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What Is Translingualism?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

Translingualism is a broad term that essentially refers to phenomena relevant to more than one language. The term can refer to something that shares semantical meaning in multiple languages, or which works within the various frameworks of different languages. The associated term translingual, as an adjective, may be more commonly used.

One primary example of translingualism involves persons who have learned to speak more than one language. The communications of these people can be identified as translingual in nature. This applies to a broad range of roles related to communication, from broadcasters to novel writers and others who may use multiple languages for managing a workplace, or for any other type of communication.

A street sign in English and Chinese.
A street sign in English and Chinese.

All of the professionals who know more than one language can be said to exhibit translingual behavior. In some cases, experts look at this translingual behavior to study how the mind or identity can change when using a different language. This is often the case when individuals use a language that is not their native language. There’s been a lot of exploration into how using other languages allows writers and others to express themselves differently, and may even lead to the cultivation of a different persona for a multilingual or translingual individual.

Some common applications of translingualism have to do with technology. Many computer programming languages can be said to be translingual because they work equally well in a wide variety of languages. This is a deliberate part of the design of programming languages, since they appeal to the needs of machines, and not to the needs of a particular language community.

Other technologies that use translingualism in different ways include natural language processing, where technologies try to imitate human understanding and interpretation of language. While language processing typically needs to be built customized for a specific language, some elements of these designs, such as logical language parsing goals, may be said to be translingual if they apply to multiple languages in the same ways.

In many industries, translingualism can be a valuable idea in designing products, services or systems. The evaluation of this concept touches on the fundamental idea that people in various parts of the world speak radically different languages, and that altering this dynamic, which prevented closer communications in past centuries, can revolutionize business, government, and society. This is why many different types of projects in business and public research have centered on ways to break language barriers, and contribute to translingual functionality for a specific application.

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    • A street sign in English and Chinese.
      By: Guillaume Baviere
      A street sign in English and Chinese.