Text Messaging: A New Tool in the Struggle for Language Diversity?

Text messaging is quickly becoming one of the most common methods of communication worldwide. In fact, last year in the US, text messages surpassed voice calls in popularity.

However, the Wall Street Journal notes that texting can pose problems for some non-English speakers. Most of the time, when people send text messages, they use software called predictive text to make typing the messages easier.

Predictive text “predicts” what you are trying to type, so you don’t have to press as many buttons. Without predictive text, you have to press numbers multiple times to get to the right letter. This is frustrating enough in English, but it’s even more time-consuming if you’re trying to use a language with a longer alphabet, like Hindi.

As language advocates see it, the problem with text messaging is that influences people to communicate via text message using languages that predictive text software is written for. This is fine for native English speakers, but could be detrimental in other cultures that are struggling to preserve their languages and pass them on to the next generation.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, so far only 80 of the world’s 6,912 languages are supported by predictive text software. Linguistic experts hope that expanding the number of languages available will make it easier for people to communicate in their native languages.

For example, predictive text software is now available for Gaelic. According to Breandan Mac Craith, marketing director for Dublin-based Foras na Gaeilge, an organization that promotes the use of Irish, “They’re fabulous tools for us. It facilitates the Irish language as a communications tool for every day — not just in the classroom.”

However, as mobile phones become increasingly vital parts of doing business around the world, the availability of predictive text is vital for more that just language preservation. According to the Wall Street Journal, “text capability on mobile phones can be vital to economic development and helping people who don’t speak or read English buy and sell goods.”

New spelling in Brazil

Could you imagine what would happen if you had to adopt a new set of spelling and grammar rules? Well that’s exactly what has just happened in Brazil.

I’m sure you know that Portuguese is different in Brazil and Portugal. It all stems from 1911 when Portugal (and its territories) commissioned a standardisation of the writing system (orthography) for Portuguese; this was known as the orthographic reform of Gonçalves Viana.

Due to various disagreements and logistic issues Brazil set up an orthography of its own in 1934, with the same general principles as the Portuguese orthography, but not entirely identical to it, which lead to differences between the two languages.

Over the remaining 20th Century various moves were made to reform the languages and bring them closer together, many positive steps were taken. The main change was the signing of the Orthographic Agreement in 1990 by seven Portuguese speaking nations.

Orthographic Agreement of 1990

The agreement sets out new spelling rules for the language in an attempt to standardise its use across its 250 million users. This means that as from this week some Brazilian Portuguese spelling and grammar rules will be different.

The changes include,

  • Ruling out of letters c and p from the European/African spelling when silent
  • The removal of the diaeresis mark from Brazilian spelling
  • The elimination of the acute accent from the diphthongs éi and ói in paroxytone words
  • Spellings such as anónimo and anônimo, facto and fato, both will be considered legitimate, according to the dialect of the author or person being transcribed.
  • Common guidelines for the use of hyphens and capitalization.

What will it mean to you?

International websites such as BBC Brazil will be adopting the new way of spelling as soon as possible. If you sell/operate in this market make sure that you have your copy reviewed by a translator.

My friend can speak that language…

… So why do I need a translator?

During one of the medical industries biggest exhibitions, Medica 2008, we spoke to hundreds of people regarding their translation requirements.

Surprisingly many of the companies confirmed that their translation is done by employees who happen to speak the foreign language required.

It seems like a good and inexpensive option, but is it really?

Inexperienced translators, even if they have good knowledge of the product, might not have the sufficient knowledge of linguistic aspects of translation needed to convey the message accurately.

In addition, experienced translators are efficient and able to provide accurate translations under time pressures that are often exerted by print/launch deadlines. Inexperienced employees undertaking translation projects will spend much more time on it compared to an experienced language specialist.

The biggest cost comes from these employees not attending to their daily responsibilities; this “opportunity cost” is often higher than the cost of outsourcing translation to a specialist agency such as K International plc.

K International uses translation memory software (TMS) which helps its translators by storing all previously translated material, whereas, translation done by employees is never stored in a way that allows efficient re-use of previous translations.

By outsourcing to K International you can save considerable amount of money because of the enormous savings (up to 70% discounts) on previously translated and repetitious text. Therefore, using an established TMS will benefit your company in 3 ways.

  1. A reduction in cost – as the software will ‘remember’ what has been previously translated.
  2. Improve consistency across releases and updates.
  3. A reduction in time to market – i.e. reducing the amount of work that is required.

Summing up the opportunity costs, longer delivery times, late launches and losing benefits of TMS, can you really afford to translate your documents in-house?

Creating a More Linguistically Diverse Internet

The Internet has long been dominated by English-language content, but that may change over the next few years. The New York Times reports that many companies are responding to increased demand for content in languages other than English by translating existing online content and providing new tools that help users create content in their native languages.

English may be the most popular second language in the world, but many people who speak it as a second language still prefer to communicate in their native tongue whenever possible, including online. For example, a survey of 50 million Indian Internet users found that even though most could speak English, ¾ preferred to read in the language they grew up speaking.

However, people who want to communicate in languages other than English can face some rather frustrating obstacles. For instance, The New York Times describes how Indian engineer Ram Prakash Hanumanthappa wanted to use his native language, Kannada, to email friends and family. However, Kannada is written using a special script, and typing it on a regular keyboard involves using complex keyboard maps to create the special characters. Read more

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