Terminology Glosses

Globalized Spanish

Laura Di Tullio

Laura Di Tullio is a terminology management consultant who has developed termbases and managed enterprise terminology for large multinationals. She has been in the localization industry for over 20 years, holds an MA in terminology management and a degree in translation studies.

What comes to mind when you think of the Spanish language?

Spanish is probably the best modern example of language variation. Stemming from a single root, the language has then diversified into different shades across countries. In each variety, surface nuances of old underlying languages such as Latin (substratum) emerge, as well as synchronic developments from newer influences like English (superstratum). Spanish is now the official or one of the official languages of most countries in Central and Latin America.

Aside from the inherent stratification, Spanish, as with any other language, is progressively molded and forged by cultural aspects and vice versa. For those familiar with Edward T. Hall’s concept of the cultural iceberg, the idea of visible and invisible factors internally shaping a culture is not new. Language is among the visible elements that delineate a culture and each culture is, in turn, expressed through one or more evolving languages.

In the last few years, interculturalists have further developed Hall’s initial iceberg representation of culture by adding external forces, which also exert an overall influence and change our perception of the planet. Technology, generational elements, international branding and multinational markets are all factors that apparently disrupt the notion of frontier at its roots. Above all, the inception and success of social media has contributed to creating the impression that the world is flat and borderless.

language appearance

perception of time

relationship formation






In the language industry, however, one can never forget that behind a seemingly globalized surface lies a microcosm of resilient local and regional realities. This is all the more true in terminology management where terminologists are asked to make choices starting at the level of a data model design. In the specific case of Spanish, for instance, some questions come to mind. Should the termbase have one section for European Spanish and then regroup all Central and Latin American varieties of Spanish under the same umbrella? Maybe classify them under a separate code (such as es-419)? Should the termbase, instead, include several language sections depending on vocabulary needs, sales forecasts, budget availability, market share and so on? Or should it rather prioritize some varieties over others based on demographic criteria? Perhaps only proposing a Mexican Spanish and a European Spanish section? After all, Mexican Spanish is the most widely-spoken variety of Spanish, more than European Spanish itself.

Keeping in mind this exciting linguistic landscape, the terms we are adding to our ideal termbase are globalization and localization. According to the W3C Internationalization Activity, localization is “the adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market, a locale.” It is sometimes limited to translation of interface and documentation, but it is usually more encompassing, taking into consideration dialects or other variations in a language, such as phrasing, logic, visual design, graphics, symbols, icons, colors and even communication styles. It can also entail customization related to dates, numbers and currency. On the other end, according to Global UX written by Whitney Quesenbery and Daniel Szuc, globalization is “the process of customizing or adapting a general product design and workflow to an audience based on local or cultural differences. It may also include alternative modules for functions to meet local needs or other changes based on ways of doing business.”

As a matter of fact, both definitions extend beyond the realm of pure translation, not to mention terminology management. Localization, for instance, encompasses communication styles, dates, numbers and currencies, while globalization reaches out to product design and workflows based on regional cultural differences and local needs. Consider, for a second, units of measure. How does the localization and translation industry conform to the requirements of each different country? How relevant is the impact of mistranslated and wrongly converted values? How costly would it be to repair this type of mistake?

Some translation and interpretation degrees, in universities around the world, have now incorporated the term mediation in their curricula. Mediation, defined as the “art of listening to all the voices in such a way that they can solve potential conflicts by agreeing to a solution” is a key element not only in designing the best possible termbase, but also in providing the most efficient localization effort. To say it with Pankaj Ghemawat’s words, “While it is important, of course, to take advantage of similarities across borders, it is also critical to address differences. In the near and medium term, effective cross-border strategies will reckon with both, that is, with the reality that I call ‘semiglobalization.’ “