The Language Exchange
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Translation of Indigenous Languages

Translation_Indigenous_Languages_MixtecMany indigenous languages of the world developed as spoken languages and did not have a writing system (Orthography).

Today, in 2018, many indigenous languages do not have an Orthography, Or, there may be an Orthography developed by 1) academics, such as anthropologists or linguists, 2) educators working for governments or international agencies, 3) developed by political activists working to enable indigenous people to get land rights, education or medical care, 4) religious groups, interested in helping people develop literacy to read sacred texts that can be translated into these languages.

As you can see, there may be several Orthographies for any one language. There can be Orthographies also for one DIALECT of a language, and a different Orthography for another DIALECT.

(What is a DIALECT?  A version of a language that is mutually intelligible to speakers of other dialects of that language. If what is spoken is NOT MUTUALLY INTELLIGIBLE, then that is a SEPARATE LANGUAGE. Examples are British, Australian, Indian and American English, which are mutually intelligible. However, although related, languages such as Spanish and Portuguese or French and Spanish are separate languages.  In some languages such as Spanish, “dialecto” is a FALSE COGNATE with English “dialect”, because it refers to different languages. In English, a dialect is a variation within one language.)

So, if there are Orthographies for a language (i.e. It is written), should you ask for translation into that language for your own purposes?

  • Are people literate in that language? Do they read and write in that language?
  • To be literate in a language means people have been taught how to read and write in that language – but by whom? And using what writing system or materials?
  • If a government sponsors education or literacy in that language, then it has adopted A STANDARD ORTHOGRAPHY for that country or region. Then, education programs must be made available to people
  • In many countries, LANGUAGE POLICIES have one language as the National Language, and education is provided only in that language.
  • Political and economic issues, along with cultural issues, DETERMINE Orthographies and Literacy programs. They change with governments and with global trends and funding.
  • Often a way to reach people who speak a language for whom there is no official Orthography is through recordings. Many radio and audio programs exist in Latin America, Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, Russia and other countries around the world to send messages to people who do not have a standardized written language, or opportunities for literacy.

For many years of graduate school, completing a Master’s Degree in Linguistics at University of Washington and pursuing the field of Language Policies at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, as an Overseas Research Scholar and the University of Texas, Austin as a Foreign Language and Areas Study Fellow, I focused on understanding the many Language Policy issues.

Some language policies have been forged or resulted in separatist movements, such as Basques in Northern Spain, Irish, Welsh, French in Canada, Quichuas in Ecuador, and there are many more.

Please feel free to call and talk to us if you are wondering about languages vs. dialects and translation into indigenous languages of lesser diffusion.

Recently, in 2017, we completed translation for a Pacific Coast state government of a pamphlet related to Education Equity. The translations have been prepared into dialects of Mixtec (or Mixteco), an indigenous language of Mexico. How many literate readers of this language will be the audience for this pamphlet? We don’t know, but apparently enough for that state to value this information in Mixtec (Mixteco).

Learn More:

Guatemalan Indigenous Language News

Indigenous Languages of Vietnam

Development of an Orthography for Muong