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Neutral Spanish: We hear about it all the time but what is it, really?

12/12/2011 by Susana Schultz

I have heard it being called several things: international Spanish, standard Spanish, neutral Spanish, educated Spanish, broadcast Spanish, media Spanish, and Castilian Spanish.


Chances are, most or all of the materials routinely translated will be done in a normal, standard Spanish, the one we all learned in school. Bottom line, there is only one correct and educated Spanish language. And we all learned it in grade school and refined it in high school. Those of us who went into linguistics and translations, fine tuned it in college and we use it every day in our work. We are constantly going back to it, reviewing the rules, consulting peers, regardless of our peers nationalities because we all communicate in an educated, standard Spanish. This Spanish is the one found in grammar books and those grammar books are printed in many different countries, but they all have the same language: standard or correct Spanish. Many careers that deal with the written or spoken word require the correct use of Spanish regardless of the nationality of the writer or speaker.

The Real Academia Española, headquartered in Spain and with branches in every Spanish-speaking country, still rules our language and updates it every year to the different nuances that are constantly changing in our language. Last year in December, the RAE made major changes to the language and we are all applying those changes on a daily basis to the Spanish we write and translate. So, is there really a “neutral” Spanish? Yes and no. It is a matter of semantics.

When we speak to people from other countries, we always avoid our country of origin’s slang and regionalism. We have been doing it since we were kids as a natural linguistic process. We knew then which words were only “Uruguayan,” in my case, and we didn’t use them when speaking to non-Uruguayans. So in a way, we were using “neutral” or “international” Spanish back then. But is it really “neutral” or is it “the proper, standard Spanish”?

As I said at the beginning, on a daily basis we would never encounter the need to use “neutral” Spanish because most of the documents translators work on are written in “proper Spanish” and not in something filled with regionalisms and localisms and obsolete terms and verbs. We wouldn’t dream of doing it any other way but the way we were taught to write proper Spanish.

But how do you make an English-speaking client understand that we wouldn’t dream of using anything but “proper Spanish”? I guess that is why someone came up with the term “neutral” Spanish. It is a lot easier to explain to a client that the Spanish we use is free of localisms and regionalism and slang by encompassing all that into one term, like “neutral” Spanish. In reality, it just is good and proper Spanish.

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