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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. 

Alphabet

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. 

 

Vowels:

অ, আ, ই, ঈ, উ, ঊ, ঋ, এ, ঐ, ও, ঔ

 

Consonants:

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;

Useful errors in technical translation?

Nobody wants incorrect translation. Too many errors in delivered texts can only compromise the translation supplier and destroy trust in a customer-LSP  relationship.

There are, however, certain types of errors that, if they occur, can promote the translation quality, clarify terminology use by pointing out mismatches and inconsistencies in translation resources (glossaries or translation memories).

Errors to watch

There are several critical areas that should be analyzed and reported by translation suppliers as a part of follow-up on everyday projects:

  • dismissed glossary proposals
  • ignored fuzzy matches 
  • unused exact matches
  • glossary recommendations

Such post-analyses as well as comments and recommendations from the translators who handled particular projects help to keep translations and translation resources error-free and in line with clients' needs and terminology. 

For example, if a translator didn't use a proposed glossary expression, he should report a reason why it was not used (such as if a glossary proposal does not fit context, spelling/grammar is incorrect, the proposal is in the wrong language or the translation incorrect, etc.). Similarly if the translator has ignored a fuzzy match (due to differences not relevant in particular target language, etc.) this should be reported as well.

Such issues then become valuable feedback to content managers. 

Get follow-up reports!

Comprehensive follow-up reports should be generated for each translation project handled by your translation supplier. These reports are supposed to include the information mentioned above, including glossary and fuzzy match issues. As a result, using these reports it will be easier to keep glossaries, translation memories and other linguistic resources up to date. And compared to case-by-case handling of translation issues, this is a systematic approach that perfectly fits any quality management system.

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). 

Nomadic language

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. 

Alphabet 

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

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