Translation Services: Languages And Cultural Context

Understanding languages and cultural context in the translation services sector.

The raw materials, so-to-speak, of the professional linguist employed by translation services companies are languages. Languages are social creations and thus inseparable from their cultural context. In order to produce high quality, accurate document translation services, professional translators need to have an in-depth understanding of source and target cultures.

The study of languages is fascinating and teaches us a great deal about the people who speak them. Languages are many things but, at the end of the day, their primary role is to provide us with a tool for communication. One of their main functions consists in facilitating the mutual understanding of people living in the same region.

In some societies, this “utilitarian” role of language is particularly pronounced due to historic circumstances. This is the case of languages such as English in the United States or Spanish and Portuguese in Latin American countries. The fact that English has become the de facto official language of the United States can be considered a historical and geographical accident. The same is true of Latin American countries in relation to Spanish or Portuguese. Interestingly, the United States never actually declared English (or any other language, for that matter!) as its official language.

English did not evolve as a native language in what is now the United States as it did in England. It was “imported” by English settlers, as were many other European languages along with different communities of settlers such as the French, Spanish and Dutch. Of course, it has since then developed in its own ways, which is why British and American English differ in vocabulary and even—to a certain extent—in grammar. The difference in European and Latin American Spanish and Portuguese is even greater, and translation services projects in these languages need thus to be handled in accordance with their specific (European or Latin American) source or target markets.

It is interesting to note that the flood of Italian immigrants to Argentina that took place in the beginning and toward the end of the 19th century may have turned the country into an Italian-speaking nation. To this day, most Argentineans speak Spanish with a very distinct Italian rhythm.

In other countries, besides its obvious use as a tool for communication, the native language has traditionally a more complex role. In countries such as France and certain regions of Spain, for example, languages have always served as a defining element of the national culture. For the French and the Catalonian and Galician in Spain, the language shapes the culture just as much as the culture expresses itself in the language, and they take measures to protect this national treasure—the latest language protection law in France only dates back a little more than a decade. Professional translators working in these languages need to be particularly sensitive to subtleties of tone and expression. Finding the right vocabulary and phrasing are crucial.

Whichever their language pairs may be, professional translators serving professional document translation services companies such as ASTA-USA Translation Services, Inc. and its legal document translation division, Legal Translation Solutions, understand that it is impossible to assure high quality, accurate professional translations without taking into account and understanding the cultural background of both the source and target languages.