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See also: The Spanish Language


1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

Section One – Grammar and Spelling

1. Gender: Spanish has masculine and feminine genders. The gender affects nouns, adjectives, demonstratives, possessives and articles, but not verbs.

2. Plurals: Generally speaking, the plural is formed by adding '-s' to words ending in a vowel and by adding '-os' or '-es' to words ending in a consonant. This is however, governed by a set of rules.

3. One letter words: One letter words include: a, e (replaces 'y' (= and) before a word beginning with 'i'), o, u (replaces 'o' (= or) before a word beginning with an 'o'), y.

4. Double consonants: The only groups of two equal consonants are the following: cc, ll, nn, rr.

5. Umlaut/Diaeresis: The umlaut occurs very rarely in Spanish. The circumflex and grave accents are only used with foreign words which haven't assimilated a Spanis h spelling. The acute accent is very common and there are very strict rules about its use.

6. Capitalisation: Occurs at the beginning of sentences and for proper names.

Unlike English, days of the week/months of the year/languages/nationalities/managerial posts like director financiero, do not take a capital letter.

With regard to titles/headings/subheadings, etc., only the first word is capitalised.

Upper case is used for polite forms of address (el Ministro de Finanzas), but not when they are used generically (los ministros de finanzas de la Unión Europea).

Section Two – Punctuation

Spanish rules are similar to English with some exceptions:

1. Question and exclamation marks: In Spanish there are opening question and exclamation marks, ¿ and ¡, which can appear right at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. In the latter case, the following word will go in lower case.

If a closing question or exclamation mark appears in the middle of a sentence, the following word will go in lower case.

2. Brackets: Full stops are placed inside the brackets (or inverted commas) when the contents form a complete sentence and outside if the bracketed clause forms part of a sentence, e.g.:

Le respondieron que era «imposible atenderle hasta el mes siguiente».

Era la primera vez que solicitaba sus servicios (después de seis años de estar abonado).

They responded that it would be “impossible to see you before next month”.

It was the first time he had sought their services (after six years as a member).

«Es imposible atenderle hasta el mes que viene. » Con estas palabras respondieron a su llamada. (Y hacía seis años que estaba abonado.)

“It is impossible to see you before next month.” With these words they responded to his phone call. (And he had been a member for six years.)

(Examples taken from Manuel Seco’s «Diccionario de dudas y dificultades de la lengua española».)

3. Colons: A colon replaces a comma at the beginning of a letter (Querida mamá: = Dear Mum,). The following word can go either in upper or lower case.

If a colon precedes a quotation, this will start with capital letter and will appear between inverted commas.

The three dots ... can replace the abbreviation etc. (although this is an informal use). It also denotes a short pause, an omission or gives a sense of surprise, fear, etc.

4. Inverted commas: There are three types: simple (' ... '), double (" ... ") and French (« ... »). Some style manuals recommend avoiding the use of the French inverted commas.

5. Short dash: The use of the short dash in sentences such as "HP printers - the best in the world" is incorrect. Please replace it with a colon or even with a full stop: "Impresoras HP. Las mejores del mundo."

6. Long dash: There often seems to be confusion in the use of the long dash in English. In Spanish, they are sometimes used to separate a remark from the rest of the sentence, although commas typically serve this function.
They also work as brackets within brackets. They can be found, in the case of transcriptions of dialogues, at the beginning of each speaker's sentence.
Here's an example of the spacing between words and long dashes: "Las impresoras HP —las mejores del mundo— son muy fiables".

The following English sentence: "I'm so tired", he said, "I just want to go home". would be punctuated in exactly the same way in Spanish:
"Estoy tan cansado", dijo, "quiero irme a casa".

7. Full stops: Do not use full stops at the end of headings, titles, etc., if they are not a complete sentence. However, captions do end in a full stop. In the case of bullet points, it depends on the type of text. For instance, if they are full sentences or paragraphs that make up a list of examples, they should have a full stop at the end.

Section Three – Measurements and Abbreviations

1. Measurements: Metric are the only official measurements. Imperial measurements must be converted into metric. However, there are some instances of the use of inches, such as in screen sizes and floppy disks.

Time: Spain uses the 24-hour clock, i.e. 10.00 / 15.00.

Date: the format is 25/08/99 or 25-08-99.

Spanish uses a decimal comma (3,7%), and a dot after 999 (16.000).
However, an Act of 1989 stipulates that the dot should be eliminated altogether or replaced with a space (16000 or 16 000; 2 500 335). None of this applies to years, which do not have dots, commas or spaces. Productnumbers for HP products do not have dots, commas or spaces.

Currency: there is no official abbreviation of peseta, so all sorts ofcominations such as pta., ptas., pts., with or without a dot, in upper or lower case, etc. are popular. The appropriate way according to Elena Milego would
National way: 3,5 pta. International way: PTA 3,5

Abbreviations of measurements:
ppp = dots per inch
ppm = pages per minute

Be careful to avoid the confusion between metre (m) and minute (m.).
Also, care must be taken with capitalisation. Observe the rules of the International System.

Spacing: there should be space between numbers and the measurement abbreviation which should also be in the singular and without accents.

2. Abbreviations:

N/a = n/c
No. = n°
e.g. = p. ej.
W x L x H x D = probably best as ancho x largo x alto x fondo, since ancho (width) and alto (height) both start with an a.

Av. = Avenue (before name)
B y N = black and white
c/ = Street (before name)
C.ª or Cía. = Company
C. P. = post code
c/u = each
D. = Mr.
D.ª = Mrs.
E/S = input/output
I+D = research and development
íd. = ditto
ITV = MOT (test)
n/d = not available
P. D. = postscript
PVP = recommended retail price
PYME = small or medium sized business
RR. HH. or RR HH = human resources
s. e. u. o. = errors and omissions excepted
s/n = no number
Ud. or Udes. = formal you (singular and plural)

Most abbreviations in Spanish have just one dot at the end, but common ones like N/KM, etc. observe the International System and have no dots.

Also, in the case of ordinals, there exist abbreviated versions for masculine and feminine formed with the number and the symbol ° (alt + 0186) for masculine or ª (alt + 0170) for feminine: 6°, 6ª, 27°, 27ª, etc. Note that ° is slightly bigger than the degree symbol ° (alt + 0176).

Section Four – Hyphenation

Hyphenation within words is more usual between nouns (café-restaurante,precio-calidad) than between adjectives (audio-visual / audiovisual, físicoquímico / fisicoquímico).

Note that when hyphenated words appear at the end of a line, the best way to split them is by separating the two words.

In words such as 'ex-wife', the hyphen is replaced with a blank space: ex mujer.

1. End-of-line hyphenation: With regard to end-of-line hyphenation, it is best to leave words whole in normal text and leave hyphenation for restricted text boxes, columns, etc. However, if absolutely necessary…

A single consonant between two vowels joins the second.

Hyphenation between two consonants applies. Examples: in-novador, tensíon, ac-ceso.

However, there are exceptions in the case of the following groups: pr, pl, br, bl, fr, fl, tr, dr, cr, cl, gr, rr, ll, ch (e.g., ca-ble, ma-cro, I-rracional).

Between three consonants, the first two will go with the preceding vowel and the third with the following vowel (e.g., trans-por-te), except in the case ofthe aforementioned consonant groups, in which the first one will go with thepreceding vowel and the third with the following vowel (e.g., im-presora, destruir).

2. Avoid hyphenation:

Between two vowels.
When the result will appear rude (e.g., dis -puta, tor-pedo).

It is advised that the last line in a paragraph contains more than four characters (punctuation marks included).

Section Five – Miscellaneous Peculiarities

Not strictly a peculiarity, but to the non-Spanish eye, can look odd…
US(A) = EE.UU. in translation.

Section Six – Geographic Distribution

Spanish is the most widely spoken of the Romance languages, both in terms of number of speakers and the number of countries in which it is the dominant language. Besides being spoken in Spain, it is the official language of all the South American republics except Brazil and Guyana, of the six republics of Central America, as well as of Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Additionally it is spoken in parts of Morocco andthe west coast of Africa, and also in Equatorial Guinea. In the United States itis widely spoken in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California (in NewMexico it is co-official with English), in New York City by the large Puerto Rican population, and more recently in southern Florida by people who have arrived from Cuba. A variety of Spanish known as Ladino is spoken in Turkeyand Israel by descendants of Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. All told there are about 350 million speakers of Spanish.

Pronunciation and usage of Spanish naturally vary between countries, but regional differences are not so great as to make the language unintelligible to speakers from different areas. The purest form of Spanish is known asCastilian, originally one of the dialects that developed from Latin after the Roman conquest of Hispania in the 3rd century A.D. After the disintegration of the Roman Empire, Spain was overrun by the Visigoths, and in the 8th century the Arabic-speaking Moors conquered all but the northernmost part of the peninsula. In the Christian reconquest, Castile, an independent kingdom, took the initiative and by the time of the unification of Spain in the 15th century, Castilian had become the dominant dialect. In the years that followed, Castilian, now Spanish, became the language of a vast empire in the New World.

Spanish vocabulary is basically of Latin origin, though many of the words differ markedly from their counterparts in French and Italian. Many words beginning with f in the other Romance languages begin with h in Spanish (e.g., Ilijo-son, hilo-thread). The Moorish influence is seen in the many words beginning with al- (algodón-cotton, alfombra-rug, almohada-pillow, alfilerpin). As in British and American English, there are differences in vocabulary on the two sides of the ocean (also in mainland Spain).

Spanish is spoken/used in the following countries: Argentina, Aruba (Dutch), Belize (British Honduras), Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador,Equatorial Guinea, Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Gibraltar (U.K.), Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Morocco, Nevis, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico (U.S.), Spain, St. Kitts (& Nevis) Independent, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Virgin Islands (U.S.).

Language Family
Family: Indo-European
Subgroup: Romance

Source: - Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Section Seven – Character Set

[ ] = Alt key codes

a á [0225] A Á [0193]
b B
c C
d D
e é [0233] E É [0201]
f F
g G
h H
i í [0237] I Í [0205]
j J
k K
l L
m M
n ñ [0241] N Ñ [0209]
o ó [0243] O Ó [0211]
p P
q Q
r R
s S
t T
u ú [0250] ü [0252] U Ú [0218] Ü [0220]
v V
w W
x X
y Y
z Z
¿ [168] ¡ [0161]

The Spanish Language


After Mandarin Chinese, what do you think is the language with the world’s second-largest number of native speakers?

If you guessed English, you’re wrong. English only takes the second-prize if you count the number of people who learned it as a second language.

Today, there are anywhere from 322 to 400 million native Spanish speakers, making it the second-most common native language worldwide. The language we know today as Spanish actually hails from one province of Spain, the province of Castile. How did the language of a small Spanish province grow to be spoken by so many different people?

spain sevilla photo

The Origins of Spanish

Spanish began in the time of the Roman Empire, as a dialect of Latin. After the Roman Empire fell, the languages that were spoken within its provinces began to drift off from one another, forming the various Romance languages.

The Castilian dialect was simply one dialect among many for quite some time. However, in the 8th century, Spain was almost completely subdued by the Moorish empire to the south. Castile played a major role in the 800-year-long struggle to get Spanish land back from the Moors, known as the Reconquista. When the Reconquista was over, the Castilian dialect had spread all over Spain, replacing many (but not all) of the other Spanish dialects.

Castilian Spanish was also heavily promoted in the court of Alfonso X, who encouraged its use in administration and court documents instead of the traditional Latin.

Also, since many of the heroes of the Reconquista were Castilian, heroic poems about these figures were recited all across Spain in the Castilian dialect. The Spanish language was developed even further after the Reconquista was complete and all of Spain was ruled by Ferdinand and Isabella. The first Spanish dictionary was written during this time period and presented to Queen Isabella in 1492, the same year Columbus set sail.

Expansion of Spain

When Columbus landed in the New World, Spain was able to expand and build an empire outside of Europe.

Spanish explorers wrested large amounts of territory from Native Americans and colonised Central, South and parts of North America. Wherever they went, naturally, they brought their language with them.

Although many natives never learned Spanish, the descendants of the original Spanish settlers continued to speak it.

Spanish outside of Spain

Today, Spanish is the official language of many former Spanish colonies, including Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Additionally, Spanish is an official language of the American state of New Mexico and the American territory of Puerto Rico. Colonial Spain also managed to get a tiny foothold in Africa, so Spanish is spoken there in Equatorial Guinea and the Canary Islands.

Of course, most of these people do not speak Spanish exactly as it’s spoken in Spain. With such a widespread language distribution, regional language variations are inevitable, just like the differences between UK English and US English. These differences aren’t enough to make Spanish from one region unintelligible to a Spanish speaker from another country, but before you travel to a Spanish-speaking country it is helpful to know how Spanish is spoken there.

For example, in Spain itself, the pronoun vosotros and its associated verb case is often used to indicate that you are talking to a group of friends. Basically, it’s the plural, informal version of “you.” In most Latin American countries, vosotros isn’t used. The formal, plural word for “you”, ustedes, is used instead, even if you are addressing a group of people with whom you are familiar. There are also regional differences in the way words are pronounced, slang, vocabulary, and speech rhythm.

When you are translating material to Spanish, it’s important to make sure that the translation is done by someone who is familiar with the way Spanish is spoken in the country you are translating for. That way, you can be sure to avoid any language mishaps, such as those suffered by the American beer company Coors Brewing Co. When Coors went to translate its slogan “Turn it loose” into Spanish, it came out as “Suffer from diarrhea.” Obviously, this did not attract Spanish-speakers to the product.

Again, this underscores the need to have translations done by people with enough local knowledge to keep misunderstandings from happening in the first place!

About the Author

K International is a translation services company offering language translations and other linguistic services in 150+ languages.

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Original article is here,

Spanish Translation

What are some pitfalls to avoid, specific to this language, a client should be aware of when translating into this language?

•    English source text may contain ambiguous language. This ambiguity usually cannot be carried forward into the translation. Gender and number agreement rules in Spanish require complete clarity regarding which words are modified by which other words and which verbs go with which subjects.

•    Spanish usually requires more words than English to express the same thing (mainly due to articles and prepositions). On the average, the same text will be about 25% longer in Spanish than in English.

•    Plays on words should be avoided in text to be translated, since they practically never can be reproduced. One example would be a PowerPoint slide revolving around words that begin with the same letter. Another would be advertising based on a word with a double meaning in English.

What are characteristics of this language that are unique or different from English and/or other languages?

One of the main differences between English and Spanish is gender and number agreement. In Spanish all nouns are masculine or feminine, and articles and adjectives must agree with them both in gender and number (there is no equivalent for “it”). Thus, in English one says “the white house” and “the white houses”, and “the white dog” and “the white dogs” while in Spanish one says “la casa blanca” and “las casas blancas”, and “el perro blanco” and “los perros blancos”.

Another important difference between English and Spanish is the conjugation of verbs. English verb forms are very simple, and endings are different between persons only in the present tense. In Spanish, the endings are different for all persons in all tenses.

Capitalization rules differ in English and Spanish. For example, days, months, nationalities and languages are not capitalized in Spanish. Also, only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized in titles.

Punctuation rules differ in English and Spanish. This includes the use and placement of quotation marks, parentheses and dashes. Spanish is the only language that uses both opening and closing question and exclamation marks.

Spanish is one of the most widely used languages in the world. While scholarly and scientific language is pretty uniform in all countries, there are many areas in which vocabulary and usage vary greatly according to country. Food, sports, animals, plants are especially rich in variation according to locale. The more colloquial the language to be translated, the more important it is to identify the exact target audience and translate accordingly.

How do these characteristics make it important to use properly qualified, professional translators?

The fact that a person speaks a language does not mean that he or she can write or translate properly. Native speakers do not necessarily have good spelling or grammar and may be unaware of the finer points of the rules of punctuation. Some people have no formal education in a language they speak. Some people with degrees in engineering and medicine, for example, may be excellent in their own field but poor writers. Professional translators are language experts. They are also highly skilled in research and familiar with numerous vocabulary resources.

Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors make a document with correctly translated technical terms look unprofessional and may lead to serious problems of misinterpretation.

Do you know examples where translation or localization mistakes have occurred with this language, such as, problems with text expansion, date/time formats, counting errors, character encoding, etc., or mistakes with the translation itself? Perhaps you’ve been asked to review a translation that did not seem to be the work of a properly qualified, professional translator.

Date/time formats often cause problems in translation, since the US usually (but not always) uses mm/dd/yy while other countries usually (but not always) use dd/mm/yy. This could lead to confusion on deadlines in bids, priority dates in patents, sequence of events in lawsuits, etc.

Another problem area is the US use of decimal points and commas for thousands while most other countries use decimal commas and points for thousands. There is an international convention requiring the use of spaces for thousands and preferably commas for decimals, but it is seldom respected.

Abbreviations are frequently problematic. The Spanish translator needs to know the expansions, either to translate them or to give them the proper gender and number agreements.

My husband, a native Spanish-speaker, worked at a company that sold welding equipment. It was preparing literature for its stand at an international trade fair and had already printed up a machine-translated brochure in Spanish. My husband saw it a couple of days before the fair and told his boss it was incomprehensible. I had to stay up all night translating it correctly so it could be printed in time. That brochure on very costly equipment was to be seen by company executives and engineers from around the world. The poor literature would have made the company seem ignorant and careless, and the welding equipment vendor could have lost potential buyers. In this case, the company saved face and money because it happened to have a Spanish-speaking employee who happened to notice the problem and happened to have a professional translator as a spouse.

Relate an example or two where you found a website page or form difficult to use because it was poorly localized into your language/locale. How might a business lose money, prestige or incur legal risk due to this bad translation?

The following is the original English text from a web page on office furniture:

Black Hat and Coat Stand Extruded Polymer with 3 Tough Hooks

The Spanish translation offered is:

Un sombrero negro y el escudo de un extruido polímero resistente con 3 ganchos.

This is what the Spanish actually says:

One black hat and the shield of a resistant polymer extrudate with 3 hooks.

A Spanish-speaker would scratch his or her head, laugh or be outraged. It would be highly unlikely that he or she would take the company seriously.

If possible, provide one example of a particular phrase or concept that only a properly qualified, professional translator would be able to correctly communicate.

The following has been taken from the November 27, 2007 issue of the Clarín newspaper:

El pasado lunes 12, Miguelito había sido dado por muerto por una médica al momento de nacer. Cuando se descubrió que vivía, el caso generó un escándalo en el Hospital San Juan Bautista. El fiscal Penal Alejandro Dalla Lasta y la dirección del hospital iniciaron una investigación.

Last Monday, the 12th, Miguelito had been pronounced dead at birth by a doctor. When he was found to be alive, the case set off a scandal at Hospital San Juan Bautista. Criminal Prosecutor Alejandro Dalla Lasta and the hospital administration opened an investigation.

Examples of issues to be decided by the person doing the translation:

•    “El pasado lunes 12” What is the best way to express the date (literally “the past Monday 12”)?

•    “Hospital San Juan Bautista” Should the name be translated or left as is?

•    “fiscal Penal” “Fiscal” can be a noun meaning “prosecutor, government representative or election supervisor” or an adjective meaning “pertaining to public funds, financial, pertaining to the prosecutor, auditor or controller,” among other things. “Penal” can be a noun meaning “prison or penitentiary” or an adjective meaning “criminal or penal.” Which meanings should be used?

A professional translator is acquainted with set phrases in both languages and can avoid meaningless literal translations. A professional translator knows that standard usage is not to translate proper names unless the client specifically requests that this be done. A professional translator explores all of the possible meanings of words and chooses the right one according to the context.

Published - July 2009

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