Dialect is defined by Merriam Webster as “a regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language.” But why is dialect important when it comes to translation?
It’s clear from just that definition that both spoken and written language are complex. The Ethnologue catalogue of world languages lists 6,909 living languages. Many of them have more than a million speakers each, and the top 6 percent account for about 94 percent of the world’s population.
In a country like the United States, there are many different dialects, complicating the spoken and written word. But how about a smaller country with fewer citizens? Can you find multiple dialects there as well?
Absolutely, you can! That’s why it’s important when translating materials for international markets to consider the culture, the language, and the dialect of the new target market.
Why Is Dialect Important to People Who Speak The Same Language?
Dialect is a verbal pronunciation difference within the same language and can vary widely by region.
The first example of a popular written text using local dialect is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In it, Twain used eight separate dialects taken from his background in the southern regions of the United States and adapted them to meet his characters’ personalities.
While all the characters were speaking English, their dialects were clearly discernible. But how does this play into the modern business world, with marketing, branding, and business documentation?
Let’s take Mandarin and Cantonese as an example. Both share the Chinese alphabet and are tonal languages. This means that the intonation of a word dictates its meaning. Regions that speak Cantonese have up to nine tones, whereas Mandarin has only five.
You might have heard that Chinese is hard to learn, and you’d be right. It’s because learning the tonality of the same word with nine different meanings is often the most difficult part!
Mandarin and Cantonese are used in different regions throughout China, even though Mandarin is the official state language of China. Although most people living in the Cantonese-speaking regions have a working knowledge of Mandarin and vice versa, it’s considered impolite to rely on the non-local region dialect.
If your target market resides in Hong Kong, a city where the Cantonese dialect rules, you’ll need to know the dialect differences between Cantonese and Mandarin, or risk offending your prospective clients.
This makes the translation process especially complicated—and best left to experts.
Why Is Dialect Important to Your Translated Content?
Just like language, translation projects are often complex, and no two projects are exactly the same.
Finding the right translator is often a challenge for companies looking to translate their information into a new language. Dialect can play a factor in this, as well as translation localization. A direct, word for word, translation is not best practice because it doesn’t take dialect into account.
But why is dialect important?
With the ability to work internationally using modern technology, new markets are opening up to businesses around the world. That means that your brand’s messaging and content are available to more and more people as time goes on.
Including dialect in your marketing and business plan will ensure that you’re not leaving your international translations to an afterthought.
The successful translation localization project depends heavily on the expertise of the linguists and translators assigned to your project.
Localization isn’t just about making your documents understandable in a new language. Localization is about having your target audience experience the concept of your messaging and feel connected with your brand and business.
When you hire a translator, you’re expecting that your documentation will be translated correctly. You need to be able to trust in your documentation. Conversely, your translator needs to be able to accurately assess the meaning and tone of the original piece, to be able to segue the same meaning and tone into the new language.
The goal is to make your audience trust your brand and have confidence in your product or services. A translation agency with years of experience can help your company achieve the optimal translation localization.
Dialect is one of the most challenging aspects of any translation process. Without the correct care and attention paid to the language translation process, your business’ documentation, marketing materials, and other translatable items could be incorrectly translated.
It’s important that you work with an expert translator with a background in—and knowledge of—the dialect at hand.
The dialect of your target market is an important consideration no matter what your translation project is. When you’re thinking about your marketing content and especially your technical translations, it’s important to work with an expert in your field, your current language, and your target market’s dialect.