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A pivot language, sometimes also called a bridge language, is an artificial or natural language used as an intermediary language for translation between many different languages – to translate between any pair of languages A and B, one translates A to the pivot language P, then from P to B. Using a pivot language avoids the combinatorial explosion of having translators across every combination of the supported languages, as the number of combinations of language is linear (), rather than quadratic – one need only know the language A and the pivot language P (and someone else the language B and the pivot P), rather than needing a different translator for every possible combination of A and B.
The disadvantage of a pivot language is that each step of retranslation introduces possible mistakes and ambiguities – using a pivot language involves two steps, rather than one. For example, when Hernán Cortés communicated with Mesoamerican Indians, he would speak Spanish to Gerónimo de Aguilar, who would speak Mayan to Malintzin, who would speak Nahuatl to the locals.
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