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May 5, 2015

The Importance of Language Contact on Translation Services

by brenton

Nowadays, we generally associate different countries with different languages.  Some countries have one dominant language which is spoken throughout e.g., in the United States, English is the dominant language.  However, in other parts of the world, many languages are spoken within one country.  In terms of the Western world, Switzerland is a good example because it has four languages—French, German, Italian and Romansh.

Loan Words

Although countries may have borders where the language changes, the development of language over the centuries has been more organic, occurring wherever people of different cultures came into contact.  This contact resulted in loanwords—words that made their way over from one language to another e.g., the words “café” and “music” in English come from the words “café” and “musique” in French.

Borrowing Grammatical Constructions

When language contact is more intense, you find that the grammatical constructions of one language make their way over to another language.  For example, in English, the adjective used to describe a noun usually comes before a noun e.g., “fast car” or “interesting book.”  In French, however, the adjective often comes after the noun.  So a fast car becomes “une voiture rapide” and an interesting book is “un livre intéressant.”  Now, if you look at certain English words that have been influenced by the French grammar, you find that the adjective follows the noun e.g. “attorney-general,” “court-martial,” and even “Lake Superior.”

Pidgin Languages

An even more interesting phenomenon is the development of pidgin and creole languages.  Pidgin languages develop when people from different cultures, speaking different languages, come together, mostly for purposes of trade and develop a set of words that they use only in that scenario.  So a pidgin language is never the first language of its speaker.

Creole Languages

A creole, on the other hand, is a language that is a mixture of two languages, like a pidgin, but has become more widespread so that a whole generation grows up speaking it as its first language.  Creole languages obviously borrow from their parent languages but they are full-fledged languages in their own right.  In the Caribbean, it is possible to find Jamaican Creole (also called Jamaican Patois) which is a mixture of West African and English influences.  Haitian Creole is a mixture of French and West African languages and is spoken by twelve million people.  The word “creole” itself also refers to people of mixed race, in addition to referring to a mixed language.

Language Contact and Translation Services

So language contact is an interesting thing to keep track of when it comes to translation services because languages are constantly borrowing words and grammatical constructions from each other.  Translation into pidgin and creole languages is delicate unless you know the language really well.  It’s easy to assume that someone who speaks one of the parent languages will be able to translate into a creole language, but this is not necessarily true.

Over time, old languages die and new languages are born and a translator has to keep abreast of these changes. Contact us for translations that keep abreast of the changes occurring in languages today.

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