#dialects in website localization
Language flavors: Dialects vs. languages
In terms of localization and also marketing customization of written content (e.g. in catalogs, websites, or promotional material), professional translation providers should be able to adjust the language and its style to match specifics of a region, ethnicity, or even a social group. But what is a dialect to begin with? And how does it relate to a language?
Localizing to dialects vs. localizing to languages
A dialect can be explained in two ways. It can be a subordinate language variant of a regional or national standard / official language, where the variant is, interestingly, not derived from, but related to the dominant language. However, the term dialect is also used to define a variant of a language that is characteristic to a certain group of language speakers. In this point of view, it is actually a matter of a scientific linguistic debate where to draw the border between a dialect and a language. There is also anopinion, that it's not possible to exactly determine where a dialect ends and a language begins. And here we come to the essence of professional and high-quality localization: knowing what language variant and form to use to grasp the essence of the locale. As languages and dialects evolve similar to living organisms, influenced by a number of factors from geographical and social, to historical and political, it is sometimes highly delicate to determine how to translate content to maximize impact.
When dialect is a language and language is a dialect
Yes, dialect and language can mean different things around the world. Let's take Chinese language, for example. All its variants share the same writing system, but in terms of mutual interchangeability e.g. the Cantonese and Mandarin dialects relate similarly as Spanish does with Italian, or Czech with Polish. The same goes for Arabic language and its dialects.
The understanding of a language as dominant over the dialect can also be reversed so that even though the language is considered "standard" or "official", the dialect of the target area or social / ethnic group is emphasized and "wins" over the language. Recognizing that this is an ongoing process, these days often accelerated by political forces, the translation industry needs to react in a flexible way and target evolving dialects, especially those that one day will turn into independent languages.
Translation tips: Language flavors
At idioma we translate into many different languages, over seventy at the last count, and in many different combinations (last we counted the permutations, it was over five thousand). Some of these languages are different variants of the same basic language. Sometimes they are very similar, at other times quite different.
Flavored by authorities
For example, for Norwegian, two flavors exist: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Bokmål is by far the most common variant in Norway and is used in the private and commercial sector, while Nynorsk is used mostly in some western regions and in public administration. The two dialects differ considerably from each other.
Then for Portuguese, there are also different tongues, and the language used in Portugal differs from the one used in Brazil, for example. In spite of the fact that a language reform has been signed into law (in Portugal in 2008), in reality there are quite many differences. Schools in Portugal now teach the new, standardized Portuguese language, which means that in a global perspective spelling and grammar should become standardized. Most newspapers and magazines in Portugal have also adopted the reform, which officially must have been applied by latest July 2014. The biggest obstacle, however, seems to be the choice of words. Especially in technical writing, there are numerous cases where Brazilians prefer different terms than those used in Portugal, which is one reason why Portuguese for Portugal and Portuguese for Brazil will most likely continue to coexist for quite some time.
Spanish is another case in point where differences exist. Spanish in Spain tends to be quite modern with development in a different direction from other Spanish tongues. Most of the Spanish dialects in South America are quite conservative, while the dialects used in Mexico and the Caribbean are influenced by their proximity to the United States.
Does it matter in localization?
Many times, it is more important to know the target market than the language itself or whether a document will be used in many different markets. In Belgium, for example, people in the north speak Flemish, a variant of Dutch. This dialect can’t really be called a different language as spelling and grammar are the same as for standard Dutch. Here the difference is rather in the frequency in the words used, although all words exist in standard Dutch as well. However, it can make a surprising difference when it comes to, say, localization of websites.
Similar to Flemish, the German vocabulary used in Austria and Switzerland is also common, however, the preferences, especially in Switzerland, are many times for different words than those that are commonly used in Germany. Additionally, in Switzerland the German character “ß” is not used, and instead people write “ss”.
In our work, we come across the issue of language flavor daily. We of course translate into the various dialects mentioned above, and many more, and we will be happy to help with issues regarding which language or dialect to translate into.