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I'm currently working on a large website where we have begun the process of globalizing all of our website copy.

When we provided our English copy to our translator, they gave us Spanish resource files denoted as "es-419".

According to this page, it looks as though this copy can apply to any country within "Latin America and The Caribbean".

My question is, would it be "offensive" to show this particular type of Spanish copy to someone outside of Latin America and the Caribbean? Should we request separate copy for say Spanish-Spain or Spanish-Castilian (language code es-ES)?

  • 2
    You would hope that a professional translator would avoid any of the obvious traps of using a word which is an obscenity on some countries but not others. I suppose you could double check the brief with them, did they know you were going for a global audience or did they assume that, based in the US, you meant Latin America? – mdewey Jan 14 '17 at 16:42
  • @mdewey very good point. I just found out about this interesting list iin Wikipedia: Apéndice:Palabras no de jerga del español que pueden causar malentendidos. – fedorqui Jan 14 '17 at 19:22
  • Indeed, there are trap words. Many are understood within contex. Others are just unbearable even with the right context. I also agree that a professional translator should be capable to avoid these words. – Krauss Jan 15 '17 at 0:10
  • @fedorqui that is a fascinating list. I wonder whether it warrants inclusion in the resources list? – mdewey Jan 15 '17 at 12:24
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Short answer: It is not offensive. You will be pretty well by using your resource.


At least, I don't get offended (I'm American) when reading a web site that was written for Spain; the problem is more subtle.

Spanish is a pretty well standardized language. People from one region can understand (easily) people from any other region. However, we are regionalist. For example, for Mexicans, it is completely natural to hear a Spanish talking like a Spaniard; but we consider very unnatural listening to a Mexican trying to speak like a Spaniard.

In writing the problem is even less important. if you avoid slang, there are only minor differences. But it depends on what are your target readers; if they are Spanish, it's best if you use the es-ES resource file.

Referring to Latin-America you have the same problem; there are many different regional variations so there can't be a es-419. In fact, it is the first time I hear about such a thing (but I'm not a web site specialist.) There can be resources like es-MX or es-AR; there is even es-US.

What I know is that it is possible to put all the resources into a web site and then the server will detect the region of the reader and provide the right translation. Most of the times it is not practical to provide all the variations of the language to your web site so you have to provide those that you have. What is presented when you don't have the correct region or language depends on the configuration of the server (how it is done is not the scope of this site and, of course, it's not what you are asking.)

Many times, the differences are minor. Other times there are differences; for example the word hyperlink in México is hiperliga; in Spain is hipervínculo. So if your budget can handle it, I would recommend, at least:

  1. es-ES
  2. one North-American version (e.g. es-MX, es-US)
  3. one South-American version (for example es-AR, es-CO, es-CL.)

The more you have, the better.


I would also recommend you to ask this in another site like Stack Overflow or Webmasters so you can get the attention of web site developers and administrators.

  • Remember that dubs are (or used to be) made for the whole of Latin America: they sound a little foreign to everyone, but kids get totally used to them. Dubs made in Spain, in turn, sound a lot more foreign if you are not from Spain. – Rafael Jan 15 '17 at 13:46
  • You are right Rafael. Even "español latino" sometimes sounds a little foreign. Still in Latin-America we only have movies in "español latino" and "portugués Brasil". Watching a movie in "español de España" is usually avoided. Yet, back in the ´80 I saw lots of movies filmed in Spain with Spanish actors so, maybe, the target audience age may also be a factor. – Krauss Jan 15 '17 at 14:50
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I think offensive is too much, to me it would be just strange to read it. Also it would be clear to every spanish that you did a translation using Latin America "standards", there are enough differences to assure this. On the other hand there are not enough differences to not understand it, except some strange words I think it would be perfectly understandable for spanish people.

Other thing is if you know for sure that a considerable amount of users would be spanish. In that case you shouldn't use that translation, but do a specific one.
As I said, there are enough differences to make it hard to read. It depends on the specific cases (since it changes between south american countries too) but at the least it'd be unpleasant.

That's my case, but yeah, of course there are always... well, I don't know how to say this in english and still being diplomatic... people that thinks that a language is a static thing that shouldn't change for eons, instead of a mean of communication between changing humans? Something like that.
So, yeah, you could offend that type of people, but personally I wouldn't bother about it except we are talking about a lot of money.
In any other case I would bother about the majority of my users: if your web will be read by a lot of spanish people, I'd do more translations; if not, I wouldn't bother, they will understand it anyway.

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I don't think any reasonable reader being presented with a dialect that does not coincide with their own would consider this offensive.

That said, it depends a lot not only on the target readers, as explained above, but on the content itself, its intended tone and its lexicon. You haven't specified what your company's field is and what kind of clients it has. Internationalization of a website aimed at young people using informal, light-hearted language, or a portal devoted to cooking recipes, will surely run into more trouble than internationalization of a network security firm, or a bank, or an airline, since technical terms and formal language are less prone to variations across dialects.

On a side note, it is a well-known fact that people from Spain are used to being exposed to their own dialect in TV and movies, thanks to laws that force such content to be dubbed into Spanish; there are of course many different accents and dialects in Spain, but the country isn't that big and there are no major differences in grammar or lexicon. In Latin America, on the other hand, speakers find it natural to hear not only their own dialect but also many others as well as so-called "neutral Latin American Spanish", and LatAm dialects are, I think, much more diverse (in terms of lexicon and grammar) than European ones. I don't know if these things have a real, measurable effect on the emotional acceptance of different dialects by speakers in LatAm and Spain.

  • Spanish people often find the other variants of the language offensive – Bruno9779 Jan 17 '17 at 17:02

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