanish is also by far the most common foreign language included in American school plans from elementary schools up to university level, and with following generations of Spanish-speaking immigrants, there is a strong will to preserve the background and speech of Spanish language.
Translation into Spanish for the U.S.
Is there a need to translate into Spanish for residents in the United States? Probably not. There are so many Spanish "languages", all with their flavors and idiosyncrasies. Standard Spanish is understood by just about any Spanish adept around the world, for Spanish in the USA, Mexican Spanish with a dash of American words are probably acceptable for local incentives.
Addressing a population of millions of speakers will require "standard" Latin American Spanish. We are all ears on this. After all, in the translation industry, we have so many flavors of Spanish on the American side. Everyone understand each other, but somebody chose to chop up American Spanish into ethnic groups, each with their own language code.
Today this is overwhelming, and there should be no need to serve local Spanish flavors to the Americas.
Language facts: Belarusian
Belarusian, or White Russian (or White Ruthenian), is an East Slavic language spoken by somewhere between 7 and 9 million people, most of them residing in Belarus. It is an official language in Belarus and parts of Poland. Belarusian is most closely related to Ukrainian, and it is indeed also a minority language in Ukraine.
Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian are in fact mutually intelligible to a certain extent (due to their connection to the Ruthenian language, the form of Old Slavonian spoken in the region).
Officially unofficial language
While Belarusian has had a troubled past and originally was regarded as a rural language for peasants, even assuming the second role to Russian in years after the Second World War, it has survived as a national and official language of Belarus. It shares this position with Russian. Surprisingly, out of a population of 9.5 million people, only about half are able to write in the language, while ten percent of the population does not understand Belarusian at all. According to an analysis of the official 2009 Belarus census, more than 70% of the Belarus population declared to speak Russian at home, which is perceived as a mother tongue by the majority. After all, as many other languages of the East-European area, Belarusian has also been formed within the clashes of geopolitical power games, where linguistics and politics often go hand-in-hand.
Belarusian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but previously also made use of the Latin alphabet. In the 16th century, Belarusian was even written in the Arabic script (so-called Belarusian Arabic alphabet) and was used by the Lipka Tatar settlers who were invited to the Belarusian lands. In the course of about two centuries of assimilation, the Tatars resumed speaking their original language and switched to Old Belarusian.
А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Ы Ь Э Ю Я
а б в г д е ё ж з и й к л м н о п р с т у ф х ц ч ш ы ь э ю я
Language facts: The difference between French and Canadian French
French. The stereotype language for romantic souls and fancy chefs. And one of the few languages in the world with the richest vocabulary. It is also an umbrella name for a whole range of French language variants, e.g. Canadian French. The latter is spoken by around 12 million speakers, being a native tongue to 7 million, mainly in the Quebec province. This is due to historical reasons, as the Quebec city and settlements in its surroundings were established by French colonists in 16th and 17th century (originally, the French were up to find a new trade route to China, while they "stumbled" upon North America instead...). As new settlers poured to the "New France" from Europe, they naturally brought a piece of home with them – including European social customs and values, and the bubbly French language.
However, as the mixture of arrivals originated from different regions with different accents (especially the Parisian French are worth mentioning here), the Canadian French language was created as a fusion of classical French and regional dialects of the first-comers.
This development naturally caused the most visible difference of the classic vs. Canadian French as we know it today: the accent. Mainly vowels pronunciation is more "nasal" in Canada.
The difference is so obvious, that native Canadian French speakers who haven't come across the European (or Metropolitan) French before actually admit having trouble understanding the language and vice versa. Metropolitan French is "cleaner" in terms of pronunciation (maybe similar to standard British English and American English). There even is a term joual used to describe the working-class Canadian French, in a rather derogatory way.
Another observable difference even to non-native speakers is the vocabulary used in Canada in comparison to France. Canadian French, mainly in the Quebec region, is heavily (and quite naturally) influenced by English – a phenomenon actively resisted in France (walkman, computer, and NATO could tell stories..). Maybe this inherited overprotectiveness of the language determines a tendency of Canadian French to balance the English influence by trying to preserve the "original French", often to the amusement of European French (e.g. the STOP sign that says simple "STOP" in France reads "ARRÊT" in Quebec...). Interestingly, this approach affected Canadian French swear words, some of which have a religious context and are only offensive in Quebec, while having a regular meaning in France (obviously, most swear words used in France apply in Quebec).
Indeed, in many aspects Canadian French is considered quite traditional, while the actual words used can be right out of its closeness to the United States.
Similar to British vs. American English, Canadian French goes easy on formality as well as grammar in comparison with Metropolitan French. The informality of the language is what mostly causes the misunderstandings by Metropolitan French speakers. It is also the reason why Canadian French don't like to consume European French shows and movies and prefer home production.
Nevertheless Canadian French is not a standardized language in itself, the grammatically correct form is standard French. The fact of the world, however, is that Canadian French exists as a separate French version. When we translate to Canadian French, we use French Canadian speakers – and the result is truly different from standard, European French.
Go with the locals, and write as the locals do.
Language facts: Malay
Malaysian (sometimes called also Malacca) is the official language of Malaysia and Singapore. The language is also known as Standard Malay and is closely related to Indonesian. It is the native language of some 10 million people but is spoken by many ethnic minorities and the overall number of speakers is now estimated to about 290 million, making it a major world language.
Language with mixed heritage
Malaysian was declared the official language of Malaysia in 1957 and is today officially known as Bahasa Melayu. While Malaysian is the sole official language of Malaysia, English is still widely used throughout the country, especially in professional and commercial fields, and also in superior courts. In fact, the language can be said to be a mixture of many languages as it has borrowed many words from Arabic, Indian dialects, Persian, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese dialects, and lately English in the colonial era. In the field of science and technology, many English terms have been adopted. It is then heavily influenced by the Indonesian language. Around the 15the century, Malay was even a lingua franca of the Malacca Sultanate during which time the language evolved fast, mainly thanks to the big influence of Islamic texts. Malaysia being bordered by seas on the east and west coasts as well as in the south, Malay has also been widely used also as a language of trade.
Malaysian uses the standard 26 letters in the Latin alphabet without any diacritics.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
Language facts: Romanian
Romanian is a Romance language, primarily used in Romania and also Moldova, being an official language in both countries, as well as of the European union. It is closely related to other Latin languages, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian, and evolved from Vulgar Latin. It is also related and very similar to Moldavian language, used in Moldavia. Romanian has around 24 million native speakers.
Romanian or Moldavian?
Romanian and its grammar rules were constituted in the second half of the 18th century. Interestingly, the first Romanian grammar was published outside Romania, in Vienna. As with most of the East European and Balkan languages, Romanian also got formed by wars, conflicts, and nationalistic brawls of Romanians and Moldovans and, obviously, the Russian and Ottoman influence in the region. In fact, Romanian and Moldovan are merely two names for the very same language (the only real difference is the script – Moldavian is written in Cyrillic, while Romanian in Latin).
After the Russians annexed the Bessarabia region (the part of Moldova that used to be under the Ottoman rule) in 1812, "Moldovian" was established as an official language, while the area itself became de facto bilingual, with Russian being the language of the higher class. Romanian was, however, banned from official administrative use and was taught as a foreign language only. This subsequently led to the awakening of a Romanian national movement that asked for the Romanian language to be reinstated in schools as the main language of education.
During the Soviet era, the term "Moldovan" was forced through to describe the Romanian language, which was meant to destabilize the Romanian nationalist movement and try to marginalize Romanian as merely a dialect.
In addition to the standard English alphabet, Romanian has specific sounds …Ă, Î, S, Ţ.
A Ă Â B C D E F G H I Î J K L M N O P Q R S Ş T Ţ U V W X Y Z a ă â b c d e f g h i î j k l m n o p q r s ş t ţ u v w x y z
Language facts: Norwegian
Norwegian is a Scandinavian language and a branch of the Germanic languages that has slightly more than 4 million native speakers. Two standard varieties of Norwegian exist, Bokmål and Nynorsk (literally "new Norwegian").
Nynorsk is used primarily in the western regions and is spoken by around 0.5 million people. Bokmål is used by the rest of Norway and remains the preferred variant when writing Norwegian, although the spoken Norwegian resemble Nynorsk more than Bokmål.
Nynorsk vs. Bokmål conflict
Today Nynorsk and Bokmål both have equal legal status in Norway, though the private and commercial sectors of Norway's economy are dominated completely by Bokmål, while all public bodies uphold both variants. Interestingly, both Bokmål and Nynorsk are just writing standards, yet don't provide guidelines on the spoken form of the language. In result, a mixture of dialects is used in everyday (even official) communication and no spoken form considered as "incorrect".
The main difference in the two forms is based in their historical origin. While Bokmål is a Norwegianized version of Danish used by the elite and upper class, as Danish used to be the standard for writing Norwegian from 16th to 19th century, Nynorsk resulted from opposition to the Danish language and tried to established the language on "pure" Norwegian rural dialects. These two writing standards and their use turned into a fundamental political controversy in Norway mainly throughout the 20th century.
The decades-long efforts to merge Norwegian writing standards into one common language (called Samnorsk) failed after series of language reforms, and the policy was eventually abandoned in 2002 due to strong public resistance, keeping this interesting linguistic schizophrenia very much alive.
The Norwegian alphabet consists of 29 letters. In addition to the standard English alphabet, Norwegian ends with … X Y Z Æ Ø Å. Certain letters can be modified by diacritics (é, è, ê, ó, ò, ô and occasionally also ì and ù and ỳ in Nynorsk).
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Æ Ø Å
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z æ ø å
Language facts: Latvian
Latvian is the official state language of Latvia and an official EU language. There are about 1.5 million native Latvian speakers in Latvia and about 150,000 abroad.
Latvian is one of the two living languages of the Balts (the other being Lithuanian), a group of its own within the Indo-European language family. Latvian is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence (as the ruling class in the Baltic region were Germans until the 19th century). In German, the language is actually called Lettish, which is also an older English term for Latvian.
Language as a living relic
It is still a bit of a mystery how the Baltic languages really developed in early stages when evolving from the Proto-Indo-European language, the common ancestor of the largest language family in the world (the Indo-European). Both Latvian and Lithuanian contain linguistic features supposedly characteristic of the early stages of the proto-language, which makes the Baltic branch particularly interesting to academics. In fact, Latvian and Lithuanian used to be just dialects of one common language in the Baltics and started to differentiate more only after the 8th century AD. Mutually intelligible dialects still existed in modern history (estimates go back as late as to the 17th century).
Apart from German, also the Russian language had its say in modern Latvian language evolution. (It's actually very interesting to observe the outlines of historical conflicts and battles for influence zones mainly on minor languages of Central and Eastern Europe, based on the German and Russian linguistic impact). The first wave of Russification in the late 19th century, followed by almost 50 years of Soviet occupation (from 1941 to 1990) as well as Stalin's intent for Russia to colonize the Baltic region diminished the ethnic Latvian population (from 80% before World War II to only 52% in 1989). After massive deportations of Latvians, the area was populated by immigrants who kept Russian as their mother tongue. After the Soviet union collapsed in 1991, Latvia introduced policies to strengthen the use as well as education of the Latvian language and the number of native Latvian speakers increased to more than 60% in Latvia accordingly.
The modern standard Latvian alphabet uses 22 unmodified letters of the Latin alphabet (all except Q, W, X and Y). It adds a further eleven letters by modification. Latvian spelling has almost perfect correspondence between graphemes and phonemes. Every phoneme has its own letter so that a reader need not learn how a word is pronounced, but simply pronounce it.
A, Ā, B, C, Č, D, E, Ē, F, G, Ģ, H, I, Ī, J, K, Ķ, L, Ļ, M, N, Ņ, O, P, R, S, Š, T, U, Ū, V, Z, Ž
a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t v x y z
Language facts: Vietnamese
Vietnamese belongs to the Austroasiatic language family (that also includes Khmer, which is spoken in Cambodia). It was heavily influenced by the Chinese due to centuries of Chinese rule and as a result around half of the Vietnamese vocabulary consists of naturalized Chinese expressions. Later, as a result of the French occupation and strong cultural influence from the West, a lot of new words were added (such as "tivi" for TV).
An emigrated language
Vietnamese is the national language of Vietnam, spoken by approximately 70 million people in Vietnam and about another 3 million mostly in East and Southeast Asia, as well as the United States and Australia as a result of vast Vietnamese emigration. Vietnamese-speaking communities and their cultural influence that surprisingly integrates Vietnamese minorities has caused the language to be recognized in very surprising parts of the world. In the Czech Republic, for example, Vietnamese even has an official status. It is recognized as one of the minority languages that entitles Czech citizens from the Vietnamese community to use Vietnamese language in communication with the public authorities as well as courts. In those municipalities where Vietnamese exceed 10% of population, the language is used also in public information channels (including election information), and the minority is entitled to require assistance in its language.
Vietnamese uses the Latin alphabet (quốc ngữ), but with frequent use of diacritics, and has borrowed a large part of its vocabulary from Chinese. Formerly until the 20th century, the language was written using the modified Chinese writing system set (chữ nôm).
A Ă Â B C D Đ E Ê G H I K L M N O Ô Ơ P Q R S T U Ư V X Y
a ă â b c d đ e ê g h i k l m n o ô ơ p q r s t u ư v x y
Language facts: Slovenian
Slovenian (or Slovene) is a Slavic language from the South Slavic group, most closely related to Croatian and a distant relative of languages such as Russian. Slovenian should NOT be confused with the Slovak language, which does not have much in common with Slovenian, apart from both being Slavic languages. Interestingly, both languages call their own language by the same expression – slovensky/i, sloven(s)cina – which literally means Slavic in the old Slavonian. Slovenian is spoken by about 2 million people in Slovenia – a small country, but with both high mountains (Alps) and a sea (the Adriatic sea), as well as Slovenian communities in neighboring countries and immigrants around the world. Slovenian is also an official EU language.
The least homogeneous Slavic language
Slovenian is a heavily inflected language with some ancient grammatical peculiarities, such as the dual grammatical number. Despite the small number of speakers, the dialects are heavily diversified and strong dialects from opposite sides of the country, influenced by neighboring languages, are practically mutually unintelligible. This was due to the fact that compulsory schooling was in other languages than Slovenian (mainly German and Italian). Standardized Slovenian as a national language was formed in the 18th century based on the Upper and Lower Carnolian dialects.
Slovenian uses the Latin alphabet, without the letters Q, X, Y, W and with the addition of a few extra letters. The letters Q, X, Y, W, however, are used as independent letters in encyclopedias and dictionary listings (and as such are included in the alphabet here).
A B C Č Ć D Đ E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S Š T U V W X Y Z Ž
a b c č ć d đ e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s š t u v w x y z ž
Language facts: Estonian
Estonian belongs to the Finno-Ugric group of languages, which has its roots somewhere behind the Ural Mountains (together with Hungarian, Finnish, etc.). Today, there are several dozens small Finno-Ugric populations settled in North Europe, in the Volga and Ural region, and in Siberia and the Russian Far North.
Closest to Estonian are the Finnish languages, first of all Finnish itself. Estonian is, in fact, currently spoken by less than a million people in Estonia where it is the official language, and smaller communities scattered throughout the world. Estonian is also one of the official EU languages.
Two languages in one
Historically, there were actually two Estonian languages used in Estonia: the Northern and the Southern Estonian. The reason for this differentiation is quite interesting, as it results from the two main separate migration waves of the old ancestors of today's Estonians. The migration waves were not apart from each other just in terms of time, but also the separate groups used considerably different vernaculars. The modern version of Estonian is derived from the Northern Estonian dialects. Due to historical reasons (e.g. Northern Crusades, World War Two and the Soviet expansion), Estonian was quite neglected in the area, mainly in terms of literature. The first written form of Estonian is not older than the 13th century. Estonian is also heavily influenced by the languages of nations who took over the rule over the Estonian lands at various points in time, namely Sweden, Germany and Russia.
In addition to the standard English alphabet, Estonian includes Š Ž Õ Ä Ö Ü. Loanwords can include F, Š, Z and Ž, while C, Q, W, X and Y are used in writing foreign proper names. These letters are not considered part of the Estonian alphabet, though. It is also worth mentioning that Estonian uses up to three degrees of phonetic length (not just short and long, but also "overlong"), thus one word can have three different meanings based on how much effort (length) is put into pronouncing it.
A B D E G H I J K L M N O P R S T U V Õ Ä Ö Ü a b d e g h i j k l m n o p r s t u v õ ä ö ü
Language facts: Tagalog
Tagalog (also known as Filipino or the native Pilipino) is one of the two official languages of the Philippines, the other being English. Tagalog is an Austronesian language and as such related to Malay, Javanese and Hawaiian. Tagalog is the first language of one third of the Philippines with about 21.5 million speakers, and the second language of the remaining two thirds (approximately 70 million speakers) who use other regional languages such as Ilocano, Cebuano, Waray, Bikolano, Bisaya, etc. The language is also spoken by many ethnic minorities (including 1.5 million diaspora in the United States).
Mysterious language ruled by the Spanish
Very little is known about Tagalog that most likely has its origins in Mindanao (the second largest island in the Philipines). Literally Tagalog means “river dweller”. It was declared the official language by the Philippines’ first constitution in 1897. Today, Tagalog is concentrated to the central and southern parts of Luzon, but is also spoken on many other islands.
Tagalog's first written record dates back to 900 AD, while the first book known to be written in Tagalog – the Doctrina Christiana – came to light by the end of 16th century (1593) and used also Spanish alongside Tagalog.
The Spanish colonists and the strong Christian culture they brought upon the islands heavily influenced evolution of (not just) the languages of the Phillipines. It was, after all, Spanish monk Pedro de San Buenaverture, who wrote the first dictionary of Tagalog. Interestingly, another and much more substantial dictionary (Vocabulario de la lengua tagala) was written by Czech Jesuit, Paul Klein, who published several other books in Tagalog.
Until 1987, Tagalog was based on a writing system consisting of 20 Latin letters, the so called ABAKADA alphabet. Today it adopts 28 letters under the official name Filipino.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N Ñ NG O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n ñ ng o p q r s t u v w x y z
Endangered languages: Will your mother tongue survive?
Welcome to the extinction era! You may not be aware of it since it seems the human race is thriving, but Earth is experiencing yet another mass extinction. Scientists have lately suggested defining a new epoch, Anthropocene, as it may be us, humans, who have contributed our bit to the current unfolding of events. Human impact is endangering the animals and plants, but in truth they are not the only ones endangered.
Migration killing unique cultures?
96% of the world's languages are spoken by only 4% of the global population according to the Sorosoro foundation. Globalization and mass migration in the 21st century have caused adoption of a dominant language in many areas to the detriment of original, local languages (what a paradox in terms of multiculturalism). It is now estimated that a substantial part of the world's presently known languages and dialects will cease to exist in written or spoken form and even become extinct in the not-so-distant future.According to UNESCO, unless this trend is reversed, half of today's 7,000+ languages will disappear by the end of this century. Columbia University linguist John McWhorter's predictions are even more gloomy with the outlook that 90% of today's existing languages will be displaced on a global scale by simplified versions of culturally dominant languages. Given that one of the important defining factors of a culture – if not the most important one – is its language, such development would irreversibly deprive us of our world's most important cultural heritage. New languages simply don't come into existence in amounts that wouldcompensate this trend. And by definition, they cannot compensate the loss of languages that have developed through the course of human history.
These languages should begin to worry us
Despite many arguments and disagreement on the definition of a language vs. a dialect, in terms of extinction, both a language and a dialect are equal. Hundreds of languages literally waiting to cease to exist as their last living speakers pass away. In Europe, we see dialects such as Bavarian (Germany, Austria), Gordiol (Italy), Istriot (Croatia) and Cornish (UK) that are likely heading toward their terminal days. Also Walloon, spoken in a good part of Belgium, Yiddish, and Romani – the tongue of Romani (Gypsy) people across Europe – are on the endangered list.
How to preserve a language
Systematic efforts are being made to document as many languages as possible and preserve them at least in artificial form. It is in fact feasible to revive a language suppressed or existing in "lab conditions" only, and history has shown us many an example. One is modern Hebrew, which was revived to a living official language from ancient religious texts. Also Irish and Greenlandic languages were resurrected from near-death thanks to social and political development, and they are now slowly beginning to spread. And in terms of language documentation, preservation and popularization, the translation industry can in fact help a lot :)
Language facts: Croatian
Croatian is a South Slavic language used primarily in Croatia (where it is an official language) by Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in neighboring countries where Croats make up autochthonous communities (e.g. the Serbian province of Vojvodina, Molise in Italy, or Burgenland in Austria), and generally the global Croatian diaspora.
It is sometimes classified as belonging to the Central South Slavic diasystem (also referred to as "Serbo-Croatian"). Croatian is spoken by 4,800,000 native speakers and approx. 6.5 million people around the world and uses a three-letter code: HRV (= hrvatska/i) for international recognition. It is also one of the official EU languages since Croatia became an EU member in 2013.
Croatian: a language with mixed origin
The modern Croatian standard language is a continuous outgrowth of more than nine hundred years of literature written in a mixture of Croatian Church Slavonic, or worded differently the Serbo-Croatian variant of Church Slavonic (i.e. Old Slavonic that was, for a brief period, also an official recognized language of the liturgy) and the vernacular language. Croatian Church Slavonic was abandoned by the mid-15th century, and Croatian as embodied in a purely vernacular literature (Shtokavian dialect literature) has now existed for more than five centuries.
Nowadays the Croatian language is an important symbol of national identity, but suggesting that Croatian language equals or is fully intelligible with Serbo-Croatian is still a sensitive subject to bring up. In fact, the differences between Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian language are (sometimes much too intensively) highlighted due to political reasons. The fact is that Croatians, Bosnians and Serbians generally understand each other, similarly to or even better than Czechs and Slovaks.
The Croatian alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet with special characters ć, č, đ, š, ž, dž; it does not have q, w, x, y.
A B C Č D Dž Đ E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž a b c č d dž đ e f g h i j k l lj m n nj o p r s š t u v z ž
Language facts: Greenlandic
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.
Language facts: Greek
The Greek language (or Modern Greek or Hellenic as it is sometimes called) belongs to the Indo-European language family and is the continuity of Ancient Greek. Both languages share almost the same alphabet, grammar, syntax and vocabulary. Latin language and all the Latin-derived languages were influenced by Ancient Greek.
Nowadays Greek is spoken by over 17 million people around the world, mainly in Greece but also in the U.S.A., Canada, Germany, Brazil, Australia, etc. A dialect of Greek (Greek Cypriot) is also spoken in Cyprus. Greek is the official language in Greece and Cyprus as well as an official EU language.
LANGUAGE OF THE ANTIQUITY
Greek is the language that in it's own way has helped to define today's Western culture. Not only is it the oldest recorded living language in the world (written down in clay around 1450-1350 BC), but it is also the core of Ancient literature and knowledge, such as Homer's epic poems Illias and Odyssey, Platonic dialogues, the entire work of Aristotle, even the New Testament – all were written down in Greek. During the time of the Antiquity, Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean and together with Latin (then the language of Romans who competed and eventually overcame the Greeks) it has been the subject of an entire discipline of studies, the so called Classics.
The Greek alphabet is considered to be the earliest European alphabet (since about 9th century BC). Greek language and it's ancient forms used in fact three writing systems in the course of history – Linear B (a set of 87 syllabic signs and more than 100 ideographs that signify objects and it is believed these ideograms had no phonetic meaning), Cypriot syllabary – closely related to Linear B, but abandoned during the Classical era to be replaced by today's Greek alphabet (current variant is the so-called Ionic).
Today's Greek writing system has 24 letters, whereas English has 26.
Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω
α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο π ρ σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω
Language facts: Slovak
Slovak, also known as Slovakian, is an Indo-European language belonging to the West Slavic languages (together with Czech and Polish). The language is very similar to Czech and the two are mutually intelligible, with the exception of some dialects in East Slovakia that have structural differences and is hardly comprehensible to those familiar with the official version.
Slovak has been influenced by many languages, including Czech, Polish, German and Hungarian. It's the official language in Slovakia and Vojvodina (in Serbia), as well as an official EU language, with over 5 million native speakers in Slovakia and small minorities in the USA, Czech Republic and Serbia.
Language – a tool of failed revolution
Slovak is a descendant to Proto-Slavic language, from which it started to differ around the 8-9th century after inhabiting today's area of Slovakia. In 863, the first script – the Glagolitic alphabet – was used to write down the "Old Slavonic" (language of Slovene – the Slavic inhabitants of the area) after the arrival of Constantine and Methodius (brothers and Byzantine theologians and inventors of the script). The brothers even pushed through Old Slavonic as the fourth liturgical language. This was however abolished in 885 and the area got back to using latin script.
Slovak was not constituted until the middle of 19th century and its codification itself marks the era of a strong national movement against former Hungarian supremacy. In the European revolutionary years of 1848-1849, the group around protestant literate Ľudovít Štúr promoted the use of Slovak language in their publications and engaged in the nationalistic brawl (which was logically followed by reprisals from Hungarian government). After Austria-Hungary was established in 1867, the government forced a strong Magyarization including conversion of all Slovak schools (from elementary to universities) to Hungarian, while Slovak language was allowed only as a foreign language with very limited extent of one hour per week. Slovak language was not officially recognized until 1918, when Czechoslovakia was established.
Slovak uses the Latin alphabet with diacritics. It is a common practice to change the spelling of foreign words into Slovak to establish a new Slovak word (e.g. weekend = víkend, dubbing = dabing, etc.).
A Á Ä B C Č D Ď Dz Dž E É F G H Ch I Í J K L Ľ M N Ň O Ó Ô P Q R Ŕ S Š T Ť U Ú V W X Y Ý Z Ž
a á ä b c č d ď dz dž e é f g h ch i í j k l ľ m n ň o ó ô p q r ŕ s š t ť u ú v w x y ý z ž
Language facts: Polish
Polish is a West Slavic language and the official language of Poland. It is most closely related to Czech and Slovak, sharing the region of Central Europe.
It is spoken by around 55 million people around the world, primarily in Poland (around 38 million), and by immigrant communities in many countries in Europe, the UAE and USA (there are 11 million Polish Americans and a vast diaspora lives also in the UK). It is also one of the official EU languages.
LANGUAGE OF A COMPLICATED TERRITORY
Polish language appeared around the 10th century as a result of an emerging Polish state. Until accepting Christianity and the Latin script, there was no alphabet to write Polish down so it existed only in spoken form. Despite a very complicated history of Poland and Polish people, and many attempts to suppress the language, its literature still developed. Nowadays, Polish is the second most widely spoken Slavic language in the world (after Russian), even surpassing Ukrainian.
The language has some quite interesting grammar rules. Polish is highly inflected with seven cases for nouns, pronouns and adjectives. It also has a complex gender system, but uses only three tenses. There are no definite or indefinite articles in Polish. Interestingly, when formally addressing someone (even in direct personal communication), Polish switch from second to third person and use the pronouns pan (Mr.), pani (Mrs.) or panstwo (plural - equivalent to "ladies and gentlemen").
In addition to the standard Latin alphabet, Polish uses 9 special characters (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż; Ą, Ć, Ę, Ł, Ń, Ó, Ś, Ź, Ż) and special character pairs (ch, cz, dz, dż, dź, sz, rz) which represent sounds not available in the Latin alphabet.
A Ą B C Ć D E Ę F G H I J K L Ł M N Ń O Ó P R S Ś T U W Y Z Ź Ż
a ą b c ć d e ę f g h i j k l ł m n ń o ó p r s ś t u w y z ź ż
Language facts: Swahili
Swahili (or Kiswahili) is a language from the Niger-Congo branch, included in the group of Bantu languages. It is spoken in several East African countries, even reaching across the Mozambique Channel to northern Mozambique and is considered a lingua francain the area of the African Great Lakes as well as other parts of Southeast Africa.
Swahili is the official language in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Comoros. It is spoken by tens of million of people, possibly even by more than one hundred million people, either as a primary or secondary language.
Lingua franca of Southeast Africa
This language dates back at least 1,000 years, being in fact the first language of the Swahili people, and originally spread mainly in coastal region by fishermen. During the colonial period, it has been much influenced by German, English, Portuguese, French and even Arabic. It was in fact the German colonists who declared Swahili as the general administrative language in mainland Tanzania (back then Tanganyika). English colonists had similar plans with Swahili in Kenya, but without any official conclusion. However, after the British took over Tanzania – the former colony of the defeated Germany – they instituted Swahili as a common language for lower levels of education and administration in all British colonies in the area (while secondary education and governance would be in English only).
Since 1928, when a conference in Mombasa was held in order to standardize Swahili language and provide it also with a written form (the language uses the Zanzibar Swahili dialect Kiunguja as a basis for standardization), the language has been regulated by the National Swahili Council in Tanzania. Today, Arabic language is gaining influence in Swahili language evolution due to the large amount of Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants in the region's east coast.
Swahili has two writing systems: Latin and Arabic. While it used to be based on the Arabic scripts, Latin script is common today.
A B CH D E F G H I J K L M N O P R S T U V W X Y Z
a b ch d e f g h i j k l m n o p r s t u v w x y z
Official languages of international organizations
Not just in today's globalized world, but whenever more cultures or nations sit together behind one table, languages surely represent a very important part of national and cultural identities to be respected among all partners. Usage of languages, or the constitution of official languages within international organisations or treaties, suggests the importance and respect to each associate, and also reflects their history and "genesis".
But it also indirectly underscores the trouble of translation, interpretation and localization of official material into all the "official" languages of a particular organization. Not just within the regular operation of these organizations – such as the United Nations (UN), or European Union (EU) – but also in lesser contexts by manufacturers and language suppliers who wish to supply to such organizations face headaches. A case in point is all the languages they need to describe their products in when trying to sell in the EU.
So what languages are these?
Languages of the United Nations
There are currently six official languages, used in all official documents of the UN (the documents are not even published until available in all official languages), as well as in meetings of the various UN organs, such as the General Assembly, Security Council, etc.: Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), English (British), French, Russian and Spanish.
The UN supplies mutual interpretation of the above-mentioned languages during these meetings, but if a state representative wants to speak in another language, one needs to provide translation into one of the official UN languages. The truth is that English has been preferred in communication at the expense of omitting the other five languages, an issue that has been subject to continuous public criticism. Focus on the language parity and multilingualism was supported even in the adoption of the Resolution on Multilingualism by the General Assembly in 2011.
Languages of the European Union
The number of EU languages rises whenever the Union expands, although the number of member states does exceed the number of the official languages. The first official languages of, at that time, the European Community (1958) were Dutch, French, German and Italian. Interestingly English was excluded then and did not become an official EU language until 1973.
Currently, there are 24 official EU languages, but also several others with the status of so-called co-official or semi-official language (Basque, Catalan, Galician, Scottish, Welsh).
Unlike the UN, when meetings are held among EU member states, all participants are allowed to use their own language – this is because the EU maintains the policy that every EU citizen has the right to communicate and access all EU documents in one of the official EU languages (this extends also to consumer information, e.g. in product manuals, safety information, etc., turning these into an additional cost issue, albeit with great marketing potential, to manufacturers entering the huge European Union market).
The European Commission itself actually operates the largest language service in the world to cover all the aspects of this language policy. A service that is very open to the general public with shared documents in almost any imaginable field and often a treasure trove to language aficionadi.
Language facts: Bengali
Bengali (or Bangla) is an Indo-Aryan language used in the area of Bengal in eastern South Asia including the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The language is the second most spoken language in India and the seventh largest language in the world with approximately 230-250 million native speakers (300 million worldwide), and it dates back at least 1,000 years, some say more.
Many different variations of Bengali exist, however, the main and generally accepted dialect is the West-Central one, called Nadia, spoken in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Bengali is the official language in Bangladesh and enjoys official language status in West Bengal, Tripura and Barak Valley (in India).
Bengali vs. Hindi
While the above-mentioned languages both belong to the Indo-Aryan language family, both are spoken widely in India, with origin from Sanskrit, but there's number of differences that make Bengali and Hindi mutually unintelligible. However, in regions where Bengali and Hindi speakers are exposed to each other's speech, they understand both. As Bangla speakers are more frequently exposed to Hindi, they are more likely to understand Hindi than vice versa.
Similar to different dialects, Bengali also has different scripts of which today Cholito bhasa is the generally accepted script and is the standard for written Bengali (another Bengali script is called Sadhu bhasa). Bengali is assumed to include some 100,000 separate words.
The letters in the Bengali script run from left to right. It uses the same punctuation as in western scripts, however the full stop is represented by the down stroke (|). Bengali still lacks a uniform sorting order, although attempts are underway to solve this.
অ, আ, ই, ঈ, উ, ঊ, ঋ, এ, ঐ, ও, ঔ
ক, খ, গ, ঘ, ঙ; চ, ছ, জ, ঝ, ঞ; ট, ঠ, ড, ঢ, ণ; ত, থ, দ, ধ, ন; প, ফ, ব, ভ, ম; য, র, ল, ব; শ, ষ, স, হ; ড়, ঢ়, য়;
Language facts: Hungarian
Hungarian (Magyar) is an official EU language and has about 14.5 million native speakers, mostly in Hungary and the diaspora – mainly in seven neighboring countries (e.g. Romania, Serbia, Ukraine or Slovakia, the latter where Hungarian even has a status of second language in the areas inhabited by Hungarian minority), but also worldwide.
Hungarian is a non-Indo-European language, a member of the Finno-Ugric group (like Finnish and Estonian, though not mutually intelligible) and Uralic family of languages. Hungarian is therefore related to languages like Khanty or Mansi, used by people living in Western Siberia, Ural region or around the Ob river (Russia).
Ural is in fact considered the homeland of Hungarians, who (although formerly settled) slowly turned into nomadic people. Because of the history of Hungarian people (nomadic background plus the era of the Hungarian empire), the Hungarian vocabulary has borrowed quite a lot of words from Turkic languages, Slavic languages, German and even old Persian (possibly due to early contacts with Iranian nomads).
Hungarian is an agglutinative language – words consist of morphemes determining the meaning, but remain unchanged after forming a word – opposite to fusional languages represented by most of the European languages. Hungarian uses suffixes and prefixes extensively instead and features vowel harmony.
Hungarian uses the Latin alphabet, with several extra letters: accented vowels (á, é, í, ó, ö, ő, ú, ü, ű), digraphs – two characters representing a single letter (cs, dz, gy, ly, ny, sz, ty, zs) and even a trigraph (dzs). Characters with diacritical marks are considered separate letters. Vowels that differ only in length are treated the same when ordering words. Example: O and Ó are not distinguished in ordering, neither are Ö and Ő, but the latter two follow the O's.
A Á B C Cs D Dz Dzs E É F G Gy H I Í J K L Ly M N Ny O Ó Ö Ő P (Q) R S Sz T Ty U Ú Ü Ű V (W) (X) (Y) Z Zs a á b c cs d dz dzs e é f g gy h i í j k l ly m n ny o ó ö ő p (q) r s sz t ty u ú ü ű v (w) (x) (y) z zs
Language facts: Korean
Korean is one of the Far East Asian languages, but is a so-called "language isolate" and the only remaining member of the Koreanic language family (all relative languages have been long extinct).
Korean has around 80 million native speakers, and it is the official language in both South and North Korea and also one of the official languages of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China.
There is number of differences between South and North Korean due to historical reasons and the isolation of North Korea. Spelling is slightly different between the two nations, but pronunciation is in fact the same (in South Korean the language is based largely on the Seoul dialect, while in North Korea spoken Korean is influenced by the dialect of Pyongyang). The two countries also have slightly different grammar and vocabulary (mainly due to political reasons). For instance, there's number of loan words in both Koreans, but while in South they are taken from English, in the North the vocabulary is "deliberately" influenced by Russian terms (e.g. the expression for "friend" used to be chingu (친구 / 親舊) in the entire Korea, but after the division of the peninsula, the North adopted the translation of the Russian term comrade, tongmu (동무 / 同務).
Even if some English words have been adapted in the North, they are usually transliterated into Korean differently from the practices in the South. Interestingly, for names of places, countries and nations, South Korea uses the English version of the term as a base for transliteration, while North Korea uses the word form in its original language as a base (e.g. Poland in the South is transliterated as Pollandeu (폴란드), but Ppolsŭkka (뽈스까) in the North, based on the Polish original name – Polska).
The division into two parts of a once single great nation is visible also in such should-be-common and historically important words as the name of the Korean Peninsula itself (hanbando (한반도 / 韓半島) in the South and chosŏnbando (조선반도 / 朝鮮半島) in the North), or the very reason for the division: the Korean War (hanguk jeonjaeng 한국 전쟁 / 韓國戰爭 in the South vs.choguk'aepangjŏnjaeng 조국해방전쟁 / 祖國解放戰爭 in the North).
Korean has its own, unique alphabet system – Hangul – established under the rule of Sejong the Great, and used since the 15th century (however, it did not become an official script in Korea until the 20th century). Today, Hangul is used both in North and South Korea, and it can be written from left to right or in columns from top to bottom starting from the right.
The Korean writing system also uses Hanja, the Korean name for Chinese characters and traditionally used for words of Chinese origin. These can be mixed in to write Sino-Korean words. South Korea still teaches 1800 Hanja characters in its schools, while the North abolished the use of Hanja decades ago. In the past, Hanja was the core of the Korean writing system.
ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ, ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅆ, ㅃ, ㅉ
ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, ㅡ, ㅣ
Language facts: Khmer
Khmer, also known as Cambodian, is an Austro-Asiatic language and it is the official language of Cambodia. Khmer is spoken by 15 million native speakers, 12.6 million of whom live in Cambodia.
As old as the Khmer empire
Khmer has been influenced by Sanskrit and Pali through Hinduism and Buddhism as well as the Southeast Asian languages of Thai, Lao and Vietnamese, but unlike those it is NOT a tonal language (in tonal languages, changing a tone of speech changes the meaning of words, with otherwise intact spelling. Many Asian languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai, are tonal, while most languages in Europe are not, although in some European languages the meaning of words can be changed using pitch accent on certain syllables).
The language developed under the Khmer Empire, dating back to the 9th century, but goes back even further. It underwent turbulent change from the 14th to the 18th century. Modern Khmer as used today cannot be used to interpret Old Khmer. Several dialects of Khmer exist with a significant amounts of speakers in both Thailand and Vietnam. The majority of speakers use the Central Khmer dialect though.
Khmer is an analytical and isolating language, which means there are no inflections, conjugations or case endings used.
Khmer is written in the Khmer script, from which both Thai and Lao have developed. This script also has its own numerals.The Khmer alphabet consists of 33 consonants supported by vowels represented by diacritics written above, below and/or alongside on either side of the consonant to modify it. This example shows consonants without the vowel diacritics:
ក ខ គ ឃ ង ច ឆ ជ ឈ ញ ដ ឋ ឌ ឍ ណ ត ថ ទ ធ ន ប ផ ព ភ ម យ រ ល វ ឝ ឞ ស ហ ឡ អ
Khmer numerals (0 to 9):
០ ១ ២ ៣ ៤ ៥ ៦ ៧ ៨ ៩
Language facts: Irish
Irish is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family. It originates in Ireland, and was historically spoken by the Irish, but today only a small part of the population speaks the language.
Irish has status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland, it was voted an official language of the European Union in 2005, and it is recognized as a minority language in Northern Ireland. Irish is spoken as a native language only in parts of Ireland, mostly on the west coast. Native speakers are estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000.
An "emigrated" language
Due to various reasons, Irish language experienced a decline in use of such proportions that it almost stopped existing as a live language. The British rule as well as adopting English by the Irish catholic church and a good part of the middle-class was, interestingly, not the eventual catalyst of the Irish language decline – just some of the factors. The final "killer" turned out to be less ideological and in fact purely practical: during massive emigration of Irish folks to United States in the 19th century, speaking English simply ensured a greater variety of job opportunities (aside from farming).
Irish as a symbol
In today's Republic of Ireland, Irish has largely lost out to English in common usage, but it remains a required subject of study in schools, while all official documents issued by the Irish government must be published in both Irish and English or only Irish. Since the 1920s, there has been an incline in use of the language (while it is considered by Irish themselves as having more of a symbolic, than practical value) and there are movements trying to promote Irish and its use not just in official communication.
A Á B C D E É F G H I Í L M N O Ó P R S T U Ú
a á b c d e é f g h i í l m n o ó p r s t u ú
Language facts: Uyghur
Uyghur belongs to the Turkic language family and is derived from Old Turkic language with its origins in Mongolia and Xinjiang. This is the autonomous territory in northwest China, sometimes also referred to as East Turkestan, or Uyghurstan (although actively discouraged by Chinese government), in historical context even Moghulistan – the land of Mongols where the descendants of Genghis Khan actually ruled. As a member of the Turkic language family, Uyghur is related to languages like Turkish, Azerbaijani, or Turkmen. Uyghur has somewhere between 10 and 15 million speakers nowadays.
Formerly known as Eastern Turkish, it is today a language spoken by the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where its status is that of official language. Uyghur is widely used in public life and in official settings as well as in print, radio and television. Apart from Xinjiang, the language is spoken also in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia by Uyghur diaspora.
Three different scripts
Generally, Uyghur has three main dialects, Central, Southern and Eastern, where the Central dialect is clearly the dominant one and spoken by 90% of the population. Like the other Turkic languages, it has vowel harmony. Uyghur has been influenced to a large degree by Persian and Arabic, and more recently also by Russian and Chinese. The Old Uyghur writing dates back to the fifth century and its writing system is based on the Arabic script. This writing system still dominates today, although Uyghur also can be written in two different Latin alphabets (classic Latin – Uyghur Latin Yëziqi, and a blend of Latin, Turkic and Pinyin* – Uyƣur Yengi Yeziⱪi – abandoned after 1982, when the original Arabic-based script was reintroduced) as well as Cyrillic. In Xinjiang, the Uyghur Arabic script is adopted as the official writing system, while the other alphabets are primarily used in areas outside Xinjiang.
ا ئە،ە ب پ ت ج چ خ د ر ز ژ س ش غ ف ق ك گ ڭ ل م ن ھ ئو،و ئۇ،ۇ ئۆ،ۆ ئۈ،ۈ ۋ ئې،ې ئى،ى ي
* Pinyin = The official writing system for transcription of Mandarin pronounciation of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet
Language facts: Dutch
Dutch is a West Germanic language primarily used in the Benelux region and an official EU language. It is closely related to other West Germanic languages (e.g., English, West Frisian and German) and somewhat more remotely to the North Germanic languages. Because of former ownership of colonies on the African continent, Dutch has considerably influenced Afrikaans, one of the official languages of South Africa and the most widely understood language in Namibia.
Nowadays the language is spoken by 24 million people around the world, primarily in the Netherlands, but also in Belgium, where Dutch is one of the official languages, next to French and German. The Belgian version of Dutch is often referred to as Flemish (Vlaams), which covers a group of Dutch dialects with slight differences from standard Dutch. But what are the differences exactly?
Difference between Dutch and Flemish
Flemish, or Vlaams in Dutch, is the standard Dutch variant spoken in the Belgian region of Flanders, with approximately 6.1 million speakers. It includes several dialects, all of which are interrelated with the southwestern dialects of Dutch. The main differences are in pronunciation and frequency of certain words. Because certain words (around 3-4,000) are more frequent in Belgian Dutch, many refer to the language as Flemish, however the words are indeed part of standard Dutch. These different Flemish-preferred expressions are often considered as "old-fashioned" in Dutch. A slightly more old-fashioned sense of Flemish in comparison with Dutch is underlined also by a more formal tone of communication among speakers of Flemish. While Dutch people tend to switch from formal to informal tone rather quickly, Flemish speakers use more formal expressions (for which they are sometimes considered cold or unpleasant). However, there are no spelling differences between the Dutch language used in Belgium and the Dutch one used in the Netherlands.
In addition to the standard English alphabet, Dutch ends with (…) X Y IJ Z. The alphabet is shared also with the Flemish dialects.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Ĳ Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y ĳ z
Language facts: Tamil
Tamil is spoken in southern India, Sri Lanka and Singapore and by many migrant groups in Malaysia, South Africa, and even Canada, USA and parts of West Europe. It is the official language in Sri Lanka, the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Puducherry, with around 85 million native speakers. It is also one of the official languages of Singapore.
Tamil is based on the Dravidian vocabulary and has received strong impact from Sanskrit, however, the pure Tamil movement in the 20th century has sought to remove this influence, and there is now a movement to build expressions and words on Tamil roots, while in this process also replacing many loan words from English and other languages.
One of the longest surviving languages
In India, Tamil is one of the 22 scheduled languages and as such, like the other languages, the tongue is subject to official measures to further develop the language. Tamil has existed for more than 2,000 years and can be traced back to the 3rd century B.C. It is regarded as one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world, and as such offers a wealth of classical traditions. There is a huge variety of literature written in Tamil script, moreover the earliest manuscripts found in India were in Tamil. Thanks to Christian missionaries, who published a book of Tamil prayers, it has become also the first Indian language to be printed. Modern Tamil was also influenced by contacts with European culture (e.g. use of European-style punctuation or consonant clusters, or a more rigid word order, which resembles the syntax of English – due to understandable historical reasons).
அ ஆ இ ஈ உ ஊ எ ஏ ஐ ஒ ஓ ஔ
க் ங் ச் ஞ் ட் ண் த் ந் ப் ம் ய் ர் ல் வ் ழ் ள் ற் ன்
Tamil numerals (0 to 10)
௦ ௧ ௨ ௩ ௪ ௫ ௬ ௭ ௮ ௯ ௰
Language facts: Turkish
Turkish is predominantly used in Turkey and Cyprus. It has approximately 63 million speakers many of which can also be found in Greece, Bulgaria and other parts of Eastern Europe. Modern Turkish language has been highly influenced by Ottoman Turkish and has expanded as the Ottoman Empire grew. Turkish is also spoken by several million immigrants in Western Europe, mainly Germany, where a major Turkish diaspora exists.
Not so common language family
Turkish belongs to Turkic language family (as its most significant representative), namely to the group of Oghuz languages. Oghuz Turkic languages – such as Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Qashqai, or Gagauz – are characteristic with a high degree of mutual intelligibility.
Some features of Turkish language, such as lack of genders in grammar, no noun classes, vowel harmony, or agglutination (the process in which complex words are comprised of combining various morphemes in a string) are common throughout the entire Turkic language family. Turkish also features a considerable amount of loanwords from Arabic and Persian, due to the adoption of Islam by Ottoman ancestors, the Seljuq Turks. In fact, the Ottoman Turkish was a blend of Turkish, Arabic and Persian (not really compatible with today's Turkish).
"Republican" language reform
The establishment of Modern Turkish language in everyday use resulted from the foundation of the Republic of Turkey and was strongly supported by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (interesting fact: "Atatürk" is not a real surname of the first Turkish president, but an honorary title that directly means "father of all Turks". Turkish parliament even banned the name to be used in connection with any other person – by law). As the Ottoman language (that was used as administrative language of the empire) consisted of too many loanwords of Persian and Arabic origin, the aim of the language reform was to replace these terms with original Turkish expressions. It's quite funny though that Atatürk himself often used Ottoman terms in his speeches, which resulted in his 1927 speech to the new Parliament being repeatedly translated into Modern Turkish to make it comprehensible to younger generations.
In 1928, as a result of Atatürk's reform, the original Ottoman script was replaced with a phonetic variant of the Latin alphabet, but with some additions.
A B C Ç D E F G Ğ H I I J K L M N O Ö P R S Ş T U Ü V Y Z
a b c ç d e f g ğ h ı i j k l m n o ö p r s ş t u ü v y z
Language facts: Latin
Latin is the official language of the Vatican City. It derives from the Indo-European branch, from which Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian originate. Although it was spoken in the Mediterranean area, it also influenced the Germanic languages and is currently used in many abbreviations (“e.g.” was an example derived from the Latin “exempli gratia” and “i.e.” is short for “id est”). Latin terminology is widely used, amongst others, in philosophy, medicine, biology, law and for official purposes. Interestingly, Latin is spoken daily by only around 800 people.
Rise and fall of Latin
Originally, Latin was spoken in the area around the ancient city of Rome – Latium. In the course of the rise of Rome, Latin spread to other parts of the kingdom, later the Roman Republic, and subsequently became the "official" administrative language of the entire Roman Empire. This is also the reason why Latin strongly influenced vernacular languages in the Empire, such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and even English. In fact, so-called Romance languages are the direct successor of Vulgar Latin, the unwritten and non-standardized proto-language.
During the era of the Roman Republic, a standardized Classic Latin was introduced to replace the Old Latin and most of the written works used the standardized version.
Latin language survived also the fall of the Roman Empire and lived on in the form of Late Latin, later developed into Medieval Latin and Renaissance Latin. Until the 18th century, Modern Latin was the lingua franca of international communication and mainly science. Nowadays, Latin is preserved principally by the Catholic Church (while many clerics are still fluent in it) and science, as a vast number of scientific terminology in e.g. biology and medicine originate from Latin. Quod erat demonstrandum. :)
Compared to the English alphabet, the Latin language has 23 letters and lacks the letters J, U, and W, and it does not have a cursive script.
A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t v x y z
Language facts: Persian
Persian – also known as Farsi, although this term is considered as incorrect by many academics – is an Indo-European language of the Indo-Iranian branch. Persian and its varieties have official-language status in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. And Farsi has been called Dari in Afghanistan, due to political reasons only. Historically Persian (as a direct descendant of Old Persian) is a more widely understood language in an area ranging from the Middle East to India. Significant populations of speakers can be found in other Persian Gulf countries (Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates), as well as large communities in the USA.
There are approximately 80 million native speakers of Persian in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and about the same number of people in other parts of the world speaks Persian, at least as a second language.
Persian vs Arabic
Persian language was continuously preserved and developed through centuries and its own evolution phases, from Old Persian via Middle Persian to New Persian (the modern version of Persian spoken today). The New Persian actually is the direct follower of Old Persian and Persian language is among the oldest ones with preserved original texts. Due to its script, it is commonly mistaken for Arabic, or considered a variation of Arabic language. This is far from truth, as the alphabet set is actually the only resemblance of the languages. Persian sounds much different, with its own grammar and syntax. Similar to comparing e.g. German and French, both share the alphabet set, but are not mutually interchangeable. In fact, Arabic and Persian do not even share the language family, as Persian originates from the Indo-European language tree, while Arabic belongs to Afro-Asiatic (or Semitic) family.
Interestingly, words in Farsi are written from right to left, but numbers are written from left to right. And all is written in cursive only. The modern Persian alphabet is based on Arabic script, but has 32 letters - 4 more than Arabic. One variety of Persian, the Tajiki (spoken in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) is written in Cyrillic script.
ا، ب، پ، ت،5.ث، ج، چ، ح، خ، د، ذ، ر، ز، ژ، س، ش، ص، ض، ط، ظ، ع، غ، ف، ق، ک، گ، ل، م، ن، و، ه، ی
Language facts: Ukrainian
Ukrainian is the state language of Ukraine, the national language of Ukrainians. It belongs to the Slavic languages (the Eastern-Slavic group), being a part of the Indo-European language family, and is currently emerging from a long period of decline. The total number of the Ukrainian speaking population is estimated to around 39 million people. Ukrainian language is also spoken in Russia, Poland, Canada, Slovakia, Byelorussia, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Transdniestria (Moldova).
Language fighting for survival
Historically, Ukrainian originates from Old Russian language. Until the 20th century, the language was even called "Little Russian", or Rusyn language in Poland and Slovakia.*
The vocabulary of the language is based on words with common Slavic origin, but it also contains a great number of words formed during the period of its own historical development. Ukrainian includes a number of borrowed words that originally come from German, Polish and other languages. This was mainly due to political reasons, as Ukraine has undergone various levels of influence from Poland, Lithuania, Austro-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany and, of course, Russia.
The official approach to the use of Ukrainian in modern Ukraine has gone from complete neglect and even suppression and bans to popularization (mainly in the 19th and at the beginning of 20th century), and there has even been "ukrainization" (e.g. after the communist putsch in Russia, and now today once again) – seemingly as a result of current needs, trends, and development.
Face of the nation
The complicated face and nature of the Ukrainian lands and nation are very strongly reflected in the complicated face and nature of Ukrainian language while the language itself has become one of the strongest symbols of Ukrainian statehood.
Since 1991, independent Ukraine has made Ukrainian the only official state language and implemented government policies to broaden the use of Ukrainian (often replacing Russian). Lately, this has been viewed as controversial, predominantly in the eastern parts of the country, where a strong enclave of Russians opposes the policy and demands equality of the Ukrainian and Russian languages.
The Ukrainian alphabet is based on the Cyrillic alphabet and has 33 letters.
А Б В Г Ґ Д Е Є Ж З И І Ї Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Ь Ю Я
а б в г ґ д е є ж з и і ї й к л м н о п р с т у ф х ц ч ш щ ь ю я
*There are many disputes over the classification of Rusyn. While it has its own ISO code, is spoken by the minority of Rusyns in Eastern Europe (mainly Slovakia and Serbia), and is even one of the official languages of the Vojvodina autonomy, it is also considered only a dialect of Ukrainian – interestingly enough, by Ukraine itself.
Language facts: Hebrew
Hebrew is a Semitic language and belongs to the Afroasiatic language family. Biblical Hebrew is closely related to Arabic and Aramaic, which are spoken around the territory where many of the biblical stories are focused – the Middle East. Hebrew is one of the two official languages of the State of Israel, along with Arabic. Modern Hebrew is spoken by some six million people inside Israel and one to two million people outside the country. Liturgical Hebrew is used by quite a few more people, in both Jewish and Christian religious settings.
Resuscitated after centuries
Liturgical Hebrew that was preserved in ancient religious heritage, but vanished from everyday use around 4th century, was actually revived. Modern Hebrew was invented as an adjunct to the Zionist movement in the 19th century. One of its first and most avid innovators was Eliezer Itzchak Perlman of Belarus, who created much of the modern vocabulary between 1885 and 1922. Mr. Perlman is renowned for raising the first “Hebrew-speaking” child – he forbade anyone to utter a word in any other language around his firstborn son, Ben Zion (who later changed his name to Itamar).
Modern Hebrew is governed by an official committee – The Academy of the Hebrew Language. Decisions by the Academy are enshrined in law and frequently ignored by speakers of the language. It is interesting, though, that Hebrew is a native language of less than 49% of Israelis – other major native languages of Israel inhabitants are Russian, Arabic, English, French and Yiddish (though similar to Hebrew by using the same alphabet set as well as similar expressions, the two languages have very different origin and history. Yiddish is a fusion language originating in Liturgical Hebrew and Armaic, but mixes with High German and Slavic languages).
Hebrew is read from right to left using a distinctive 22-letter alphabet.
בּ ב ג גּ ג׳ ד דּ ד׳ ה ו וּ וֹ ו׳ ז ז׳ ח ט י ִי כּ ךּ ך כ ל
/ ם מ ן נ ס ע פּ ףּ פ ף ץ צ ץ׳ צ׳ ק ר שׁ שׂ תּ ת ת׳
Language facts: Arabic
Arabic belongs to the Afroasiatic language family and is a Semitic language of the Arabo-Canaanite subgroup – therefore closely related to Hebrew or Phoenician.
With approximately 290 million speakers (of Modern Standard Arabic), it ranks in sixth place among the world’s major languages. In today's form, Modern Standard Arabic happens to be an official language of 27 states. Only English and French score higher. As the Arabic world is very large, it is not surprising that a large number of Arabic dialects have developed – counting all these, the number of Arabic speakers rises to an estimated 420 million. Arabic is the language of the Holy Quran, poetry and literature as well as an official UN language. As a liturgical language of Islam, it is used by an astonishing 1.6 billion Muslims.
Complicated language of complicated society
Arabic is a so-called sociolinguistic language, which means that from a purely linguistic view it's actually a group of familiar languages. For cultural (e.g. religious) or socioeconomic reasons it is considered as one language, though, despite that there are branches of Arabic that are mutually unintelligible. Arabic can be sub-classified as follows: Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Arabic. Obviously there's also a large number of dialects.
Classical Arabic (or Quranic Arabic) is used as the language of prayer and recitation throughout the Islamic world. Modern Standard Arabic, a constituted version of the language, is, though intelligible, much distinct from the spoken variants of Arabic dialects (with no observable boundaries or rules). The official constituted form of Arabic actually co-exist in common usage with various Arabic dialects while covering different social situations.
The language of culture
Because of Muslim expansion in the past, Arabic has influenced a lot of the world's languages, including Indian languages such as Urdu (which is in fact a Muslim influenced version of Hindi – that was actually also previously influenced by Arabic), Punjabi or Bengali. Also Roman languages, mainly Spanish, Catalan or Portuguese, borrowed many expressions from Arabic in the middle ages, when the Muslim world represented the cultural and scientific drive in then decimated Europe.
The Arabic alphabet has twenty-eight (28) letters. Arabic differs from Latin languages in that it is written right to left, but sequences of digits, such as telephone numbers, read from left to right.
أ ب ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ك ل م ن ه و ي
Language facts: Hindi
Standard Hindi, also known as Modern Hindi, is mutually intelligible with Urdu, another Indian language. Hindi is the official language in India and has borrowed its vocabulary heavily from Sanskrit. Hindi has close to 500 million speakers including Hindi dialects (41% of the population in India) which makes it the 4th largest language of the world, after Chinese, Spanish, and English.
Language as a political tool
Standard Hindi is based on Khariboli, a dialect of Delhi and surrounding regions. In the 17th century, this dialect acquired linguistic prestige and became generally known as Hindustani or Urdu. After India became independent, a language reform led to Standard Hindi with a modern grammar and orthographic standards. While many Hindi and Urdu speakers claim these are two different languages, this is largely due to religious nationalism and communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims. It is in a fact hard to tell the colloquial languages from each other. In the Indian constitution from 1950, Hindi was declared the principal national language of India, instead of Urdu. This "settled" the dispute politically (also with a contribution of Mahatma Gandhi who criticized the division), although certain resistance persists until today.
One country, 22 languages
It may be worthwhile to note that English is the secondary national language due to historical and cultural development of India. Fluency in English is considered a social advantage. English is India's lingua franca and is widely used in higher society, politics as well as in business. Apart from official Hindu and English, there is over 20 officially recognized languages in India, including Urdu, Assamese, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Nepali, Kannada, Gujarati and others.
The main script of Standard Hindi is Devanagari, it is also the most commonly used alphabet for writing Sanskrit.
अ ब भ क च छ ड/द ध/ढ़ इ फ ग घ ह ई ज क ख ल म न/ण ऑ प फ क्यू र स श ट/त ठ/थ उ व व क्ष य झ
Language facts: German
German is the official language of Germany and Austria and one of the official languages of Switzerland and Belgium, as well as an official language of the European Union and the European Commission. It is used by more than 100 million speakers and belongs to the West Germanic group of the Germanic languages. Apart from Standard German of Germany spoken by 88 million, Austrian German (Österreichisches Deutsch) it has 8 million speakers, while Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) has 5 million speakers. Moreover, there are about 80 million non-native speakers.
FACT: German is also the second most used scientific language.
Too many dialects
German is an interesting language also because a vast number of flavors and dialects, some of which are so distant and even mutually non-interchangeable with Standard German, so they are considered separate languages (such as Swiss German for instance). Even though Standard German existed in written form, the pronunciation was (and in fact still remains) very different in every region and dialect. The Standard German pronunciation was influenced by North German (although, strange enough, it was learnt as a foreign language in Northern Germany itself) as well as the stage form of German used in theaters.
The standardization of written German in fact did not occur until the beginning of the 20th century. It's worthy to note that the most comprehensive German dictionary was created by the famous German authors, The Grimm Brothers. Another important role in German standardization was also played with the publication of Martin Luther's Bible.
Interesting fact: there is one German dialect (considered a separate language today) that is not written in Latin, but in Hebrew script and it is Yiddish – the old German dialect of Ashkenazi Jews, originated in Central Europe around 9th century.
West vs. East German
Although it might seem that 40 years of division between East and West Germany caused also variation in language, it had just a little influence given a too short development period. There are certain words that are culturally different in today's western and eastern Deutschland due to Russian influence (e.g. astronaut (West) vs. kosmonaut (East), or Gartenhaus vs. Datsche (Russian expression for garden house). Also brands influenced certain terms, e.g. tissue – Kleenex in the US – is termed "Tempo" in the West, after the major tissue producer in Germany, but only a general expression "Papiertaschentuch" is used in the East.
The German alphabet is basically the same as the English one, exept for the addition of the special characters Ä, Ö, Ü / ä, ö, ü, ß (so called sharp S – originally scharfen S or "Eszett", sometimes replaced in writing with a double "s" (common in Switzerland). The Eszett character is rather interesting, because it doesn't have an upper case form). When sorting, these extra letters are treated like their base characters, as if the dots (umlauts) were not present.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
Language facts: Russian
Russian is the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages, and the largest native language in Europe. It belongs to the family of Indo-European languages. Russian is the native language of around 165 million people and second language of an additional 110 million people. Startling fact: Over a quarter of the world's scientific literature is published in Russian. Nowadays, Russian is spoken primarily in Russia and Belarus, partly Ukraine and is also one of six official languages of the United Nations as well as official EU language.
To foreigner's ears, most of other Slavic languages sound similar to Russian, although the languages are far from being interchangeable (in fact it is even less mutually similar than Romance languages are).
Language of the red Empire
Due to the status of the former Soviet Union as a superpower, Russian had great political importance in the 20th century and was in fact forced as a second language to all countries under Soviet influence, including central European countries and East Germany. Russian was a mandatory subject in school, even a mandatory part of school leaving exams. After the Soviet union collapsed, public attitude towards Russian language in satellite countries went to the opposite extreme, neglecting and suppressing the language out of general education while swiftly replacing it with English due to new political trends. Until today, a lot of 50+ people in post-communist countries still read the Cyrillic script (Azbuka) and have a general understanding and basic knowledge of Russian.
Russian uses the Cyrillic script, which is originally derived from the Greek script, but adjusted and supplemented by some letters from so called Glagolitic alphabet, developed by the brothers Cyril and Methodius, in order to comply with Old Church Slavonic sounds. Old Church Slavonic was, at that time, considered 4th liturgical language for a brief period beside Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Although a dead speech now, its still being used in the Orthodox church.
А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Ъ Ы Ь Э Ю Я
а б в г д е ё ж з и й к л м н о п р с т у ф х ц ч ш щ ъ ы ь э ю я
Language facts: French
French is a Romance language spoken by 65 to 80 million people around the world as a native language, and by an additional 200 million or so people as a second or third language. Most native speakers of the language live in France, while most of the rest live in Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Francophone Africa, Luxembourg and Monaco. French originates from the Latin language of the Roman Empire. Today, it is an official language in 29 countries, especially in many African countries, most of them former French or Belgian colonies. French is the official EU language, as well as one of the three working languages of the European Commission.
Language of artists, diplomats and chefs
Around 17th century, French became a widespread lingua franca (in fact replacingItalian that enjoyed such popularity during the Renaissance period), similar to today's status of English. It has been much used in science, diplomacy, even arts for several centuries – in fact, until World War II. (The first signs of French being pushed back by English emerged after World War I., e.g. when the Treaty of Versailles was written in both French and English, despite former diplomatic convention). The truth is that English has been widely influenced by French and many English words related to law, government, military, and, of course, cuisine and cooking, are derived from French vocabulary (lieutenant (same), attorney/atourné, treaty/traité, finance/finer, fee/fie, jail/jaiole, etc). In case of French cuisine-related words (picnic/piquenique, spice/espice, soup/soupe, sausage/saussiche, juice/jus, beef/boef, etc), some of them are used in English even with original French spelling (grape, menu, bacon, omelette and so forth).
French in translation
It is important to note that in translation, documents destined for France can usually be used as they are in Belgium, Switzerland, etc. There are no major differences. In Belgium, to give an example, they have their own word for ninety "nonante", but the French equivalent "quatre-vingt-dix" is generally understood. However when documents are intended for Canada, they should be translated into Canadian French since there are significant differences between standard French and Canadian French. Canada for example has taken in many loan words from its US neighbor, and the language at times tends to be more formal than European French. And when working with translation memories, it is important to separate the two by their correct languages codes. Use "fr-ca" for Canadian French.
French uses the standard English alphabet with added ligatures (œ and æ) and also frequent use of acute accent ( ´ ), grave accent ( ` ), circumflex ( ˆ ), diaeresis ( ¨ ), and the cedilla ( ¸ ). Diacritics have no impact on the primary alphabetical order.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
Language facts: Italian
Italian is a member of the Romance group of languages. It is the official language of Italy, San Marino and Vatican City, and one of the official languages of Switzerland. Italian is spoken by about 58 million people in Italy, 30,000 in San Marino, and 840,000 in Switzerland. Italian is regarded as the 4th or 5th most studied language in the world and is also an official EU language. It is also one of the most visited countries in the world – close to 40 million people go there every year – which could explain the interest in studying Italian.
Medieval lingua franca
Italian is descendant of Latin, or better said Vulgar (common) Latin, and shares or resembles Latin in terms of vocabulary more than other Romance languages. From late medieval to Renaissance (mainly due to the cultural and trade impact and dominance of Italy) Italian had a function of so called lingua franca – universal language in trade and international relations in Europe, similar to today's English. Italian is profound with its number of mutually incompatible dialects and it is said (with a little overstatement) that two neighboring villages don't understand each other when speaking in their own regional dialect.
Well-known Italian words
While it is common for many languages to have borrowed words from English and French, Italian is also a language from which many tongues have picked up a few terms. The most well-known are perhaps 'Pizza' (a word understood almost all over the word), 'Bank', 'Alarm' and 'Ghetto'. Other borrowed words that spring to mind come from the world of music and performance, e.g. 'Piano', 'Violin' and 'Opera'. In the world of science, look no further than 'Volt', which is an electric unit named after Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the world's first battery in 1779.
Italian uses the same letters as in the English alphabet, with acute, grave and circumflex accents on vowels. Some letters (j, k, w, x, y) are excluded from the standard Italian though, used only in loan words.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
Language facts: Chinese
First of all, it's important to mention that there's not only one universal written Chinese language. There are two dominating written systems of Chinese – Simplified used in mainland China and also an official writing system in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and other overseas Chinese diasporas. Then is traditional Chinese used largely in Taiwan and still in Hong Kong and Macau. Interestingly, spoken Chinese is not recognized as simple vs. traditional, but as Mandarin (mainland) and Cantonese (Hong Kong) dialects.
Chinese is the most important language among Sino-Tibetan tongues. Simplified Chinese is the official language spoken by the world's largest population, namely in the People's Republic of China, and the basic communication tool of today's most buoyant economy. This language system, consisting of several thousands of characters with each having unique meanings, is dramatically different from the western languages in terms of its wording, syntax and methods of expression. Simplified Chinese characters were promoted mainly in the 1950s and 1960s by the governments of the People's Republic of China in attempt to increase literacy. If you are seeking business opportunities or planning to explore markets in China or Singapore, it's definitely a winning strategy to send over your messages in Simplified Chinese!
Standard Chinese has developed gradually from the Mandarin dialect in the north of China over several hundred years, with the Peking tone as its standard tone. Traditional Chinese is the official language of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. The writing system is also referred to as ‘standard', ‘orthodox’ and ‘complex characters’. Chinese is currently the language used by most people in the world as nearly one fifth of the world's population, or about 1.3 billion people, speak Chinese as their native language.
One of the most ancient languages in the world, with a history of 6,000 years today is also one of the working languages of the U.N. both in traditional and simplified forms.
Using special hieroglyphs, Chinese has a character as its minimum unit. Characters are meaning-representative syllabic characters, with the special characteristics of integration of vision, voice and meaning. Syllables can be divided into three parts, namely initial consonant, compound vowel and tune.
Language facts: Spanish
Spanish (español) or Castilian (castellano) is an Indo-European, Romance language that originated in northern Spain and gradually spread in the Kingdom of Castile eventually evolving into the principal language of government and trade (mainly thanks to King Alfonso, who standardized the language for official use already in 13th century). It was taken to Africa, the Americas, and Asia Pacific with the expansion of the Spanish Empire between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. By the time of Columbus exploring the New world, Spanish reached the point where it would be understandable even today. The authority in terms of standard Spanish is The Royal Spanish Academy, that has been producing grammar guides and dictionaries since 18th century.
Spanish is the official language of more than twenty countries, mainly in the Americas besides Spain, but it is generally spoken on all five continents. It's also one of the EU languages as well as one of six official languages of the United Nations. Interestingly, after Chinese Mandarin, is Spanish language most spoken around the world by the number of speakers who has it as a mother language. Spanish language is spoken as the first and second language by between 450 and 500 million persons. Spanish is said to be quite easy to learn, also due to being one of the most phonetic languages in the world.
From Latin to Arabic
The Spanish, as other Romance languages, is a modern extension of spoken Latin (also called Vulgar Latin) from around the 3rd century A.D. However, the evolution of Spanish language was heavily influenced by Arabic and later also English. The resemblance between English and Spanish is quite visible, while the two languages share a large volume of common words and expressions.
A B C D E F G H I J K L Ll M N Ñ O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l ll m n ñ o p q r s t u v w x y z
Language facts: English
English is spoken as a native language by around 375 million people (250 million people in the USA, 180 million in India, 58 million in the UK, 18 million in Canada, and 16 million in Australia) and as a second language by around 375 million speakers in the world. English is the official language in 53 countries and enjoys special status in at least twenty plus more countries with a total population reach of over two billion. As for now, we can surely say Modern English stands its ground as the most popular and dominant language in international communications, probably even more so than Latin in former days. This is due to global historical development and possibly also the simplicity of English grammar compared to other world languages in addition to its significantly rich, extensive vocabulary (although it is said you only need to learn 2,000 basic words to start communicating in English). English is an official EU language and actual one of the "procedural", i.e. working, languages at the institution. English is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Dialects and foreigners' nightmare...or nitemare?
Every language obviously generates various dialects through its use. And since English is the world's most popular language, the differences of speech in various regions are much more pronounced. Most of English learners can distinguish between British, American, or Australian English after only several lessons, the more experienced have no problem identifying dialects by sub-region (a New Yorker would definitely not pass as Texan, and Irish and Yorkshire dialect speakers wouldn't fool anyone they are from Devon). Typically as a foreign learner of Oxford or Cambridge English, in your first encounter with native British speakers you could be in for a rather shocking experience. Maybe even making you doubt the legitimacy of all that time and money spent on countless English lessons, as you feel like being spoken to in Klingon. Once the shock has faded though, endless English dialects and differences are actually something to be even enjoyed. Not so much in case of writing. Color vs. Colour, Center vs. Centre, and Neighbour vs. Neighbor. Interestingly, there was no standard for English spelling until the early 18th century and it was basically established with the publishing of the dictionaries of Samuel Johnson (Dictionary of the English Language, 1755) followed by the current British English and of Noah Webster (An American Dictionary of The English Language, 1828). It is worth noticing that the first attempts of spelling standardization followed soon after the printing press invention arrived in England in the 15th century. Nowadays, the difference between BrE and AmE emerges also in the world of computers, where PC keyboard layout differs.
English translation specifics
When we translate into English, it is important to know for which market documents are intended. Everyone knows that Queen’s English differs from US English in spelling. The examples above are well-known, others are more subtle differences such as use of past tense of verbs where UK English uses “-lled”, while US English uses “-led”. And which variant uses a period in “Mr”? Even simple things such as a writing the date differ.
As a result, sometimes it is worth contemplating whether texts should be published in different English language variants. In car manuals, for example, the British put their travelling bag in the boot and head for the motorway. An American would put his travelingbag in the trunk and get on the highway. And when it rains in London, children put on their wellingtons…
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
Language facts: Swedish
Swedish (or Svenska) is the mother tongue of idioma's top management and one of the Scandinavian languages, a branch of the Germanic languages - North Germanic, or East Scandinavian in particular.
Viking heritage and God bless Guttenberg
Swedish is the official language of Sweden and due to six centuries of Swedish supremacy also one of the two (and equal) official languages of Finland. Until World War II, it was also spoken in parts of Estonia and Latvia. Swedish is an official EU as well as a Nordic Council language, spoken by approximately 9 million people in Sweden and by around 300,000 people in Finland.
Similar to e.g. Czech and Slovak, Swedish is mutually intelligible with Danish as well as Norwegian, but only to some extent. This is actually a Viking period heritage, as these languages have a common predecessor, the Old Norse, generally spoken in Scandinavia by Germanic tribes. New classifications in fact label Swedish together with Norwegian and Danish as one branch of Continental Scandinavian languages. It was not until the invention of printing and the Reformation movement for what is now known as modern Swedish that the language emerged. King of Sweden Gustav Vasa wanted to have the Bible translated into his native language, and indeed, in 1541 the Gustav Vasa Bible was introduced, representing the first full Swedish Bible translation, common in use for almost four centuries, until 1917.
Swedish language influence and translation specifics
Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte became
King of Sweden as Karl XIV Johan
in 1818 and reigned till 1846.
Over the years, Swedish language has taken over many loan words from other languages. A number of French expressions were introduced in the early 19th century when the Royal House of Sweden took in a French marshal, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, from the Napoleon reign. He took over the throne in 1818, but never managed to learn proper Swedish during his 26-year reigh, instead communicating in the international French language.
Now, in more modern times with the influx of computers and the digital age, the vocabulary has expanded with many English words – often replacing or anglicizing old-style traditional Swedish words for better or worse.
In translation, documents in Swedish tend to address the reader directly and in the informal style instead of the more common passive voice as used in English language, or the polite "Sie" form in German.
Swedish uses the Latin alphabet and has in addition to English three extra letters … X Y Z Å Ä Ö. Interesting to note is that sorting follows this order, and e.g. the "Ö" entries are not included under "O", nor the "Å" and "Ä" under "A" as one does in e.g. German.
The vowel "Ö" is often perceived as very typical for Swedish by non-Scandinavians, mainly those familiar with distinctive patterns of product names in IKEA catalogues :) Other companies have elected to drop the distinctive letters, for example SKANSKA, by converting the "Å" in "Skånska" to a standard "A" in their internationalization efforts.Interestingly, the consonant "Z" is used in foreign words only.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Å Ä Ö
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z å ä ö
Language facts: Czech
With our production center based in Prague, Czech is after English and Japanese one of the most used "in-house" languages at idioma.
More popular as appears
Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers. "Čeština" (= Czech), is the name derived from a Slavic tribe of Czechs that inhabited Central Bohemia in former days. Today it is the official and main language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide (especially by immigrants in the USA, Canada, and Ukraine). Czech is similar to and mutually intelligible with Slovak, due to mutual history and decades of being a common republic: Czechoslovakia. Even today, many books or films distributed in Slovakia come with Czech, rather than Slovak translation or dubbing.
Various internationally significant artworks in literature and music (especially opera) were originally written in Czech – Dvořák's Rusalka, the works of Alois Jirásek, Bohumil Hrabal and many more.
Since the integration of the Czech Republic into the European Union, Czech has also become an official EU language.
"Strč prst skrz krk!" (stick a finger through a neck)
Czech is considered one of the hardest languages for foreigners to actively master, due to overcomplicated grammar, as well as tricky pronunciation. Some words, for instance, do not have vowels, such as zmrzl (froze solid), ztvrdl (hardened), scvrkl (shrunk), vlk (wolf), krk (neck), prst (finger) or smrt (death) and more. There are actually tongue-twisters based on consonant-only words, such as "strč prst skrz krk", frequently used by Czech wives late in the evening to check their husbands' alcohol intake. :)
Czech also features the consonant ř, a phoneme that is said to be unique to the Czech language and that is problematic to articulate even to some native Czechs.
A Á B C Č D Ď E É Ě F G H Ch I Í J K L M N Ň O Ó P Q R Ř S Š T Ť U Ú Ů V W X Y Ý Z Ž a á b c č d ď e é ě f g h ch i í j k l m n ň o ó p q r ř s š t ť u ú ů v w x y ý z ž
Language facts: Japanese
Federico Fellini said, that a different language was a different vision to life. While we cover over 70 languages at idioma, we can only agree with that statement. Each language has its history, specifics and flavors and we're here to inform you about it regularly in the Language facts.
Did you know Japanese uses four "alphabets"?
Japanese (Nihongo in Japanese) is spoken by around 127 million people in Japan, plus a couple of million people outside of Japan. It is of course the official language of Japan, but it is even an official language of Angaur (island nation of Palau). Japanese is not directly related to any other language even though it does share a lot of characters with Chinese. It uses four writing systems: kanji, hiragana, katakana and romaji. Hiragana is syllabic and is used for simple words, conjugations, particles and children's literature. Katakana is used to write foreign words. Kanji is based on the Chinese writing system and has about 2000 basic signs, but there are thousands more. Romaji is a Romanization of Japanese words, basically relying on the letters in the Roman, or Latin, alphabet, used e.g. for company names, logotypes and text entry of Japanese text into computers.
Japanese translation specifics
Japanese has borrowed many words from the Indo-European languages, primarily English, and even made up terms that a native English speaker would never understand, especially in the line of business we are in: Technical Translation. The Japanese term for such "borrowed" words, especially from english, is Gairaigo (外来語).
Would you ever guess that ハフコン [hafukon] is a reference to 'half-concealed' wipers", while リモコン [rimokon] means 'remote control'? Or that ペンション (pension) should actually be translated as a 'a guest house'? Because Katakana can be very ambiguous, sometimes it is hard to determine how to translate a given term. "Hose" and "Hawse" for example are both written as ホース in Japanese.
There are many, many more where translators have been pulling their hairs for days, even weeks. Combining this with other peculiarities of the Japanese language – such as where the subject in sentences is often omitted – makes translating Japanese text into other languages a true undertaking.
自動, 計算, 費用, 納期, 即時, 提示, 天気, 管理, 健康, 旅行, 料理, 鍋
We love Japanese!