Local vs Localization of Language

22 Jun

I was reading the Buenos Aires Herald today, and in the top right corner was an ad for American Airlines. They had a url advertised: AA.com/espanol

Now – do people in Argentina (and Buenos Aires) speak Spanish? Sure. But like most major languages, it has its own dialect. In Argentina they call it Castellano (speaking of which – the ‘ll’ is pronounced as a ‘j’ here). So while AA took the effort to create a Spanish version, in a way it was half-assed – that isn’t what they call the language locally here. And that isn’t factoring in the even more varied/slang version of Castalleno unique to Buenos Aires itself.

Continuing on in that tradition there are quite a few words in Spanish that make no sense here, or have a completely different meaning. For example, in Spanish you is ‘tu’ but here it is ‘vos’. Another common one is a word that means ‘to pick’ means ‘to have sex with’ here – imagine the confusion that can cause.

This little ad made me think of the actual localization problems local has. For example – as a local from Toronto, we pronounce it as ‘Torono’ – that ‘t’ is obviously slowing us down and we had to remove it. But say we had a sales team from one centralized location – do we lose subconscious points with a potential client because our sales team doesn’t drop the t?

If I’m in Chicago and I ask for pizza – do they assume ‘Chicago-style’ pizza or ‘American pizza’ (which is not like ‘Italian pizza’ … and don’t even get me started on what passes as ‘Argentinean pizza’). I keep hearing how many people think of ‘hoover’ to be the equivalent of ‘vacuum cleaner’, just like ‘kleenex’ is to ’tissue paper’. But in some places – not true (I honestly have never made that connection myself).

This becomes extremely important when building up language taxonomies to build a relationship between a business/category and words used by people to associate with that location.

Just another headache in the local space – localizing user language.

4 Responses to Local vs Localization of Language



June 24th, 2008 at 10:50 am

Even in English you can have problems- some areas use “lawyers” while others use “attorneys.” And if you change the category name to “lawyers and attorneys,” you’ll get people scratching their heads asking what’s the difference?

Another issue is when the language “over-differentiates” specialties, or “under-differentiates” them.

For example, let’s say Elbonian has 5 different classifications of lawyers, according to some strange differentiation that is different from English. English business listings for “lawyers” probably will be impossible to differentiate automatically into the 5 different Elbonian classifications, and manually will be a major chore (and still probably impossible without calling each one and asking what type they are).

Going the other direction (Elbonian taxonomy to English taxonomy) is easier- you can easily combine all 5 Elbonian lawyer categories in “lawyers.” But what do you do if you want to use the same data simultaneously on an English site and an Elbonian site??

This is actually an issue that we’ve been running into with our sites and have been (so far) skirting the issue by using English as the defauly taxonomy and forcing the other language to comply with it. But now you’ve got me thinking that we need to do a better job and utilize separate taxonomies.

Sigh. Thanks, Ahmed- you just created several hours of new work for me… :P

(Just kidding! Although I may complain about the extra work, I think the resulting preduct will be better for it. But I still get to complain! :) )



June 24th, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Yep some common ones here – lawyer vs attorney (or in England, barrister or solicitor). And then doctor vs physician too – a biggie.

Translating (especially among taxonomies) sure is a headache :)


Joe Davison

June 24th, 2008 at 7:11 pm

Ahmed what do you think about standardizing a taxonomy that everyone in the industry can use.

Think W3C — who will define the standard taxonomy for the global local space?

I think standards are important for proper interoperability of API’s, etc.



June 24th, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Don’t ever see it happening. Mostly because there are a few classifications (ala SIC) and also because none of the players are really online focused – its just direct marketing/business analytics forced online.

Of course we intend to change that :)