When Using ‘Official’ Languages Just Doesn’t Cut It

When Using ‘Official’ Languages Just Doesn’t Cut It

In the global business arena, companies often operate in regions with multiple official languages, such as India, Switzerland, Canada, China, and Luxembourg. Understanding and engaging with your audience requires communication in a language that resonates with them, both for comprehension and cultural connection.

The Gujarati Precedent

The Indian government’s struggle with linguistic diversity was highlighted in a 2012 legal opinion by the Gujarat High Court, which declared Hindi, despite being a national language, as effectively “foreign” to Gujarati speakers.

When the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) issued land acquisition notices for a project in Gujarat’s Junagrah district in English and Hindi, the official languages of India, outrage was sparked amongst local Gujarati farmers, who could not read the notices. This led to a legal challenge based on the breach of a law mandating notices in the region’s “main language”.

The Gujarat High Court affirmed, “The language of the region where the petitioners are residing … the language used by them is Gujarati and the Hindi language used in the notification is foreign to them. The normal spoken language in the region is Gujarati and not Hindi. Similarly, the education imparted at the primary school-level is also Gujarati.” Consequently, the notices were deemed “null and void,” although the highway project itself was not cancelled.


Implications for Legal and Business Translation

This ruling extends beyond the case’s specifics, serving as a crucial guide for businesses in India or, indeed, any multilingual country. Whilst the Indian Constitution recognises 22 languages, with Hindi and English as the two official languages, it permits states to choose their official languages for governance.

The takeaway is clear: when any entity is attempting to engage an audience, be it to serve papers, provide information, or increase business reach, it is paramount that it does so not only in line with local legislation, but also does so in a way that will be understood and which will resonate with the local target audience.

Translating messages into an official language is not always enough. It is essential to identify and use the predominant language or dialect of your target region.


If you have a message you require translating, be it for business, informational, or legal purposes, get in touch with IMD Translation today at info@imdtranslation.co.uk or 03309121530 to discuss your language needs.