Language does not exist in a vacuum. They evolve, continually change, and are shaped by different elements, including history, time, technology, and immigration. New words are added, and old words are forgotten. New languages branch off of old ones.
Words and phrases capture a moment in time, a reflection of society. We no longer say things are “the bee’s knees” from mid-20th century America but “the dog days of summer,” dating back to Roman times, is still a common phrase. And ultimately, you cannot communicate, whether you keep up with the latest slang or stick to tried and true terms from your youth. So how does language evolve, and how does it impact translation services? Let’s explore.
How the English Language Evolves
A language comprises words (syntax), rules (grammar), and context clues. Language encompasses spoken words, written communication, and even gestures. Having a spoken language is one thing that separates modern humans from our ancient ancestors. Language services touch on all things linguistic in multiple languages.
The English language is a great example of how language evolves. Linguistically, English is a Germanic language, and the overlap is seen in the many common phrases between English and German. On the other hand, English is also heavily influenced by Dutch and the Romantic languages. English has also taken words from other languages (like moose from Native American dialects versus goose from old English), having words that come from other languages.
Words can also change meaning within a language. In the early 20th century, gay was a common slang term for expressing happiness – and in the decades since, the word has undergone several transformations. In the 1980s, to call someone a nerd was a crowning insult, but in the age of Silicon Valley pioneers, being a nerd isn’t such a bad thing.
Language evaluation is a complicated societal topic – who decides when a word is socially acceptable? Each generation inverts its terms and words, some that exist only for a short period and others that last for years. Staying on top of changing definitions of terms and phrases is of the utmost importance in language services.
How Technology Drives Linguistic Evolution
Technology is a large driver of language evolution as we develop new words for a printing press, Xerox machine, or email. How about the phrase Google it?
Who, 30 years ago, would have known what was being asked of them to “google” something? Asking someone from 1999 to spot a “deep fake” would get you more than a funny look, and “clickbait” sounded like something you’d buy in a fishing store. Language evolution is intertwined with the complexity of our lives.
Today, more people than ever are connected, and information travels instantly. In our digital world, language evolves at lightning speed. Increased communication and exchanges of ideas by people halfway around the world from each other create new words and phrases. This accessibility also makes it easier for technical language to trickle down to the general public, impacting language services and how translation services are provided worldwide.
The dictionary has long acted as the gatekeeper of language evolution. If a word was not included in the dictionary, it was slang or not commonly used by the general public—this evolution of words presented challenges in language translation services.
Institutions in charge of Safeguarding Languages
Around the world, there are language institutions with the vital role of preserving and regulating languages. These organizations are official guardians and are in charge of setting the rules for transforming languages. Below you will find some of these institutions.
Spanish Language Organization
Spanish is a romance language, the official language of 20 countries with 486 native speakers worldwide. The Real Academia Española (RAE) is the main institution regulating and standardizing the Spanish language during the Spanish language’s constant adaptation.
Spanish Translation Services should always follow the lead of the RAE, and its website and the important resources they offer should be consulted often by the Spanish professional translator to be up on top of the new information.
Recent changes include the use of formal Spanish becoming less prominent but still different according to the country and its culture. That refers to the use of the word “usted” instead of “tu” for the English “you”. This tendency is well described in the article “Changing Spanish Language Changes Common Courtesy“.
French Language Organization
French is another romance language, with about 270 million speakers, with official status in 29 countries around several continents. It is an important language in the EU. The Académie Française, also called French Academy, has existed since 1635, and it is the main committee for topics regarding the French language.
French translation services and translators will follow the lead of the French Academy while also following localization guidance according to the intended audience. For example, if the audience is Canadian French. Other considerations and references will need to take place, like following the advice and recommendations from the “Office québécois de la langue française” and using the resources provided by the Government of Canada for Quebec French Translation.
English Language Institutions
English is the most spoken language in the world. It is the official language of 58 countries and has co-official status in the European Union and the United Nations. It does not have an official regulatory body. Nevertheless, some organizations establish rules that are closely followed and consulted. Among them is: Oxford English Dictionary (OED.com), considered since 1884 the definitive guide to English. Others organizations, like British Council and Cambridge English Language Assessment, support teaching and learning for the English language.
As our English language morphs, culture evolves, language follows, and eventually, the dictionary catches up. But today, the dictionary has gone online, making it easy to expand words and definitions continually. While print versions are still limited by size, online dictionaries contain millions of words. And there are many to choose from, including the Oxford Dictionary—Dictionary.com, or Urban Dictionary, which committed itself to capturing and defining fringe or slang words.
Today, some say the evolution of language has come full circle. The earliest markings of humanity were pictures, and on the internet, pictures, static and moving and overlaid with text, are a widespread way to communicate. The increase in visual communications also highlights the importance of human translation because computer-assisted translation tools are not yet advanced enough to understand “memes.”
How Does the Evolution of Language Affect Translation Services and Professional Translators?
New words are accepted and added to dictionaries every year, and new expressions become part of a language. The evolution of language has gotten quicker as the world has become more connected and cultures are closer than ever. Professional translators must stay current with the changes in the language pair they work on. They all need to research and study continuously to keep up with the development of languages. Native speakers of a language that live in a country where another language is used might lose the changes of their native language if they do not study and are immersed in the world of linguistics and language services.
It’s hard enough to keep up with language evolution in one language. When you work with a professional translation company, you know you’re working with a team with the capability and expertise to keep on top of language evolution for document translation services in both your source and target language. A translation agency employs numerous human translators for top-tier translation accuracy and has processes to keep up with moving pieces of the languages.
Professional translators must keep their fingers on the pulse of the cultures and the language pair they work on. It is important in language services to know which new words are being added to the dictionary, which industries are expanding their jargon, and where to seek the definition of a new word. Being immersed in a language is crucial for the most accurate language translation. Studying words from a book is one thing, but having conversations, writing continuously, consuming media, and speaking a language daily is another.
Subject matter expertise is also important in a professional translator because of the vocabulary and terms in a sector. Each industry has its technical terms and jargon that people on the ground best understand, whether you’re in a medical profession or working with legal documents. It is much harder for a translator who has never worked in that industry to correctly pick up or use new terms.
The evolution of language is also aided by why having a glossary of terms is so important to a smooth translation project. Establishing set terms and definitions for your company at the start of a project makes it much easier to deal with any questions or uncertainty and helps you get to the final translation faster.
Ready to take the first step in expanding your audience reach by implementing translation services? If you are, you need the human touch of an experienced and affordable professional translation company to make the translation process run smoothly. At JR Language Translation company, we always go the extra mile to achieve your goals and exceed your expectations. Contact us for a quote today—we’d love to learn about your translation services needs and help you succeed in multilingual communications.