Is there such a thing as Universal Spanish in translation?

Although we know that producing translations that are localized as specifically as possible depending on the particular locale of your intended audience(s) can be fruitful, many people find it may not be realistic to have their project localized for all of the different varieties of Spanish spoken in different locales. In 2010, Spanish was ranked number two in terms of number of native speakers worldwide, falling second only to Mandarin. There are many different countries with Spanish speakers, and oftentimes, a company may want to release its product to an audience that spans across many of these different locales. While each area has a different dialect and therefore could require specific changes in the finalized, localized product, it is not always within someone’s budget to go through this process each time for every locale, and therefore, may pose the question, “Is there a universal Spanish I can use? Something everyone will understand?” The answer to this is both “yes” and “no” and may also depend on the text.

Even though there may not be an official “Universal Spanish” language dialect, there are certainly terms and phrases that are considered a more neutral version of the language, without the influence of local jargon or slang. The Real Academia Española, for example, strives to provide terms that are recognized by speakers of various dialects and does well to provide the standard definitions of words, as well as their various possible colloquial meanings, which may vary by country or region. For this reason, it is a good resource and starting point for a linguist who may wish to localize a translated text into a Spanish that is somewhat universal.

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However, it is still noteworthy to mention that the linguists performing both translation and proofreading or editing of your content are influenced by their own respective countries and locales, which can inadvertently impact a word choice for even the most skilled linguist. The team will work together to provide the most neutral Spanish possible, and a skilled team will provide a great rendition of the text with terms that are mostly universal. There is always a possibility that someone will read a translated word or phrase and still interpret in it a context that may not have been originally intended.

In short, it is definitely possible to translate a text and localize it for a more universal Spanish overall. However, in doing so, there is no guarantee that the language team will not choose a term or phrase that is more commonly used in one area over another, despite its general neutrality. If you know the target audience is specific to a few locales, it is best to let the project manager know so that he or she can ensure the finalized product is best suited for your needs. It may be the case that your text is better suited to a specific area, rather than trying to remain universal.