The Issue of Accents and Dialects in Translating

Translation is a challenging discipline, and a linguist's skills are truly put to the test when having to deal with different accents and dialects. Free software for automatic translation will never be able to handle shifts from the norm in any language, which is why a skilled linguist or a dedicated translation agency is the only real solution. Everything from classic literary works to popular movies uses accents to make certain characters more unique, and a translator must be able to reflect this, or else the reader's perception of a character will not be true to the original vision.

Dialect Considerations

Think about the literary classic 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' by Mark Twain. It dates back to 1884 and is one of the first pieces of literature to be written entirely in the native dialect of the narrative voice. There are also different dialects for different characters that Twain went to great lengths to depict accurately. The standard American English of his time is absent, with various regional dialects used instead, and some of the nuances can easily get lost in translation when reproducing the work for a different language.

In many cases, translators will opt for standardised language in cases like this. This will mean all characters speak in the standard version of a language, which results in much of the work's texture being lost. One alternative is to use different regional dialects of the country of the language the book is being translated into, though this may seem odd for a story set in the American deep south. A further option is to use non-standard spelling and grammar that reflects the dialect of the characters' original speech. In any case, there is a significant challenge for the translator to maintain the soul of the original text.


Handling accents

Accents can cause just as many issues as dialects for the translator. In the UK alone, an English language novel may cover Cockney, Scouse, Geordie and Mancunian accents, and it can be difficult for a reader to understand one they are not familiar with. The novel Trainspotting features a narrative voice with a thick east Scottish accent, and many have claimed it is impossible to translate.

Handling accents can be a minefield for the translator, who may choose to misspell words in order to reflect the spirit of the original accent. Accents and dialects can be integral to the portrayal of a character's social standing, and this can be lost when a translation is written in a standardised linguistic form. It takes an experienced translator to get this right, and automatic software doesn't stand a chance!