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Multilingualism, an emerging value, by Marta Rovira i Martínez


It is clear that a revolution is taking place in translation systems. These systems enable offering services simultaneously in various languages, especially in sectors that have an Internet interface, and there are also companies that offer services with cutting edge technical support. Internet has greatly influenced the change and accelerated the processes of translation, up to the point that there are a large number of lucrative and non-lucrative initiatives that take advantage of the capacity of Internet to involve many people in the same project and generate fast translations of a product. Softcatalà is a perfect example of the translation of computer programs into a language such as Catalan that is not always readily available on the market. But we could also speak of how the Internet enables certain people to coordinate with each other to translate their favourite television series in 24 hours. Or how people who have emigrated from their country of origin continue to form part of the same communication group thanks to new digital formats for television, radio and the press. People living in the same area have access to sources of information from all over the world, in a large variety of languages. Undoubtedly, Internet has greatly influenced this technological change in the area of multilingualism. According to Ola Persson, founder of WordFinder Software, in the future, dictionaries will also be applications for Pocket or Palm PCs, and function through subscriptions to the Internet.

But multilingualism is not exclusively for computer programs and digital applications, but also extends into other markets. The internationalisation of companies brings about new linguistic needs, both in communication with customers as well as in the internal structure, which becomes more plurilingual through the incorporation of staff, managers, or simply the fusion of companies from different countries. There are few sectors which, in one way or another, can eschew the use of various languages.

In this sense it is important to stress that new technologies have changed both the method and the concept of employment. That is, translation companies have not changed only because they have incorporated new working methods (automatic translation, thesaurus, Internet services, etc.), but because the relationship between languages has changed. In the translation sector, some companies are no longer limited to offering translation services from one language to another, but they offer linguistic management services which include an integral vision of the various needs of the company in this area.

4. Managing multilingualism from the company

We are faced with a new tendency where linguistic planning and management are also entering companies and are no longer exclusive to government bodies. This transition of translation to linguistic management is favoured by various factors, some of which we have already mentioned: especially a new context of accelerated internationalisation, and the introduction of ICT into translation services. But there are also changes in the companies themselves that favour greater sensitivity to multilingualism. In particular, over the last few years multinational companies have adopted criteria of social responsibility which also include attention to local languages and cultural diversity. In spite of it being very difficult to move from good intentions to real actions, the fact is that there is a change of approach that supports a new way of considering linguistic uses in companies. The factors that could promote converting this approach into specific linguistic practices are there, but we must wait to see how the participants promote this change (administrative bodies, more dynamic companies, consumers).

For the time being, we must say that linguistic management is not yet fully professionalised in the business world, in the same way that the assumption of multilingualism is sooner considered in general as an unexpected need and not a strategy to interact with the customer. Companies usually act by inertia. And this inertia leads them to strictly comply with legislation (sometimes not even that), and with the "perceived” distribution needs.

This means that if a product is designed for various “national” markets at the same time, it is usually labelled in multiple languages, which sometimes can even be as many as twenty. At the same time, the centralisation of certain services, such as customer services, reduces the number of languages available. Internally, companies also tend to reduce linguistic diversity as much as they can as a strategy to make internal process and meetings more agile. The problem is when this need to reduce the complexity of the business organisation becomes the dominant view of what must be dome with languages. .

In the future, companies will have to begin to distinguish very clearly between internal linguistic uses (which will have to adapt more and more to employees) and external linguistic uses (where it is necessary to adapt to the customer). That is, distinguish between instrumental uses and expressive uses of languages, distinguish functional uses inside the company from the uses that are vehicularised using formulas of seduction and representation that seek to reflect the identity of the customer/consumer. Whereas for instrumental uses the policy of the company could consist of reducing linguistic diversity, for expressive uses it is necessary to find an opportunity in each of the multiple languages used to communicate with the customer/consumer.

5. References

  • Activitat econòmica i normalització lingüística. Debats de l’Aula Provença, núm. 28. Barcelona: Fundació Jaume Bofill, 1997.
  • Eurobaròmetre. Europeans and Languages. Comissió Europea, setembre 2005 (http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_237.en.pdf).
  • European Union of Associations of Translation Companies. European survey of translation purchasers. Novembre 2005 (http://www.euatc.org/)
  • Eurostat. Non-national populations in the EU Member States. Comissió Europea, 2006. (http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-NK-06-008/EN/KS-NK-06-008-EN.PDF).
  • Figel, Jan. “Communication de la Comissionau Conseil, au Parlement Européen, au Comité Économique et Social Européen et au Comité des Régions: “Un nouveau cadre stratégique pour le multilinguisme”. (http://www.europa.eu/languages/servlets/Doc?id=914). Comissió Europea, 22/11/2005.
  • Lozano, J.M. La empresa ciudadana. ESADE, 2000. (format electrònic www.esade.es).
  • Marí, Isidor: Plurilingüisme europeu i llengua catalana. València, Universitat de València, 1996.
  • Pueyo, Miquel. Tres escoles per als catalans. Pagès editors, 1995.
  • Rovira, Marta; Saurí, Enric; Gasull, Bernat. La llengua a les empreses. Context, pràctiques i discursos. Proa, 2006.

Marta Rovira i Martínez


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