//Translations FAQ 101 – The translation questions YOU are asking #5

What are Dialect Differences? For instance: who told you there is more than one Spanish? Today we will answer this question and clarify, among other things, why nuances within the same language are not enough to establish a different idiom!

FAQ’s asked by you:

Q: What are Dialect Differences? (example: Spanish)

A: Who told you there is more than one Spanish?

There is only one Spanish! No worries, though, we hear that there are many Spanish dialects all the time. But we know better. That’s what makes us linguists. We dissect language! We love language and its ability to express thoughts, feelings and exquisite imagery all day and every day!

One of the great characteristics of the Spanish language is its exquisite diversity yet its solidarity. It has an impressive number of spoken styles due to its vast geographical breadth and number of Spanish speakers in Central and South America, (barring the non-Spanish speaking countries like Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and the French Guiana): ArgentinaBoliviaChileColombiaEcuador,Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)PeruSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsUruguayVenezuelaCosta RicaEl SalvadorGuatemalaHondurasMexicoNicaraguaPanama and Paraguay.

Nevertheless, when listening or reading it in context it is easily understood among all its speakers. The differences among what we have come to call “dialect” is almost always limited to only the inflection, pronunciation, speed, educational register, word variation or expressions; but these are infrequent. Certainly this does not imply that it is a separate language.

In fact, it is much like United States English and British English. What I want to convey with our non-Spanish speaking counterparts in this post, is that there is only ONE SPANISH! What we have to positively convey to our readers is that the different Spanish versions are “regionalisms”. Neither of these is a wrong version of the language nor less comprehensible to the reader. It especially does not require a different translator for each!

For example, if you go live in Buenos Aires and associate with the locals you will learn nuances of that country or region that you might find slightly different in another area. The Spanish of Argentina, Mexico and Spain are all one and the same. Some nouns or expressions vary in a given conversation between speakers of the two countries, but we all speak and write Spanish!

In the 90’s, when my profession was that of a professional interpreter, I had the delightful opportunity to interpret for Spanish speaking people from various South American countries. I can attest that in every case we understood one another perfectly. On rare occasions when the context of a conversation is not yet clear, a word or two might be occasionally unfamiliar.

One example of this took place when a Spanish speaker was being interviewed by a reporter and I was the interpreter. The reporter asked what his occupation was, and he explained that he worked at a turkey processing plant. When he used the word “Guajolote”, I did not understand it.  I quickly received clarification of it, and we went right back to the wonderfully fluid communication that had been taking place.  (For those of you language buffs who cannot help your curiosity, I will share with you what happened in that exchange.  “Pavo” is the traditional word for turkey in Spanish all over South America and Spain. However,  “Guajolote” derives from the Náhuatl word cuauhxolotl. “Guajolote” is in fact used to mean turkey in Mexico, but if you buy a Christmas turkey at the supermarket it says “pavo” on the label.  Guajolote is a more rural term used for the animal in Mexico. I, being born, raised and educated in Lima, Peru, am used to hearing the standard word “pavo” for turkey.  My friendly Mexican counterpart, on the other hand, did not know this and he went on to throw out the curve to me. Fortunately for me, we both had fun with our regional differences and went on with the interview.

It is important to clarify the difference between regionalism and dialect. A dialect is defined by the dictionary as:

“A variety of a language that signals where a person comes from. The notion is usually interpreted geographically (regional dialect), but it also has some application in relation to a person’s social background (class dialect) or occupation (occupational dialect).  A dialect is chiefly distinguished from other dialects of the same language by features of linguistic structure—i.e., grammar(specifically morphology and syntax) and vocabulary. In morphology (word formation), various dialects in the Atlantic states have clim, clum, clome, or cloome instead of climbed, and, in syntax (sentence structure), there are “sick to his stomach,” “sick at his stomach,” “sick in,” “sick on,” and “sick with.” On the level of vocabulary, examples of dialectal differences include American English subway, contrasting with British English underground; and corn, which means “maize” in the United States, Canada, and Australia, “wheat” in England, and “oats” in Scotland. Nevertheless, while dialects of the same language differ, they still possess a common core of feature.”

The magnitude of dissimilarity between dialects in this description is much greater than is actually found among the Spanish of South and Central America.  What is a more appropriate description of the few dissimilarities existing between them is more aptly described as regionalisms. Here is one definition of regionalism:

“A linguistic term for a word, expression, or pronunciation favored by speakers in a particular geographic area.”

Did you see that? That’s it! Not more and not less. The differences in the Spanish language are erroneously being called dialects. They are simply a regionalism, in other words, an occasional word or mode of expression.

So how does this apply to the translation of the Spanish language?  Number one, do not pay extra. Not necessary. Do not fire your translation provider.  And two, because regionalism matters, trust your translation agency to make regional adaptations to the target country of your readers.  Finally, keep in mind that if any of your translated content goes on the web, the Spanish translated will reflect the regional preferences of the translator. With more than 20 Spanish speaking countries potentially reading your content, there will not be ten translators in the world working in concert to make the translated content more favorable to one country or another. The end readers will understand all of it, when they read it in context.