Localisation or localization? Have you ever been reading an article online and noticed some slightly unusual spellings? ‘Colour’ without the ‘u’, ‘analyse’ spelt with a ‘z’ or ‘center’ instead of ‘centre’? If so, it is likely that the article was written in American English. Although these subtle (or not-so-subtle) differences between British and American English rarely impede comprehension, they can be a little off-putting – as though the text somehow isn’t meant for you.
Many languages are spoken across a wide geographical area and by a diverse range of people, which often creates differences in how they are used. These differences range from simple changes in pronunciation or spelling, to entirely different words and grammar. As a result, the line between language and dialect can become rather blurred, and the degree to which a particular regional variant can be understood by people from outside the region can vary as much as the language itself.
If you are a Brit reading an American English text, or vice versa, you will know that these two variants of English are easy for speakers of the other to understand. Although there are many noticeable differences in how words are spelt (e.g. ‘favourite’ in the UK vs ‘favorite’ in the US) and some examples of entirely different words in the two regions (e.g. ‘aubergine’ in the UK vs ‘eggplant’ in the US), Brits and Americans generally have little difficulty communicating with each another, whether in speech or in writing. Despite this, where understanding is of utmost importance – for example, in health care, marketing or legal texts – getting these nuances right will give your texts a polished and tailored feel that can make all the difference to your readers.
Unlike British and American English, Swiss German uses many words that are almost never used in Germany. When ordering a meal in Switzerland, you might have some ‘Hacktäschli’ (meatballs) with ‘Nüsslisalat’ (lamb’s lettuce) and ‘Knöpfle’ (egg-based noodles), while a German would enjoy some ‘Frikadellen’ with ‘Feldsalat’ and ‘Spätzle’. This Swiss variant and its vocabulary, however, is mostly used in speech, while Swiss High German is used in writing. This written form has fewer distinguishing features separating it from Standard German; it can be much easier for German and Swiss German speakers to communicate in writing than through conversation. Consequently, it is crucial that German interpreting assignments are completed by native speakers of the correct regional variant.
A language for which regional differences are certainly not just spoken is Chinese. In the localisation industry, we tend not to refer simply to ‘Chinese’, as the variants differ so significantly that a more specific definition is essential. In writing, Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, whilst Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. These two writing systems use many characters that are unknown – or at least unfamiliar – in the other; for example, the Traditional characters ‘習慣’ (habit/custom) correspond to the Simplified characters ‘习惯’. There are also many spoken variants of Chinese, including Mandarin, Cantonese and Wu, and there is much debate among linguists as to whether these should be considered dialects or separate languages.
Our in-house team of expert localisation linguists can help you select the most appropriate regional language variant(s) for your target market. We make sure that your multilingual content is perfectly suited to your audience. We can also localise existing texts or translations for new markets, including the adaptation of American English into British English, Standard French into Canadian French or Mexican Spanish into Standard Spanish. Find out more about our localisation services, or speak to one of our team for more information.
Author: Joseph Smith, Junior Project Manager