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Language and Cultural Diversity

December 7, 2018

Hiroyuki Ura
Sound Engineer

Can't English be spoken in Italy?

Recently I watched a tv show where a Japanese entertainer visited Italy and travelled around on an electric scooter. When the battery ran low, the entertainer asked people in shops etc. if they could assist him in charging his bike. When entering a shop, with the intention of charging, he initially asked “can you speak English?”, the reply was a fairly direct “no.” These responses of “I'm not very good at English!” reminded me of my trip to Italy.

Indeed, in Italy, I couldn't communicate in English as much as I'd expected. There was also very little English signage, for example, in the supermarket orange juice aisle there were many images of the citrus fruit but the word “orange” wasn't written anywhere, instead the word “arancia” was written in large font. Furthermore, cheese was labelled as “formaggio” and tomatoes were “pomodoro.” While these items were familiar to me, the use of different words made them feel distant.

Language that Reflects Culture and Values

When I think about it, Italian, similarly to Japanese, is (almost) only spoken in the country of its origin. While there may be some who believe that if “language is shared with the world, communication is easy”, however, when examining languages, words are not only “tools for communication” rather they are closely tied to culture. In other words, language diversity is based on cultural diversity. Through recognizing different values, identity and culture, don't we develop new perspectives and experience an enlightening richness?

In Italy, it seems that much importance is attached to regional food, diversity of recipes, and connections with tradition. To be “different” is considered enhancing to the value of Italian cuisine. For that reason, in Italy, the words and expressions both for and about “food” are very diverse.

While there are chain restaurants that offer a consistency of items at the same price anytime, anywhere, traditional Italian cuisine has truly opposite values - these existing in the same world highlights rich diversity.

The impact of climate and environment on language is great, for example, for people living in colder climates, it's said there are 20 words expressing types of snow! For those living in coastal areas, there are many words to express fish and other marine creatures, phenomena etc. and for people living in mountainous regions, there are many words related to plants and soil etc. People in these areas enjoy nature and local cuisine and have the indigenous wisdom to look after themselves and sustain their livelihoods.

If the world adopts a single language, it means that the cultures and values that are as diverse as the number of languages will disappear and we'll have a uniform world.

Our Multilingual Recording Studio

When performing multilingual recording in our studio, we often hear comments from narrators such as “this isn't a native way of speaking!” and “this way (of saying it) is more natural”. So, while the grammar isn't wrong, the script may contain words that native speakers don't usually use. There are even times when archaic words are used in translated documents.

Sometimes even same word pronunciations among fellow peoples differ because of the local accents where they were raised, whereas in some areas geographically distant the pronunciations can be unexpectedly similar – curious isn't it!

In such an example, for written sentences there's little need for concern. However, it's necessary to take this into consideration when producing recorded content such as the creation of tourist information, when preparing public announcements, and producing new language learning teaching materials etc.

With the demand for multilingual recordings on the rise at our studio, we have discussions around what's most appropriate not only before recording but also with native speakers during the recording session.

For more on our recording services, please see below.