Lands of Many Languages

April 1, 2024
Adam Sedia

Knowing a speaker’s country will not always reveal what language it is they speak.


India offers a good example. Hindi, its most spoken language and one of its two official languages (along with English), is but one of several languages in the country, some of which have millions of speakers. Related to Hindi are Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati, Urdi, Marathi, and others – all of which belong to the Indo-European language family and are therefore distantly related to English. But chiefly in the south the unrelated Dravidian family of languages is spoken, which includes Telugu, Kannada, and Tamil. Another minority language, Munda, is distantly related to Vietnamese. For a person speaking any Indian language, it is necessary first to know what language they speak. Multiple languages across three different language families are spoken across the subcontinent.


China is another example. Mandarin Chinese is often assumed to be the language of China, but “mandarin” was once a class designation, indicating that the educated classes spoke it as the “correct” Chinese. In the south and east of China other Chinese languages are spoken, including Cantonese, Min, Wu, Gan, Xiang, and Hakka – all of which are related to Mandarin and all of which are written in the same system of Chinese characters as Mandarin. Knowing a person speaks “Chinese” is not knowing which Chinese language they speak.


But even languages and countries more familiar to Americans are multilingual – Spain, for example. What we call “Spanish” in English in Spain is called castellano or “Castilian,” from its origins in the medieval kingdom of Castile, which still exists as one of Spain’s autonomous regions. It is not called “Spanish” because “Spanish” denotes the nationality, which includes speakers of other languages. In the northwest there is gallego or Galician, which resembles Portuguese. There is Asturian in the north and Aragonese in the East, both close to Castilian. And along the Mediterranean coast there is Catalan, which bears some resemblance to French and Italian. And also in the north is Basque, or euskera as its speakers call it, which is not related to any other living language spoken on earth. 


Nationality should never be confused with language. Nations are political boundaries drawn across peoples and cultures for diplomatic reasons, and they include any number of different languages, some of which are completely unrelated to each other. Effective language services, therefore, involves a keen knowledge of human geography and culture, not only the languages themselves.


Unida Translation is a leader in the translation industry. We help all businesses open up the avenues of communication by ensuring that your organization’s messages are understood in the exact same manner no matter who the audience is. Our company provides outstanding translation services that cover over 125 languages for documents, remotely and in person. What makes Unida Translation different and the best choice for all of your translator-related needs is that our translators and interpreters are certified by a recognized translator and interpreter association. Our organization is also licensed, insured and the only translation company truly located in Northwest Indiana.

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