It’s amazing to think that in the modern world, there are still between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken – in fact, nobody even knows exactly how many! Although the 20 most common are spoken by an incredible 50% of the world’s population – more than 50 million speakers each – the remainder are spoken by fewer than 10,000. In fact, half of spoken languages today face extinction.
With so few users, and most of those fluent in more common tongues, it’s difficult to think of business reasons we might need to translate into or out of these languages. Even though reaching out to customers in their own language can pay huge dividends in engaging communities, opportunities have been few and far between in recent history.
By the end of the 20th Century, the work of globalization had nearly reached its full inevitable conclusion – the undoubted advantages of easy movement and mass communication bringing with them sad declines in minority cultures and languages. The forces driving languages to become rare and endangered have been not only the violent colonization of former centuries, but the easy availability of foreign media and the need to communicate across huge distances.
In the past, every village had its own words and accent, and people rarely moved more than a few miles in the course of their life. They told local tales and sang local songs. Now, international immigration is commonplace, our call centres are based offshore in India and the Philippines, Inuit listen to Ed Sheeran, and even tribes in the remote Amazon rainforest are probably talking about the last season of Game of Thrones.
Through increasing efforts by international organisations like UNESCO and the Endangered Languages Project, and government efforts to increase native language schooling, many which had been placed at risk are now growing again, and in future more services will need to be provided in a greater variety of languages.
With so little regular demand for translation into these languages, and shrinking pools of native speakers, sourcing writers has been increasingly difficult. But we’re now entering an era where businesses will not only have greater focus on the valuable cachet that comes with speaking to customers and employees in their own idiom, but technology is making it ever easier to do so, duplicating and providing parallel content in thousands of languages and regions simultaneously.
We’re not only talking about the revolutions in AI which make for ever more accurate machine translation into a vast array of languages: services like transcreation – the simultaneous writing of content in different geographies, tailored to the local people – are now easier to offer than ever with dynamic vendor and content management systems.
Even if you’ve never heard of Paakantyi, Chamicuro or Njerep, we hope there’s a good chance you could be calling for their translators a few years down the line!