'International Spanish', myth or reality?

24th Mar 2015

The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness and understanding on what is “International Spanish”.  

It is estimated that around 495 million people worldwide speak Spanish as their native language in 21 countries, which places it among the top four languages in the world in terms of numbers of speakers.

There is a kind of neutral, standard Spanish which is used and understood by all educated Spanish speakers and ensures that people throughout the Spanish-speaking world can communicate with each other as easily as people from Britain and the United States can. Differences between the various linguistic regions in the Spanish-speaking world occur in three main areas: pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.

For instance, there are significant differences in vocabulary among regional varieties of Spanish, particularly in the domains of food products, everyday objects, and clothes. Spanish is rich in regional terms to refer to an urban bus: you may hear colectivo in Argentina and Venezuela, ómnibus in Perú and Uruguay, micro in Chile, camión in Mexico and parts of Central America, and guagua in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but every Spanish speaker knows what an autobús is.

At Pearl Linguistics we take into account these Spanish language variants, so we can verify with our client which variant they are referring to. These can be as follows:

-   Castillian or European Spanish which is the Spanish spoken in Spain, as opposed to Latin American Spanish.

-   Latin American Spanish refers to Spanish spoken in the Americas, as opposed to European Spanish.

-   International or Neutral Spanish attempts to select terms that the majority of Spanish speakers worldwide will understand, by avoiding the use of local terminology and offensive terms.

When you entrust your assignment to Pearl Linguistics, we make sure what is the target audience or market you require. This allows us to engage native translators of the corresponding subject matter (i.e. technical, financial vs. marketing) and the appropriate Spanish variant (i.e. European Spanish or one specific Latin American variant such as Mexican, Argentinian).

However, if you give us specific translation instructions for “International/Neutral Spanish”, our linguists will translate your text into the most neutral expressions whenever possible, in order to avoid localisms and potentially offensive terms.

Presiding over the Spanish language is the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (Royal Academy of the Spanish language), which as well as giving guidance on grammar and preferred usage throughout the Spanish-speaking world supervises the editing of the authoritative Diccionario de la lengua española (Spanish language dictionary). At present, there is still no official academic approach and the debate is still on-going.

“International Spanish”, myth or reality?

Below are a few points to be aware of:

- A single neutral or international Spanish for all 20 Latin American countries and Spain does not exist.

- Not one single Latin American Spanish official version is equally valid for all countries in Latin America.

- No approved dictionary/style guidelines exist for “Neutral or International Spanish” by Royal Academy of Spanish language.

- Critical to communicate accurately without being offensive (i.e. use of verb “coger”, constantly used for to take/hold vs. sexual connotations).

- Variations are less in written vs. spoken Spanish.

- Technical documents usually have less differences due to more neutral style.

- Marketing related documents tend to include more terminology, stylistic differences and cultural connotations.

- International Spanish - one-size-fits-all approach does not necessarily work.

For more information on our Spanish translation services, please call us on 020 7253 7700 or email sales@pearllinguistics.com

Marta Ramiro, Sales Executive, Private Sector


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