All posts by Linguistica International

How can translation boost your ROI?

4 Ways Translation can send your ROI through the Roof

Too many businesses view the translation of websites, articles and other marketing assets as an expense to be minimised, rather than an opportunity to drastically increase the turnover of their business. However, in most cases, money spent on translation is an investment with the potential for tremendous returns.

That’s why we’re here to spell out very clearly how the translation of your marketing assets can send you sales through the roof. Here are four ways an investment in translation can give you that elusive competitive advantage in an incredibly cost-effective way…

1. Attract new customers by fulfilling unmet needs

Customers prefer to make purchases online in their native language. The UK is a hugely diverse country, with statistics showing that 22 percent of Londoners don’t speak English as their first language and 300,000 London residents speak no English at all. It is also a tourist destination and business hub that attracts visitors from all around the world. That means there’s a lot of foreign language needs which aren’t being met.

As a simple example, Chinese visitors spend a huge amount of money in the UK, but how many British hotels and online stores do you know that translate their websites into Mandarin? In fact, only 18 percent of British hotels provide travel and tourism guides in Chinese and only 21 percent plan to do so in the next 12 months. If that’s not a huge opportunity then we’re not sure what is.

2. Get a search engine boost

Any online business will know that getting a website made is only half the battle. It then needs to be promoted and marketed extensively to gain visibility in the search engine rankings. Without translating your site, you will never be found by international users or British-based browsers who do not use English as their first language online.

And remember, the search engines reward quality. That means, if you create an error-strewn site that you’ve run through Google Translate, you’ll be penalised by the search engines and banished to the bottom of the rankings.

3. Engage your customers

The modern age of social media and content marketing is all about customer engagement. The more you engage your customers, the more likely they are to trust your brand and be loyal in the future. The key to engaging your customers is to speak to them in their language. That means inviting discussion and sharing interesting and entertaining content, but more literally it means speaking to them in their language. You cannot engage your customers and build relationships if they do not understand your content.

4. Improve customer satisfaction

If you have a multilingual customer base then multilingual customer support is something you should seriously consider. Receiving good reviews and dealing with customer queries quickly and in a language your users understand will help to create repeat customers, which directly boosts your bottom line.

Here are a couple of statistics to illustrate the point:

  • 74 percent of customers would be more likely to purchase from a company that offers post-sales support in their language;
  • 71.5 percent of customer service leaders said support in a customer’s native language increased their levels of satisfaction, while 58.4 percent said it increased their loyalty to the brand.

What are you waiting for?

Looking for a way to gain a competitive advantage and boost your ROI? Get in touch with Linguistica International today to discuss your translation or transcreation project.

How the Language we Speak can Shape our Lives

We all know that our place of birth and the language we speak can impact the course of our lives, but now a recent study of immigrant populations has proved it. The research looked at those who had relocated to the US and found that the language spoken by children at the age of ten had a significant effect on the career paths they took.

The research found that those who migrated to the US from non-English-speaking countries after the age of ten were more likely to pursue STEM careers, that is, those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Those who arrived in English-speaking countries before the age of ten were more likely to pursue communications-related professions.

Why is the age of ten so important?

It seems that age ten represents a significant turning point when it comes to language ability. Children arriving in an English-speaking country before that time still have the flexibility to pick up the new language and adapt. After that point, it seems children will always be trailing behind their native-language peers.

All importantly, those who arrive before the age of ten find it less of a challenge to learn the language and are able to acquire information in that new language. For older children, the ability to communicate and acquire information is more of a battle, so their tendency is to gravitate towards subjects like mathematics and science, where the ability to use language at a high level is less important.

The impact of linguistic distance

As any linguist will know, some languages are much more similar than others and this can affect the prospects of children in their new home. Linguistic distance refers to how different one language is from another. Some languages are fundamentally more different in terms of their grammar and lexicography than others and this can make the challenges of integration more severe for some immigrant populations.

The study found that as well as career paths, linguistic distance had a marked impact on the subjects children went on to study at degree level. Where the language distance between their native language and English was greater, children were more likely to study STEM subjects at university. The authors argued that this decision was the result of a cost/benefit analysis students performed that found efforts to develop an advantage in STEM subjects would ultimately be more worthwhile.

Bridging the language divide

With falling birth rates in many more developed countries and skills shortages in some markets, it is becoming increasingly important that everything is done to try to close the language divide.

Contrary to the research, some of the most highly-skilled migrants in English-speaking countries are native speakers of languages that are linguistically dissimilar. For example, the UK is heavily reliant on skilled immigrants from Asia in areas such as healthcare, engineering and technology, despite the fact that Asian languages are very different from English. Such is the reliance on these migrants that many organisations are recognising their importance and putting schemes in place to help them integrate into the country and the organisation.

To close the skills gap and get the most out of every member of society, it is important businesses and governments work to bridge language divides and ensure everyone has the skills they need to make a success of their lives.

How can we help?

At Linguistica International, our expert translation, transcreation, copywriting and telephone interpreting team work in their mother tongue and have specific experience in the industry you operate in. The result is a message that’s word perfect in any language. For more information, please call 02392 987 765 or email info@linguistica-international.com today.

 

CE Markings

CE Marking Translation in a Post-Brexit World

The UK’s decision to leave the EU poses questions for regulators and industry alike. One question many businesses will an answer to is how leaving Europe will impact the Conformité Européenne (CE) Marking Directive, which applies to EU machinery and electrical and medical products. Currently, under the CE Marking Directive, all importing countries must translate labels, instructions for use, packaging and user manuals into the designated language of the user for all products which could potentially cause harm if not used properly. Typically, sections of documentation and materials related to safety must also be translated.

But with the Brexit decision, will CE Markings still be required in the UK at all, and what will be the implications for their translation? Let’s take a look.

Does Brexit change everything?

The first important point to note is that, at the moment, nothing changes. For the next 24 months, the UK will remain a full member of the EU and it will be expected to meet every single one of the existing single market measures in full.

Even after our exit, the directives on which the CE Markings are based are the single market measures the exit campaigners wish to preserve. So, while we might have relinquished any control over how these measures are applied in the future, UK companies will still have to abide by the regulations if they want to sell to the single market.

What about CE Marked products manufactured and sold in the UK?

As a manufacturer of CE Marked products that are only sold within the UK, you may think the CE Markings will no longer apply following our exit from the EU. However, as the system has been accepted in the UK and throughout Europe for 20 years or more, the UK is likely to continue using CE Markings to maintain product safety and free trade.

What are the current CE Marking translation requirements?

CE Marking is required for 22 product categories which have specific directives. The directives state that importing countries must ensure labels, instructions for use, packaging and safety information must be translated into the language of the country the product/equipment is to be sold in. Generally, it is the manufacturer who will be responsible for the CE Marking translation, although a private labeller which presents itself as the producer can take on this responsibility.

Regardless of the party that translates the documentation, liability remains with the original producer who affixes the CE Marking. In some cases, the manufacturer will write into agreements that the distributor or agent is responsible for CE Marking translations, but that does not transfer the liability.

Failure to comply with CE Marking can lead to an investigation from a regulatory body. If the CE Marking is not translated into a specific language, the regulatory body is likely to want to know why.

The importance of using a professional CE Marking translation team

Any liability that comes from a mistranslation will remain with the manufacturer. Some companies may choose to save money by asking in-country employees or distributors to perform the translation on their behalf, but this approach can be costly, particularly where distributors lack the industry-specific knowledge and language expertise to do the job accurately. While in-country employees may be familiar with the technical specifications of the product, they are not trained translators and may not be aware of the specific CE Marking requirements that apply.

Your CE Marking translation team

At Linguistica International, we use professional mother-tongue translators with specific experience in your industry to deliver a CE Marking translation you can rely on. Call 02392 987 765 or email info@linguistica-international.com to find out more.

East to west

From West to East: Transcreating for China

When it comes to cultural and linguistic differences, there are few countries with such a chasm between them as the UK and China. These vast differences manifest in everything from the fundamental principles which underpin society – democracy vs. communism – to the huge disparity in the size of the countries and their populations. Clearly, linguistically the two countries are also worlds apart. But despite the many differences, there are also distinct similarities that make the Chinese market one many Western brands choose to break into.

The changing view of UK brands

A growing affinity for Britain and the perceived quality of our products is helping companies compete with their more established Chinese brands. In the past ten years, the UK has seen its reputation in China improve markedly. This has coincided with the swift expansion of the increasingly aspirational Chinese middle classes and their desire to associate themselves with British culture through high-quality brands. Companies like Land Rover, Mulberry, Burberry and Jaguar are all capitalising on this thirst for luxury products.

Although there is a clear demand for British products in China, overcoming the linguistic and cultural barriers can still be extremely challenging for Western companies. Translation services are now incredibly easy to access, but that alone, as we can see from the case studies below, is not enough to crack the Chinese market.

Red Bull – A runaway success

Although not a UK brand, Red Bull is a company that had enjoyed the vast majority of its success in the West – until it broke into China. When Red Bull decided to make the leap into the Chinese market, at the heart of its marketing strategy was the desire to connect with the cultural values of its target audience – the 18-34-year-old, professional, city-dwelling Chinese male. The firm undertook a detailed analysis of cultural dimensions. That included everything from masculinity and individualism to long-term orientation and uncertainty avoidance to learn more about the cultural makeup of this group.

From West to East - Transcreating for China

Following the research, Red Bull decided to change its brand colours to suit local preferences and create advertising campaigns that centred on local tastes. Even the product itself was changed, with Chinese Red Bull no longer carbonated. The result was a resounding success. By 2015, Red Bull had become the leading energy drink in China with a market share of an astounding 80 percent!

Tesco – A high-profile failure

Not all attempts to break into the Chinese market have gone quite as well. As one of the world’s biggest supermarkets, Tesco decided to expand its international presence by opening its first Tesco-branded store in China in 2007. However, the supermarket chain failed to engage Chinese consumers and the stores reported losses year after year. Tesco even made attempts to localise to Chinese tastes by selling live turtles and toads in some of its stores, but still the brand didn’t catch on.

Tesco’s failure was put down to the fact that it simply tried to replicate the model that had brought it so much success in the UK. In doing so, it fundamentally misunderstood the market. Rather than shopping in one large store, Chinese consumers prefer to shop around, buying their groceries from multiple specialist stores.

Lessons to learn

What this teaches us is that brands looking to be successful in the East need to make fundamental changes to their products, strategies and the way they communicate with consumers to be successful in the Chinese market. The simple translation of company assets is not enough. Instead, a campaign of transcreation needs to take place to allow brands to talk to and engage with new customers, delivering their message in a way that will be understood.

Need help?

Are you looking for a transcreation service that understands the cultural and linguistic nuances of your target market? We work with mother-tongue translators who live and work in the countries you’re trying to break into. The result is a seamless transcreation service in over 200 languages. Contact Linguistica International today.

The Role of a Terminology Database in your Technical Translation

The Role of a Terminology Database in your Technical Translation

As one of the UK’s most successful translation agencies, we are often approached by large multinationals looking for highly technical translation projects delivered in numerous languages. While the scale of the work creates its own problems, it is the ambiguity of the language, particularly when dealing with company-, product- or industry-specific terminology, which often proves to be the biggest challenge.

In this case, when multiple meanings exist for a term or a phrase, or where there’s no exact translation for a particular term, we create a terminology database to ensure the quality and consistency of our work.

What is a terminology database?

Quite simply, a terminology database is a centralised collection of industry-specific or technical terms with their corresponding translation in one or multiple languages. This acts as a central repository of approved terminology.

It is created to serve as a guide to the translation and localisation experts handling the project to help them manage the key terminology they come across. It can include acronyms, titles, names or subject-specific information, as well as terms and phrases that should remain in the source language.

Why are terminology databases used?

Although it takes time to create a terminology database in the first instance, in the long term it speeds up translation projects, reduces costs and improves their quality and consistency.

For this reason, terminology databases are always one of the first services we recommend when undertaking any large-scale translation or localisation project where there’s an abundance of specialist terms.

  • Quality – Creating a terminology database helps to remove much of the ambiguity that exists when translating one language into another. The subjective nature of language means that mistakes can occur, but a terminology database, or ‘termbase’ as it is also known, helps to ensure difficult terms are translated accurately whenever they are used.
  • Consistency – When working with leading brands, it is essential that a level of consistency is delivered across all communications, regardless of the language being used. Once a terminology database has been approved by a brand, it can be used by every linguist throughout the project to deliver a standardised translation.
  • Speed – Every translator who works on one of our projects is not only a mother tongue speaker but they also have specific knowledge and experience of your sector. However, that does mean they’ll be familiar with every technical term they come across. Developing a terminology database before the project begins can eliminate this research time and allow them to complete the translation quickly and efficiently.
  • Cost – A terminology database reduces the turnaround times for translation projects and subsequently reduces the cost. The more source material there is, the greater the cost savings will be.

How can we help?

Do you have a large-scale technical translation project you’d like help with? We work with brands like Santander and Vodafone to deliver the right message in any language. Call 02392 987 765 or email info@linguistica-international.com to discuss your project.

Language and translation stories

5 Language and Translation Stories from around the Web

In this instalment of the Linguistica International blog, we have trawled the web so you don’t have to, compiling some of the most fascinating, curious and downright daft stories about language and translation as we go. So, if you want to learn more about a ground-breaking emoji translator, the differences in bilinguals’ perception of time, or the fact that we’re all going to be talking to dolphins by 2021, please read on.

1. Humans could be talking to dolphins by 2021

Where else could we start than with the ‘flippin’ good news that humans could be conversing freely with dolphins by 2021? Whether we’ll be discussing the state of the Labour Party or the price of a loaf of bread has yet to be disclosed, but Swedish start-up company Gavagai believes that artificial intelligence could help them translate all those whistles and squeaks to create a dolphin dictionary. Perhaps someone should tell them that Flipper has been talking to humans since 1963.

2. Bilinguals may perceive time differently

If you speak more than one language then according to a new study, you may perceive time differently depending on the language you’re using. Researchers found that Spanish-Swedish bilinguals would visualise time as a distance in Swedish, or as a volume in Spanish. Of course, we have long known that the Spanish visualise time differently, as it is the only language where ‘tomorrow’ (mañana) actually means some undetermined time in the future.

3. Emojis are being translated

3. Emojis are being translated

A new app has been created by Samsung Electronics Italia to translate those lovely little emoticons into language. On the surface, that may seem like an entirely fruitless exercise, but it seems there is actually some scientific merit to the firm’s work. Aphasia is a communication disorder often caused by brain injuries and strokes. Sufferers frequently find it difficult to put their thoughts into words, even in the simplest conversations, so using emojis can help.

This can also solve the almost universal problem, particularly amongst those of a certain age, of inappropriate emoji use. How many times can anyone be told that an emoji is angry, not sad?

4. Accurate machine translation is still nowhere near the mark

Tell us something we didn’t know. Any of you who have used machine translation tools will already know this technology is no substitute for a human translator. Even Facebook has admitted it. During a recent F8 conference, a Facebook engineer admitted that consistently accurate machine translations were still a long way off. He cited slang, scaling, informal spellings and ‘low resource languages’ as particular obstacles they were struggling to overcome.

5. The world’s most translated book

The little prince

The Little Prince, a book written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, has become the world’s most translated book (after the Bible). First published in 1943, The Little Prince, a book written both for children and adults, was recently translated into Hassanya, an Arabic dialect from North Africa. That means it is now available in 300 languages.

Need some translation work of your own?

If you have a translation or transcreation project of your own, please get in touch with our team by calling 02392 987 765 or emailing info@linguistica-international.com today. Alternatively, if you’ve spotted a translation story you’d like us to cover, please get in touch on Facebook.

Back-Translation and Reconciliation for High-Value Content

Back Translation and Reconciliation for High-Value Content

If you have particularly sensitive or high-value content to be translated or localised with the greatest possible accuracy, our back-translation and reconciliation service is the answer. But what are ‘back-translation’ and ‘reconciliation’, who uses them and how can they help your business?

What is back translation?

Back-translation is the process of double checking the accuracy of a document that has already been translated by giving it to an independent translator with no knowledge of the original text. They then translate the document back into the original language. This allows you to compare the translation that has been produced with the source text for quality, accuracy and any confusions or ambiguities that may exist.

Such is the nature of language that the back translation will never be completely identical to the original document, but it will give an accurate depiction of the precise meaning of the translation in the target language.

Back translations are often performed as literally as possible to identify any errors in the nuances of the language. This means back translations do not always read naturally. If there are any major semantic differences between the back translation and the original translation, it can be difficult to know where the fault lies. This is where reconciliation can help.

What is reconciliation?

Once the back translation has been performed, a ‘reconciliation report’ is produced that outlines all the potential issues that exist between the source text and the back translation. This includes any potential discrepancies or confusion in meaning. During the reconciliation, these discrepancies are identified and traced back to the source text to find exactly why they have occurred. This can involve conversations with the original translator to find out why the errors have been made.

The next stage in the reconciliation process is for any amendments to be made until the source material and the back translation have exactly the same meaning. A final reconciliation report will then be submitted to the client with the completed translation and an explanation of any discrepancies that were found in the original document.

Why are back-translation and reconciliation services used?

Any high-risk, high-value translation where a single inaccuracy could have serious consequences should go through this process.

For organisations in certain industries, a back translation to verify the accuracy of content is a legal and regulatory requirement. For example, in pharmaceutical and medical device companies, back translations and certificates of accuracy must be submitted with all translated materials. Similarly, for clinical trials, ethics committees and Institutional Review Boards, this level of translation accuracy is often necessary.

However, even where back translation is not a legal or regulatory requirement, if you have sensitive or valuable information that must be accurate and/or the source text is technical or complex, you should always include back translation in the translation process. This will remove the risks associated with publishing content and other information that could include mistranslations or cultural and factual inaccuracies. This includes marketing materials, protocols, surveys, questionnaires, reports, assessments or anything that contains high-risk information.

A word of warning

The back translation and reconciliation of your documents is a faster and smoother process if you use the same translation team for the entire project. This is due to the fact that it can be difficult to reconcile translations if the original translator was not part of the same team. Another sticking point is the fact that many translation companies will not issue a certificate of accuracy for translations they have not performed.

How can we help?

At Linguistica International, our translation team can complete every stage of your translation, from the writing, proofing and editing of the original forward translation, to the back translation and reconciliation, wherever required. To discuss your project in more detail, please call 02392 987 765 or email info@linguistica-international.com.

Why Multilingual Content Marketing is Key to Expanding Overseas

Why Multilingual Content Marketing is Key to Expanding Overseas

Communicating with your customers effectively is the basis of every successful marketing campaign. If you don’t reach your customers in the right way, or with a message they understand, your marketing budget will be wasted. If your business serves an international customer base then communicating with them in a language they understand becomes all the more important. That’s where multilingual content marketing can help.

What is multilingual content marketing?

Content marketing is the process of creating and sharing free information that is valuable to a prospect or customer. The aim of the content is to turn a prospect into a customer, or a one-time customer into a subscriber or repeat buyer. At each stage of the buying cycle, different types of content will help to achieve this goal. For example, a consumer at the research stage of buying a new car might search online for something like, ‘best used cars under £3,000’, whereas a consumer further along their buying journey might search, ‘used Renault Clio in London’.

Your aim as a content marketer is to answer the consumer’s questions as they progress along the buying journey with high quality, well researched and impartial information. Then, when it comes to making a purchase, who are they going to turn to? Hopefully, you.

Multilingual content marketing is all about doing exactly the same but in more than one language. This can be difficult because overseas consumers will ask questions in a different way and may not want the same type of answer. Although it might be challenging, creating multilingual content is well worth the effort, and here’s why…

English is no longer the lingua franca online

In the early days, the English language dominated online, but now all that has changed. Only about half of the most visited websites are English and the amount of content being produced in other languages is growing at a much faster rate.

Asia currently has more internet users than the US and Western Europe put together, while the country with the most social media users in 2016 was South Korea. If you want to tap into these markets, you have to adapt your content to meet the needs of the native consumer, because one thing’s for sure, if you don’t, someone else will.

90 percent of users prefer to read content in their own language
Of course they do. The only surprising thing about that figure is that it’s not higher. There’s a time and a place to improve your second language skills, but when you’re searching for information about how to unblock your sink or fix your carburettor, that’s probably not it.
53 percent of consumers said they would ‘accept’ visiting an English website if there was no other choice, but clearly, any site with native language content will be their preference. In fact, research by Common Sense Advisory found that 56.2 percent of the consumers they surveyed said local language content was even more important than price.

Multilingual content fuels multilingual SEO

Consumers in overseas markets will only be able to buy from your business if they can find you online, and that is down to your multilingual SEO. Content now has a huge part to play in determining where the search engines will rank you for the key terms that are relevant to your business. In markets where competition is low, a decent quantity of high-quality native language content could get you to the top of the rankings in a relatively short period of time.

A blog by Salesforce refers to a study of Fortune 500 companies, which found that business which had localised their content were twice as likely to increase their profit and 1.25 times more like to grow their earnings per share year-on-year.

Time to start creating..?

We’ve established that people prefer to read content and buy from websites written in their own language, and that native language content is a hugely important factor in your search engine rankings. Surely then, now is the time to kick-start your overseas expansion with a multilingual content marketing campaign.

For the help you need, contact Linguistica International today. Our multilingual copywriting and transcreation teams can create content that hits the right note in every language.

 

How can UK Businesses Localise for the Asian Market

How can UK Businesses Localise for the Asian Market?

The Asia Pacific region alone is home to more than half of the world’s population. If there was just one statistic to tempt you into branching out into this huge market, that would probably be it. But, with 49 separate countries each with their own language, culture and economy, every market in Asia is at least as unique as those here in Europe. There’s certainly no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach you can use to take Asia by storm. In fact, the Profit or lose executive, recently launched by Ernst & Young, advises companies entering the Asian market to employ greater local autonomy, granularity, focus and agility than ever before.

However, expansion into new markets is often the next natural stop for successful UK businesses and, given the increase in tourism, the widespread use of technology and successful mobile innovations, Asian countries now feature at the top of many ‘expansion wish-lists’.
So, if you’re going to localise your business for the Asian market, here’s what you need to consider…

1. A big opportunity, an even greater challenge

Entering into developing economies might seem like an opportunity that’s impossible to miss, but selling in countries that are undergoing massive change is too big a challenge for most small businesses. Instead, smaller online companies are more likely to see a return on their investment by targeting developed parts of Asia. That includes countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. China is last on that list because, although the market is huge, the competition is intense and there is stiff regulation in place, particularly when it comes to imports.

2. A by-word for quality

British products and services are increasingly popular in Asian markets and are often, rightly or wrongly, perceived to be of a higher quality than much of what is available domestically. For that reason, you should display the ‘Made in Britain’ slogan prominently and with pride. You should also forget about competing on price with suppliers in the region. Not only do they have a giant pool of cheap labour to tap into but they also don’t have to worry about shipping costs. Asian consumers will generally be willing to pay more for British brands as long as you position them correctly.

3. Get your online presence up to scratch

It’s no generalisation to say that young Asians in developed countries are highly adept at researching and buying products online. For that reason, it’s essential you take the time to localise your website and online content to make it available in the language spoken by your target market. You should also make sure your website is responsive – is able to adapt to the screen it is being viewed on, regardless of what device it is – as a greater proportion of internet traffic in these regions comes from smartphones than laptops and PCs.

4. Nuance is everything

Localising your website and other online assets means a lot more than simply translating the text. Forgetting to account for the cultural context in the visual design of your assets is a big mistake. The focus needs to be on the digital experience of the user. Nuance is everything, so make sure you plan a full-scale sensitivity review at every stage of the design process. Even certain colours, the navigational structure and imagery can turn buyers off.

5. Market across the most popular channels

Once you’ve launched the new version of your website your work has only just begun. You’ll now need to adapt your British marketing strategies to target the local market. What works in the UK may not work overseas. Your first job is to determine who the audience is, what methods of distribution are most likely to reach them and how they can be leveraged to get the message across.

If you hope to expand into Asia, above all, you need to do everything you can to learn about and cater to your new customers. The companies that succeed are those that do more than just replicate their strategies in the domestic market.

To learn more about how we can help tailor your offering for the Asian market, please call our localisation and transcreation team on 02393 987 765 or email info@linguistica-international.com today.

Gender in Language

The Curious Case of Gender in Language

As a team of professional translators that spend our lives immersed in languages, all too often we simply accept the rules of the languages we use without taking the time to question why. On a recent trip to Bordeaux – yes, it was wonderful, thank you – I was reminded of a question that often plagues early language learners, but is simply accepted later on…

Why, oh why would you complicate a language by giving every noun a gender?

For an English speaker, grammatical gender is one of the most bamboozling aspects of learning a new language, partly because it is often done in such arbitrary ways. For example, why in French is a window (une fenêtre) female, while a reading book (un livre) is male? And why would anyone introduce an added difficulty into a language that for all intents and purposes, doesn’t need to be there?

In this instalment of the Linguistica International blog, we’re going to see if we can unravel a few of the mysteries surrounding gender in language.

Grammatical gender for the categorisation of nouns

Every language assigns gender for animals, people or characters, but there are also many languages that use gender as a way of categorising nouns. This gender does not necessarily have to match up with the natural gender of the person or object being described.

Languages have many different ways of assigning gender. Some will be based on the physical characteristics of an object, while others are assigned according to cultural or even mythological views. Some languages base a noun’s gender on the ending of a word, as is the case in Spanish – but the real question, which actually proves very difficult to answer, is why?

Why assign a gender?

Grammatical gender is part of a broader phenomenon of noun classes which exist in many of the world’s languages. In fact, as an interesting aside, even the English language used to classify its nouns by gender, although English speakers stopped this practice during the Middle English period.

Noun classes have the role of dividing nouns into groups which often have different rules that apply to related pronouns, verbs, adjectives and even prepositions. In some languages, nouns are split between animate and inanimate objects, while others classify their nouns by size. Now that actually sounds like it makes pretty good sense, but to plunge you back into confusion, some classes of nouns can also be completely arbitrary, with nothing to connect them at all.

So why do arbitrary noun classes exist?

The answer is that even the very best linguistic brains don’t actually know. A lot of these noun class and gender classifications date back to a time before historical records began. As time has gone by, languages have changed, split off into multiple languages and evolved. So, what probably at one time began as a motivated distinction, for example, splitting nouns into animate and inanimate objects, went through changes that completely removed the original purpose of the distinction.

The result is lots of complicated vocabulary which is absolutely no benefit to those learning to speak and write the language!

Want to know more?

Then get in touch with the Linguistica International team. We will happily regale you with more linguistic tales while discussing your latest translation, transcreation or copywriting project.