Neutral Spanish

One of the most important questions a project manager can ask when preparing to organise a translation is about the intended audience.  Is the Chinese translation for mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan?  Is the Portuguese translation for Portugal or Brazil?  Is this Spanish translation aimed at Spaniards or Spanish speakers in South and Central American countries?

These variations on one language are more in-depth and important than some people may realise, and as such, it is important that any translation is specifically carried out with the audience country in mind.  This often means translating a text into one language twice, one for one country, and one for another.  However, if a client only wishes to invest in translating text once, yet wants to appeal to both South American and European markets, for example, what can be done?  Should they choose between the two, use the same translation for both markets, or is there another way?  This is where “Neutral Spanish” comes into play.

The idea behind this concept is that vocabulary and terminology be defined early in the process, so that only terms that will be understood in both target audiences are used in the translation, thus ensuring that the final translation is suitable for use in both Spain and South American countries that use Spanish, such as Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina.  The large number of Spanish speakers who reside in Central America may be included in the client’s target market as well, so their variation of the language must also be taken into consideration.

An example given by a recent article on this subject is that of the word “computer”.  This word differs between Spanish-speaking countries: the word “ordenador” is used in Spain, and “computadora” in many South American countries.  Therefore, the author of the article suggests using the term “equipo informático”, which would be understood in all potential target countries.

So, the question is, is this a good idea?  Is this an effective way of reducing costs of translation?  Is it a risky initiative, given that some words have very different meanings amongst countries that speak the same language?  Is it possible to make sure that every word is investigated and either used or not used, depending on the meaning and use?  Surely the unique aspects of a language that is used in various countries be celebrated, rather than removed?  Is diversity between languages, both different languages and variations of languages, not something that should be celebrated?  Or is that just the biased linguist in me getting defensive?!