The tree of languages

small_tree-fw The tree of languagesPhylogeny (or phylogenesis) is the origin and evolution of a set of organisms, usually of a species. A major task of phylogenists is to determine the ancestor-descendant relationships among known species (both living and extinct).

Philology is the study of ancient texts and languages. Historical linguistics (or comparative linguistics) is the branch of philology that studies languages and their interrelationships. A philological tree (or tree of languages) traces the evolutionary interrelationships among languages believed to have originated from a common ancestor.

This issue of our blog compares the tree of life to the tree of languages.

They are similar in that a mutation or change in one individual can spread through the entire population and eventually replace the ancestral type. The following image, a replica of a diagram published in the November 2003 edition of Nature magazine illustrated the resemblances between the reconstruction of the evolutionary history of life and that of languages.

box1-_new The tree of languages

The chart on the left is based on the notion that every living creature has parents, and each of the parents has parents, and so on. Therefore, if we go back far enough, we will find that their phylogenetic tree includes three domains:

Eukarya (animals, plants, fungi),
Bacteria, and
Archaea (living organisms living in extreme environment).

All these cell types are rooted at a hypothetical Cenacestor (the most recent common ancestor), but it is not certain how the Cenancestor branched into these different domains. One theory is that Bacteria and Archaea branched off the Cenancestor first, and then Eukarya branched off from Bacteria, but it is also possible that Eukarya derived some characteristics from Bacteria through a horizontal transfer of genes (indicated by the red arrow).

The tree chart on the right has as its root the Proto-Indo-European languages group, i.e., the Proto-Indo-European language is believed to have been the Cenancestor of this group that branches into:


English is considered a Proto-Indo-European-Germanic language. This means that its core vocabulary descended from German, but there has been extensive borrowing from other languages, like French (as indicated by the red arrow). In this chart we see that word classes serve different functions; i.e., the words descended from German refer to animals, while the words borrowed from French refer to their flesh. It also demonstrates how words might be expected to change over time.

There are also significant differences between the tree of life and the tree of languages. In the tree of life, genetic change can spread only from parent to child, so the rate of the mutation or change process is much slower and can take many generations. Genes can remain unchanged for millions, even billions of years. On the other hand, languages change more rapidly and linguistic changes can spread much faster among unrelated individuals. For example, let’s take a look at some historical examples of language mutations that occurred in the following countries.
Please refer to the following chart that illustrates how languages are rooted, how they evolved and how they are interrelated.
language-tree-1-300x242 The tree of languages


Hungary has had a tumultuous geographical, political and linguistic history. For instance, the Hungarian language, which is associated with many Proto-Indo-European language branches, really belongs to the Fino-Ugric branch of the Ural-Altaic language tree.

The region known to us today as Hungary was ruled by the Romans from 15 BC to circa 378 CE. Next, it was dominated by the European Huns until 427 CE. In 434 CE, Attila the Hun, took over the region to become leader of the Hunnic Empire, which stretched from The Netherlands to the Ural River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea. The Romans managed to reclaim the region, if only briefly. They retained until 445 CE when Attila recovered it and ruled it until his death, in 453 CE. A fierce leader, Attila the Hun was feared by the Roman Empire and, to this date, he is considered the personification of cruelty and greed. The Hunnic Empire did not survive long past the death of its leader, and, in 460 CE, it was conquered by the Ostrogoths, whose domination was short- lived. From 488-558 CE the territory became tribal.

The Huns who survived remained in settlements nearby, giving their name to the region, which thus became known as Hungary. In 558 CE, Hungary was conquered by the Avars conquered Hungary in 558 CE, and remained in power untlil 803 (although there was a break in their rule in the 7th century – from 625 to 660 CE, when the local Slavs dominated). The Avars were a heterogeneous group. Avar is a collective term – Avar-Andi-Dido (Tsez) peoples – describing more than 15 different ethnic groups occupying the foothills of the Russian mountain slopes of the Dagestan Republic.

Toward the end of the 9th century, the Magyars, a nomadic tribe, descended on Hungary, perhaps from the West Siberian steppes and conquered it, thus establishing a Magyar monarchy in the Kingdom of Hungary.

The Magyars imposed their own language on the Romance-speaking population. This was a very significant linguistic change, because the Hungarian language is not related to any of the Indo-European languages. It actually belongs to the Ural-Altaic language tree, which includes Uralic languages, such as Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian, and Altaic languages, such as Turkish, Mongolian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tatar, Manchu, plus perhaps Korean and Japanese. Genetically, the Magyar influence was not very significant. The Magyar conquerors amounted to a small percentage of the population (only thirty percent) and their influence was further diluted by interaction with neighboring countries. Today, only ten percent of the genes in Hungary can be traced to their Uralic conquerors.

British Isles

This region also has had a turbulent linguistic history, undergoing dramatic changes within a relative short time. The native population of the British Isles spoke pre-Indo-European languages unknown to us today. Circa 1500 BC, the Celts, who originated from Southwestern Germany, spread throughout France, to the North of Spain and to the British Isles. Celtic invasions also reached Northern Italy, Bohemia, Hungary, Illyria (a region of the western Balkan Peninsula) and Asia Minor (Anatolia). Eventually the Celts would be absorbed by the Romans and the barbarians and only Brittany and the West of the British Isles would remain Celtic.

When the Romans conquered the British Isles, most of the population spoke Celtic languages, but the Romans imposed Latin, their own language. In approximately 450 CE, when the Germanic peoples migrated to England, Latin was replaced by Anglo-Saxon (Old English), which assimilated the linguistic characteristics of the pre-Celtic and Celtic languages, and was used for about 700 years. Old English would not remain static. In 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold II of England, in the Battle of Hastings. The Normans introduced many French word into the language. In 793, the Norsemen invaded. Norsemen is the term used to designate the Vikings of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and perhaps other Nordic tribes in the Scandinavian part of Europe. They also made linguistic contributions to our Anglo-Saxon language.

In the 17th century, Old English evolved into Modern English, approximately at the time of William Shakespeare. Some linguists subdivide Modern English into Early and Late Modern English, using the 1800’s, the time when the British Empire encompassed a large portion of the world and English was significantly influenced also by native languages.

In the 11th century, the Turks began attacking the Byzantine Empire, centered about Constantinople. The city of Byzantium in the Byzantine Empire, had been named by the Greeks from Megara (an ancient city in Attica) who settled there around 660 BC. In 330 AD Constantine the Great declared Byzantium the new eastern capital of the Roman Empire and renamed it Constantinople.

In 1453, under the command Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, the Ottoman Army, conquered Constantinople. The Ottomans became one of the most powerful empires and the city became known as Istanbul (İstanbul in Turkish), a name that has remained until today.

Genetically, the impact of the Turkish invasion was not very significant, but the linguistic impact was huge, because the Greek and Turkish languages belong to entirely different family groups:

Greek belongs to the Hellenic branch of the Proto-Indo-European language tree, and
Turkish belongs to the Altaic family tree that includes Turkish, Mongolian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tatar, Manchu, and other Asian languages, including perhaps Korean and Japanese, as stated previously.

There are many more examples of linguistic replacement and genetic change. (If you are interested in this topic, you will enjoy Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s book “Genes, Peoples, and Languages”. What is remarkable is that, notwithstanding all the changes that have taken place, it is still possible to reconstruct trees for the two evolutionary tracks.


Wikipedia –

Nature magazine, Vol. 426, 27 November 2003 –

Genes, Peoples and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza

Classification – The Three Domain System

About the German Language and its Dialects

waving-german-flag-1-fw About the German Language and its Dialects  “Some German words are so long that they have a perspective.” (Mark Twain)

In his essay, The Awful German Language, Mark Twain complains, tongue in cheek, about the challenges of learning German because  words are so very long. To illustrate his point, he cites the following examples:

 Freundschaftsbezeigungen – Friendship demonstrations

 Dilettantenaufdringlichkeiten – Independence declarations

 Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen – General States Representative Meetings

The fact is that German allows stringing words together, it would seem ad infinitum, judging by this next entry:

Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft – “Association for Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services”.

Most likely, you will not find this word in the dictionary. However, you will find Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung in the Duden German dictionary. It is 36 characters long and it means “motor vehicle liability insurance”.

English medical terms must follow this Teutonic trend, judging by the length of this term: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis, 45 characters long. This word you will find in Merriam Webster, along with this definition: “a pneumoconiosis caused by inhalation of very fine silicate or quartz dust”.

In Wales there is a place called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

German is not the only language that allows gluing words together. There are a large number of agglutinative languages, i.e.; languages that use agglutination extensively. Merriam Webster defines agglutination as the formation of derivational or inflectional words by putting together constituents of which each expresses a single definite meaning”.

When I was learning Russian, I found that, much to my frustration, I was unable to find some words in the dictionary.Russian is also an agglutinative language. Then I learned that I had to first, identify the root and then begin by looking up that term in the dictionary.

As Mark Twain pointed out, German words are not the only ones that pose a challenge. Sentence construction has its own intricacies. We used to joke that if you came across a long sentence, you would be in suspense for a while waiting to find out what happened. This is because, in German, the conjugated verb is in the second position while the other verb, the action verb, is almost always found at the end of the sentence.   This complexity in sentence construction is compounded by what Mark Twain referred to as the “German system of piling jumbled compounds together”.   Yes, we do that in English also, particularly in technical writing. Refer to our blog “Writing and designing for translation” for a few examples in English.   James Joyce, the famous Irish writer and the also famous French writer, Marcel Proust, among others, have composed notable and notably long sentences. However, it is quite possible that none of them match the achievement of the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. The opening sentence to his work “Ja” is 477 words long. Imagine a sentence that extends over the span of approximately 2 pages!   Of course, there are many things to be said about the language of Goethe. It is a musical language, given the large number of beautiful German operas that have been written throughout centuries that continue to enjoy. It is a scientific language that has expressed and documented some of the world’s most important scientific discoveries. And what will be equally interesting to the readers of this blog, it is the second most used language in the internet, according to the January 2015 issue of “Usage Statistics of Content Languages for Websites”

Therefore, if you are considering translating your website, you may want to include German as one of the languages. You also might be interested to know that there are a number of German dialects that present communication challenges.

Currently, we are able to look back at approximately 1250 years of history of the German language. The first occurrence of written German appears to have been, approximately, in the year 750. In 768, Charlemagne was crowned king of the Franks; his empire included almost all of France, Northern Italy, what is today Austria and all the Germanic territory – the Allemannians, as well as the Bavarians and Saxons. The languages of these regions were: Franconian, Bavarian and Saxon.

After the era of Charlemagne, his Empire was divided several times, until the Eastern region became the German Empire. A single German language evolved in this community for purposes of disseminating information. However, the spoken languages still retain their regional characteristics.
Bavarians, for example, speak a dialect that Germans from Northern regions like Schleswig-Holstein, have trouble understanding. Even people from neighbor provinces sometime struggle to understand each other.

For instance, people from the North and South sometimes cannot understand each other’s accents. People in Bavaria, the largest and most southern province, speak a dialect that Germans from the Northern regions, such as Schleswig-Holstein, find difficult to understand. Sometimes even people from neighboring provinces have difficulty understanding each other.

Dialectical differences are often the result of geography. Dialects have developed over history and adapted to the special needs of each region. For instance, the dialect of the coastal communities incorporate many nautical expressions, while people in the Alpine regions developed their own vocabulary. However, German dialects exist only in the spoken language and not in the written language, which makes it difficult to trace their history, since, in general, there is very little written evidence of the first occurrence of a German dialect.

As with other languages, accents influence the opinion that we form of people and German is not different. For example, people from the Upper Palatinate, one of the seven administrative regions of Bavaria, have a strong accent that others find not so friendly. Germans from Saxony, a region roughly located between Berlin and Prague, speak with an accent that sounds different to people from other regions of Germany. However, increased access to education and the ability to travel are reducing these differences and helping to standardize the language.

Differences are even greater among countries where German is spoken, such as Austria and Switzerland. Austrians wonder why Germans speak such a funny language and Germans wonder the same about them. For example, when Austrians talk about their wardrobe, they call it Kasten a word that to Germans means box. Germans call their wardrobe Schrank. In Austria, a doll is Docke, which means absolutely nothing to a German. The word for doll in German is Puppe.

As the European Union continues to grow, the ability to communicate across countries with different languages will become increasingly important. German children learn at least one foreign language in school and many German citizens are bilingual or multilingual. English is a second language in Germany. Most German children speak at least some English and they use American expressions, such as cool, kids, beach, band or body. The trend continues into adulthood, when English words are commonly used in business. Terms like clustering and Unique Selling Proposition, among others, have become part of the language.

Fortunately, there is a solution for common understanding in the written language: Hochdeutsch, or High German, which is synonymous with standard German. It is used in school books, for example. More often than not, you may expect that your translation bureau will offer this option for written translations.

Multinational Languages

dfgps Multinational Languages

Some languages are spoken in more than one country or region, so we refer to them as multinational. Some examples are Dutch, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

In this blog, we will provide information about the dialectical differences in the same language due to geography and other characteristics of each locale.

dutch Multinational Languages

Dutch (aka English Dutch, Flemish, Netherlandic Nederlands, Flemish Vlaams)

The national language of The Netherlands and one of the two official languages of Belgium1, Dutch is a West Germanic language. In English, we refer to this Netherlandic language as Dutch when spoken in The Netherlands and Flemish when spoken in Belgium. Fundamentally, Dutch and Flemish are the same language, equally understood by both Dutch and Belgians.
In its standard form or dialects, Netherlandic is the language of most of The Netherlands, Northern Belgium and a small part of France, located to the West of Belgium, along the North Sea. In South America, this Netherlandic language is spoken in Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana). In the Caribbean, Netherlandic is spoken in the Netherland Antilles (formerly Dutch Antilles).

The Dutch were primarily traders, but also colonizers, and they sailed around the world bringing their language to different countries and continents. Thus, Dutch pops up in unexpected places, such as Indonesia, where some of the older population still speaks the language. In the 17th century, Dutch traders were sailing to the East. Thus, Afrikaans, one of the 11 languages spoken in South Africa, has its roots in Dutch3.

1 (French and German are the other official languages of Belgium)
2 However, the creole or common language of Suriname is Sranang Tongo, or Sranantongo (Surinamese tongue).
3 However, Afrikaans, a seventeenth-century African variant of Netherlandic, is a different language and has been recognized as such since the 19th century.

french Multinational Languages

French (Français)

French is spoken in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada, and in parts of Africa (Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, Seychelles); South America (French Antilles), in some of the Caribbean islands (Guadaloupe, Martinique and Haiti)*, and in French Polynesia where it is one of the official languages, along with Tahitian.

The Académie Française (French academy), established by Cardinal de Richelieu in 1634, has successfully maintained uniformity of grammar and spelling in all regions where French is spoken. Therefore, product instructions translated into Parisian French, for example, will be understood by most readers in the European regions where the language is spoken. and by the Francophone population of Canada. However, keep in mind that there are deep dialectical differences between French spoken in France and in Quebec. These dialectical differences, due to geographical distance and history, will be the topic of a future blog.

*Creole Patois languages are also spoken in these islands.

german Multinational LanguagesGerman (Deutsch)

The official language of Germany and Austria, German is also one of the four official languages of Switzerland, along with French, Italian and Romansh, one of the three official languages of Belgium, and the official language of the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein (Fürstentum Liechtenstein), located between Switzerland and Austria and roughly the size of Central Park in Manhattan.

There several dialectical variations of German: Austro-Bavarian, Hochdeutsch, Schwäbisch, Plattdeutsch and Swiss. Each, of these vary in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. Differences increase relative to geographical distances. It is not uncommon for Bavarians and Northern Germans to have difficulty understanding each other.

Fortunately for German readers, there is one version German that all understand: Hochdeutsch (Modern High German), the standardized version of the language. Historically, Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into Mitteldeutsch (East Middle German) may have been one of the most influential forces leading to the standardization of the written German language. This version of the Bible was widely distributed and thus Mitteldeutsch became the basis of modern Hochdeutsch. By the 18th century there was a standard written German language, even though the spoken language continued to be strongly influenced by local and regional variations.

Therefore, if you must select one version of German that will be read and understood in multiple regions where German is spoken, we suggest that you request Hochdeutsch, the modern High German, such as is spoken in Berlin.

portuguese Multinational Languages  Portuguese (Português)

Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and the São Tomé and Príncipe islands. It is also spoken by about two percent of the population of Macau, China.

Compared to French, and as we will see, Spanish, there are more regional differences in pronunciation, grammar and spelling in Portuguese. Some attributed these to the lack of a standardizing influence, such as the Académie Française has been for French, and the Real Academia Española (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) for Spanish. The Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa, (CPLP) (in English: Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries), was established in 1996 with one of its goals being the creation of a Portuguese language standard.

However, the language follows largely the national rules for vocabulary, grammar and spelling. For example, there are vast differences between Brazilian and Continental Portuguese. However, the language has maintained enough cohesion among its many variations, so readers of Brazilian Portuguese are able to understand text written in Continental Portuguese and, conversely, most Continental Portuguese readers can understand text written in Brazilian Portuguese.

Therefore, if you can only provide Portuguese readers with one version of the language, you may select either Brazilian Portuguese or Continental Portuguese.

If you base your decision on numbers of speakers, consider that Brazil has a population of approximately 151 million, whereas the population of Portugal is approximately 9.9 million. If, however, you plan to distribute your product in Europe, you will have to comply with EC requirements. In this case, Portuguese (EU), of the Continental version will be more appropriate.

Notwithstanding the influence of aboriginal languages (languages of the Bantu family spoken by the majority of the population), Portuguese speakers of the Angola and Mozambique regions of Africa speak a fairly pure version of the language. They incorporate some archaisms and Lusitanian (Portuguese) dialectical influences, similar to those found in Brazilian Portuguese.

spanish Multinational Languages

 Spanish (Español, Castellano)

The official language or an official language of nineteen American countries, as well as Spain. Even though there are wide regional differences in the colloquial form of the language, the written form has maintained uniformity of grammar and spelling. This may be attributed to the standardizing influence of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (now the Real Academia Española), founded in 1713 for the purpose of maintaining the purity of the Spanish language.

The dialect understood by most Spanish readers is Castilian. In fact, Castellano (Castilian in Spanish) is the name used for Spanish in some of the Spanish speaking countries of the Americas. Castilian spread to the South of Spain as a result of the Reconquista (the conquest of Moorish Spain by the Christian states of Spain in 1492). After establishing itself in Spain, it was exported to the New Word in the 16th Century, possibly in its Southern or Andalusian form.

Therefore, if you can provide only one version of Spanish to your readers we suggest that you select Castilian Spanish. It will be understood by more Spanish readers.

Chinese – The Spoken and Written Language

chinese_characters-fw Chinese - The Spoken and Written Language

You need to translate a marketing brochure into Chinese. Your want to promote your product in Mainland China and you know that Mandarin is the spoken language, but when you call the translation bureau, they tell you that they will translate your brochure into Chinese Simplified.


The answer is that the translation bureau is concerned with the printed word and the corresponding character set to Mandarin is Chinese Simplified, just as the corresponding character set to Cantonese is Traditional Chinese.

The distinction between the characters sets identified as Traditional and Simplified was created after the Chinese Civil War, when the People’s Republic of China officially implemented the simplification of the Chinese characters. The first time in 1956 and then again in 1964.

The reason was as much political as grammatical. You see, the Chinese Civil War, which started in 1926, pitted the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party; KMT) of General Chiang Kai-shek against the Communist Party of China (CPC). As we know now, Chiang Kai-shek was defeated and the CPC took control of the mainland. The Kuomintang was forced out of the region into Taiwan and several of the outlying Fujianese islands. Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October of 1949 and, in December of that same year, Chiang Kai-shek proclaimed Taipei (Taiwan), the temporary capital of the Republic of China (ROC).

While character simplification in mainland China is commonly attributed to the Cultural Revolution, the concept actually dates back to the 1930s and 1940s, during the Kuomintang Government, when many Chinese intellectuals believed that character simplification would help to promote literacy.

In addition to knowing the corresponding character sets to Mandarin and Cantonese, for example, software developers and webmasters need to become familiar with the related character encoded systems.

The following is a look-up table intended to shed some light into the subject of Chinese characters and their proper encoding:

Character  Where used Character encoded systems (Codesets)
Chinese Simplified Mainland China (PRC), Singapore and Malaysia GB2312
UTF-8 *
Chinese Traditional Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and most overseas communities Big Five/Big Five Plus
UTF-8 *

*Selecting UTF-8 as the default character set, avoids the need to use different codesets for XML Javascripts and other applications. Most browsers handle UTF-8.
The spoken languages of China also pose challenges. For example, if you want to localize a video. (Note: To localize is to adapt the message to the cultural characteristics of the target market. In other words, you do not just convert one language into another, but you want the message to read or sound as if it had originated from the target locale.)

As we know, Mandarin, spoken in mainland China is the Chinese language with the most speakers. It is and it is prevalent also in Taiwan. However, Cantonese is the language spoken in Taiwan and the overseas communities where Chinese migrants have settled. It was spoken widely in Hong Kong, until the held the 99-year lease held by Great Britain expired in June of 1997.

Most linguists classify the variations of Chinese under the Sino-Tibetan language family, one of the largest in terms of speakers and second only to the Indo-European family of languages. The seven main groups of Chinese languages are: Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Xiang, Gan, Hakka, and Min. The following table provides more information about these languages:

Mandarin, (北方话), aka Putonghua 普通话, (mainland dialect), and Guoyu 國語 has about 870 million speakers and is spoken in Mainland China (PRC), Taiwan (ROC), Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and various Chinese communities around the world. Interestingly, “Mandarin” is not a Chinese word. It was actually used to “designate an official in the imperial Chinese court. and it has roots in the Portuguese “mandarim”, the Malay “menteri”, the Sanskrit mantrin “counsel”, from mantrah “counsel, prayer, hymn.”

Cantonese / Yue (粤语) has approximately 66 million speakers in Taiwan (ROC), Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macau, and communities around the world, such as those in Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Panama, the Netherlands and other European countries where Cantonese speaking migrants have settled.

Wu (吴语), with approximately 77 million speakers, is spoken in China (PRC) Taiwan (ROC), Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and communities in countries where Wu Chinese migrants have settled.

Hakka (客家话), with approximately 34 million speakers, is spoken in China (PRC) Taiwan (ROC), Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and communities in countries where Hakka Chinese migrants have settled.

Min (閩方言) (pinyin: min3 fang1 yan2), with approximately 20 million speakers, is the general term used to designate a group of dialects spoken in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian and migrants from this province who settled in Taiwan, Guangdong, Hainan as well as in two counties in southern Zhejiang and Zhoushan archipelago off Ningbo. There are many Min speakers in Southeast Asia and in Ming communities around the world.

Hopefully,this information will be useful and has answered some of the questions that might arise during your next translation project. However, if you are unsure about which version of spoken or written Chinese you need, please do not hesitate to contact us. One of our knowledgeable project managers will gladly answer any questions that you might have.

Writing and Designing for Translation

page4-img5 Writing and Designing for TranslationWhen can I have it? is one of the most often asked questions in our business.The answer customers hope for is “yesterday”. While this is only possible in the realm of time travel, there are some things that customers can do to improve translation quality and turn-around time. As a very wise Sales Representative said:

“In the early stages of product launch it is important to provide the best service and customer support, including training and manuals, to develop a sound reference base to accelerate placements and continue sales momentum. Poor training or customer operational errors caused by incorrect, missing or misunderstood information can impact that momentum and provide ammunition to our competitors.“
Since a good translation begins with the writing of the source text, writing copy that is clear, concise, and grammatically correct will help the translators, for whom English is second language, generate product instructions that give your business a competitive edge and get to market earlier.
The following are a few helpful hints:
 Part 1 – Simplify Sentence Construction

In the United States we strive for writing economy. For example:

“Grasp knob and adjust lever before raising boom,” 

This sounds OK to us, but a translator could be mislead into thinking that “adjust lever” is a particular type of lever instead of a lever that needs adjusting. Therefore, to avoid confusion, it is better not to skimp on the articles.

“Grasp the knob and adjust the lever before raising boom.” 

This rewrite makes the sequence of events clear to the reader.

Telegraphic English is common to us, but hair-raising for a translator.Take for example this sentence:

 “Remove old peri-pump tubing”.

Translators would much rather see something like this:

 “Remove old tubing from the peri-pump.”

Some long, complex sentences that keep translators awake at night. For example:

“The method employed in the  measures of the rate of increase in light scattered from particles suspended in solutions as a result of complexes formed during an antigen-antibody reaction.” 

Huh? This sentence definitely needs to be split into two:

 “The method employed in  measures of the rate of increase in light scattered from particles suspended in solution. These particles are the result of complexes formed during an antigen-antibody reaction.” 

What a difference a period makes, right?

Proper sentence construction is essential to reader comprehension and particularly so when the reader is a translator trying to meet a tight deadline. Take for example:

“Directory synchronization uses the Dispatch program to run the programs that transfer the local address updates from the requesters to the directory server and to transfer the global address updates back to the requesters for processing.”

How much time would it save the translator to have this rewritten as follows?

“The Dispatch program is used for directory synchronization. It runs the programs that transfer both the local address updates from the requesters to the directory server and the global address updates back to the requesters for processing.’

You get the idea, just a few tweaks to the text can make “impossible due dates” almost achievable. They not only save time in translation, but also in project management, since it is the Project Manager who will have to translate English into English for inquiring translators. When you are facing a project with as many as 25 languages, this is very time consuming.

The next issue of this blog will expand on the topic of Writing and Designing for translation.

Stay tuned!