What Translating Creole Languages is Like

The translation of creole languages can be quite a headache for translators at times since—as in the case of languages with a large number of speakers—the number of dialects is considerable and sometimes barely understandable for speakers of the same language.

For written language, efforts are always made to use the standard variant of the language precisely to avoid this type of misunderstanding and communication isolation. It goes without saying that the written word is made to last and stands the test of time—and space—in such a way that writers feel inclined to use a standard variant that other speakers can understand beyond their own time and borders.

What’s more, it’s assumed that people who know how to write are knowledgeable enough to know the standard variant of their language aside from their own dialect. Even so, at times, for stylistic reasons or any other reasons, dialectalisms can be found in written texts that can leave the designated translator in a quandary. One of the main difficulties is that dialectal characteristics are often poorly documented—if at all—and that the dynamism of spoken language goes beyond the limits of exhaustive documentation.

This is why there’s usually no other alternative than to go directly to a living source of the dialect in question. Normally, in situ fieldwork is not financially viable, although it would undoubtedly be extremely attractive. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it’s possible to turn to online forums, contact speakers of the dialect, compare the different results remotely, etc. However, this solution can only work if the dialectalisms are sporadically found in the text. If the text is completely written in a creole variant of the standard language, the best thing to do is to directly contact a specialized translator in the dialectal variant, which can be very difficult, as translators do not usually advertise themselves according to their dialectal specialty. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack!

This is why the most practical thing to do is to go to a translation agency which is continually in touch with different translators with diverse backgrounds. Naturally, in the case of interpretation where immediacy is essential, the only option—in case our interlocutor does not know how to use the standard variant of the language they speak—is to engage the services of an interpreter specializing in the dialect.

Although this may seem far-fetched, it most certainly is not. Let’s not forget that most European languages—Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch—were brought to colonized countries all over the world, and this has led to the emergence of numerous creole dialects derived from them—lingua francas and pidgin languages which, in many cases, are deeply ingrained in the native countries of their speakers, whether in Africa, the Caribbean or the Far East.