When we recently reviewed some websites localized for Indian audiences, we noticed a complex and persistent trend common to translation in India. Most of the sites we visited were in Hindi and contained technical information. But, they were heavily Sanskritized, making the content incomprehensible to the average Indian reader. The text was so full of strange tongue-twisters like adyathith and kshatigrasth that the meaning was completely lost for the majority of the consumers.
Much like Latin or Ancient Greek for Westerners, Sanskrit is the language of the vidwan (scholar) to Indians. Authors often lapse into Sanskritized Hindi, Kannada, Bengali, and so on – especially when their purpose is not to express, but rather, to impress. Why did these sites use Sanskritized Hindi when it isn’t a part of the spoken or written language used by most Indians? Why don’t companies use equivalent words in colloquial Hindi that would communicate their messages more clearly instead?
In India, the obsession with big, pompous words was strengthened by the entry of Victorian English via East India Company clerks in the 1700s. Soon, writing in a roundabout manner, using archaic words and passive voice became second nature to educated Indians. The problem has been further compounded by the many Indian universities that refuse to let go of syllabi created half a century ago.
Much is being done on the technical side of the localization scene in India. More Indian language sites are sprouting up each day, and more platforms support Indic fonts than ever before. But little attention seems to be paid to the content itself.
We spotted the Sanskritization trend primarily on those sites that offered technical help. For technical vocabulary, equivalent words do not always exist. However, this fact does not justify the use of words that are incomprehensible to the average person. A better option? Instead of using a Sanskritized term, display the more familiar and commonly used English word written in the Indian language script, followed by the same word in Roman script in parentheses.
To be effective, content destined for Indian audiences should follow the rules of “plain language” writing – short sentences, small words, active voice, and so on. Otherwise, the true spirit of the text will remain untranslated. Some words of advice for language service providers and buyers of translation services in India: make sure your style guides include clear instructions on how to handle Sanskritization. In most cases, you’ll want your translators to avoid it.