Neutral Spanish: A Useful Tool or a Six-Legged Dog?

Neutral Spanish, also referred to as Standard Spanish or Global Spanish, is a variation of the Spanish language used to allow the largest number of Spanish speakers to understand the message without the use of local terminology and certain verb tenses.

Experts often recommend localizing text to be as specific as possible for your locale. However, language service providers are asked to translate texts into Neutral Spanish regularly. The fact is most customers have neither the budget nor the bandwidth to localize their content for each Spanish variety. Instead, they choose to go for Neutral Spanish.

Translating Everyday Terms into Neutral Spanish

One of the main strategies used to translate into Neutral Spanish is a careful selection of the terminology. Translators carefully choose those words that will cater for the largest number of people. Specialized language, as we will see next, tends to be indisputable, but everyday terms such as “boy” can be translated a myriad of ways. It can be a “pibe” in Argentina, a “chango” in Bolivia, a “pelao” in Colombia, a “guagua” in Ecuador, a “güiro” in Guatemala. The list goes on and on.

A quick Google search is a great way to find out how often a certain term has been used in a particular context. Another way involves resorting to the Dictionary of the Varieties of Spanish or even checking Wikipedia’s comparison of vocabulary across Spanish-speaking countries.

The Pervasiveness of Technical Language

The theoretical aim of technical terminology is to make things clearer and more precise. In this case, terms tend to be more specifically defined and be valid across a larger community, regardless of specific locations and groups. The meaning of technical terms is defined within the field or area of activity where the term is used, and it is kept consistent to bring that field together.

Within the medical field, “neonatología” (neonatology), for example, is used by Spanish-speaking medical professionals around the world. Even the way in which medicine-specific words are formed is relatively regular, often using Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes. Technical texts are often easier to translate into Neutral Spanish because there is less variation. This is not always the case, of course. In a different field, such as that of IT, the mouse of a computer is translated as “ratón” in places such as Spain, whereas countries such as Argentina and Cuba resort to a loanword and keep “mouse” instead.

Beyond Terms: Neutral Spanish and Grammar

Translating into Neutral Spanish goes beyond terminology, as Spanish variants differ in terms of grammatical structures as well. A very clear example of this would be “voseo”, which involves the use of “vos” instead of “tú” as the second person singular pronoun. “Vos” is used in countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Honduras and Costa Rica, but it’s avoided in Neutral Spanish because of its highly culture-specific character. People in countries such as Argentina, where the use of “vos” is widespread, will easily understand sentences with “tú”, which is always the Neutral Spanish choice.

Why Choosing a Neutral Spanish?

Neutral Spanish is a concept rather than a practical language variety, but it can be very useful when trying to appeal to a broader Spanish-speaking audience. It can serve as a good first step to engage an entirely new and different audience or if you are localizing technical content like manuals, contracts and specifications, where there are fewer cultural considerations.

It is important to bear in mind, though, that Neutral Spanish could not be your best choice for marketing or highly-branded content. In such cases where the copy needs to connect with the customer on an emotional level, Neutral Spanish could come across as impersonal.

But don’t panic! You don’t have to make these decisions on your own. We can always help you determine what is the best option for you. The best way to get started it is to define the markets you will be targeting.

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