Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Neutral Spanish and Web Content

Yesterday's post about Content Strategy and Neutral Spanish sparked some questions and conversation, so I'll go into a little more depth here.

What is Neutral Spanish?
The idea of "neutral" or "standard" Spanish has been around for a while. In previous incarnations it was even considered a new lect, or language version, since it had some grammatical tense structure that was different than other versions of Spanish. Well, the Internet has changed that a bit.

Neutral Spanish and Web Content
When used in the context of Web content the concept of neutral Spanish is really more of a translation process than it is a language variety. When translating content, a translator trying to create a neutral Spanish version will not only remove localized idioms and grammatical structures, but also try and "normalize" word usage.

A commonly used example is how do you translate the term"swimming pool" neutrally? When Argentines dive into a swimming pool, they dive into a “pileta”. However, in Uruguay, where swimming pool is “piscina”, they would be jumping head-first into the “kitchen sink.” Similarly, “swimming pool” in Mexico is “alberca”, which means “reservoir” in Spain. The translator's job then involves choosing the most common (or sometimes, least offensive) word and then using it consistently. In this case they might choose “piscina” since it is much more widely used. (

It becomes very important that these decisions are documented for words and phrases that are important on your Web site. Where possible, you need to set a standard and write it down in a translation glossary that can be used by anyone performing Web content translations.

When is Neutral Spanish Needed?
I've found two instances where using a neutral version of Spanish is helpful - when writing for the U.S. Spanish market, and when writing for all Spanish readers.

The structure of your site will affect this choice. For the site I work on, the products and services offered vary greatly by country, so we have different content for each country and languages used for that country. This makes it easy for us to use Castillian Spanish in Spain and Mexican Spanish in Mexico. If you just translate your site by language and don't have a different version for each country, then neutral Spanish could be an option depending on your market.

Also, neutral Spanish is ideal for content that is technical or scientific in nature.

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