By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations
For the last couple of months, Adarve Translations has seen an increase in requests for translations in Languages of Limited Diffusion (LLDs). We have embraced the opportunity, but have also had to face some challenges related to awareness of what LLDs really are.
What are Languages of Limited Diffusion?
Even though some people erroneously call them “minority languages,” Languages of Limited Diffusion (LLDs) are those that are not spoken widely—do not have many speakers—in a country; languages that need more attention to be placed on them in order to reach and help more people who need access to them.
Some examples of LLDs are languages of the Sino-Tibetan family, such as Burmese and Karen; the Tai-Kadai family, such as Thai and Lao; the Indo-Aryan family, such as Nepali and Hindi; or the Austro-Asiatic family, such as Mon and Khmer (Cambodian).
The definition of an LLD is not global, but relative. The limited diffusion of any given language depends on the geographical area where its speakers are located in relation to speakers of languages of more common diffusion. In other words, the limited diffusion of a language in Indiana, for example, is not the same as in Oklahoma, London or Moscow.
It is very important to keep this in mind when it comes to the translation of documents into these languages, since the use and circulation of materials in LLDs depends on the communities being served. It is vital then that these materials absolutely focus on the specific target audiences and their needs when it comes to their unique language.
Technical Challenges Observed with LLDs
Unfortunately, since they are not widely spoken, Languages of Limited Diffusion do not have the same support at the technical and linguistic levels as more common languages do. Furthermore, translation, use and distribution of materials in these languages also present challenges, not only for the translators, but also for the service providers who are trying to reach their speakers:
- Many languages are spoken, but cannot be written
- A lot of them have different writing systems, grammar and punctuation conventions, and use fonts not readily available in other language systems
- Their fonts are not mutually intelligible, which means that they cannot be converted from one to the other easily. Using the same font to write any two LLDs, even if they look “similar”—Burmese and Karen—might change the language coding in the computer; characters, accent marks, etc., will usually go missing; information gets lost
- Many of the fonts required for LLDs are not available in design software, such as InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.
- Machine translation, mostly useless in more common languages, is definitely worthless with LLDs due to the lack of term bases to provide assistance, and the fact that it doesn’t take into account the target audience
Challenges to Translators and Service Providers
Translators also face challenges such as poor technical assistance and support; limited terminology and availability of dictionaries; vocabulary in the target language not necessarily matching that of the source language; the need to learn Unicode in an attempt to write these languages correctly because their alphabets are different from what they are normally used to; difficulty in finding readily available networks of specialized or technical collaborators with a high level of linguistic ability—some LLDs are spoken in developing countries where words might not exist that match certain source language words.
Likewise, language service providers face challenges that clients with extremely limited knowledge of the reality of LLDs have a hard time to understand, such as the difficulty to find translators with the linguistic and technical knowledge necessary; little knowledge of the target audience for the customer’s material; finding translators with the necessary training and skills due to limitations in technology and literacy in their native countries.
Lastly, consumers—organizations and businesses—also face challenges and frustrations when ordering materials in LLDs. One of the major challenges is the rush factor. A lot of businesses and organizations want their materials to be translated at the same speed as the request is made. However, rushing things is not always the best policy. Some LLDs take twice as long to type as other languages. This means that longer times are required to complete the project with the same level of quality requested by the client. Cultural matters might also present a challenge to consumers: probable lower level of literacy of the target audience, as well as with their preferences, not only when it comes to their language, but also in relation to a lower pace of life that they uphold and find vital to their general wellbeing.
All of this doesn’t mean that language service providers and clients need to give up on providing services to communities whose language is one of limited diffusion. What it means is that we need to be more aware of the cultural values behind these languages and the meaning of working with them in order to provide the services that will definitely satisfy the needs of our increasingly varied communities and neighbors.
All the best!
Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC
About the Author: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual.