Languages are some of the most complex systems invented by mankind. One single language combines such a wide array of elements that it can be difficult for an outsider trying to learn it to understand all the rules and use them fluently.
Furthermore, specific areas of professional life (business, industry, law, technology, and more) come with specialised terms that make things even more challenging. But when you throw accents and dialects into the mix, things become truly interesting.
Now, if you consider the fact that a translator’s job is to untangle all these wires and re-create texts from one language to another, you may start to understand why translating dialects is not exactly easy or stress-free.
What are Dialects?
I’m sure you have an idea of what the word represents, but to put it in simple terms, dialects are a different form of speaking and writing an official language that’s only available in certain geographic areas. Of course, people who speak that dialect can move, and thus spread their way of communicating in other areas, but at its core, the dialect is linked to a specific location.
It’s important to highlight that dialects make actual changes in the meaning of words and even create new ones. So, they are different from slang or accents, where the variation is more on how certain words are pronounced and the meaning stays the same.
As such, two people who speak Spanish (for instance) may not completely understand each other if at least one of them uses a dialect while the other one speaks plain Spanish.
What Languages Have Dialects?
Well, we don’t have a full estimate of the number of dialects, but we know there are roughly 6,500 spoken languages. Many of them don’t have that many speakers, but the large ones (English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, and so on) have dialects.
For instance, English is a language with lots of variety. In Britain, we have Welsh, English, and Scottish. But in the US, things get more diverse, as there are around 22 distinct dialects spoken across the country.
Translating Dialects: How Does It Work?
When we work with the original languages (Spanish, English, French, and so on) we just need to find a translator who is proficient in the language and can relate to the needed professional niche (to make sure the translation is accurate).
However, when we work with dialects, things get a bit trickier because we need to know the dialect for the original text and the dialect of the people who will be reading the translation. These are information we expect to be provided by the customer because it can be difficult to recognize a specific language pattern (even for highly trained linguists).
Once we have these details, we need to find the right collaborators who master the dialect, but also the professional niche. And this can be quite challenging!
But there’s one more hurdle a translator needs to pass, even when they know the dialects and understand the specifics. Most dialects have untranslatable words or words that don’t have a direct translation in the original language.
In this situation, the job of a translator gets more difficult, as they have to research the original meaning and try to find ways to send it across the language barrier, to the other side. Such a job requires a lot of effort, time, and can be quite frustrating.