It is often said that the UK and the US are two countries separated by one language. Whether it’s the eternal debate of crisps or chips, colour or color, aluminium or aluminum, both parties are sure they are right.
Though overshadowed by this greater divide, as an Irish person I’m convinced that cupboards are presses, crockery is delph and that children aren’t scolded but given out to. My personal favourite, however, is from another overlooked variety of English – South African – where traffic lights are called robots. (Even better, in 2014 the Democratic Republic of Congo brought in an actual robot that controls traffic.)
Of course, English isn’t the only language that has these internal flavours. There is a wide variety of differences that appear in many other languages which are shared by different countries. For example, in Brazil you talk on a cellular and use the banheiro but in Portugal you have a telemóvel and the little boys’ room is the sala de banhos. In Colombia, I would be typing this article on a computador, in Spain on an ordenador and, in Argentina or Mexico, on a computadora. While in a restaurant, I had better ask the camarero to bring me a piña and the mesero for an ananá, otherwise some confusion could arise.
These differences also exist in more technical language such as medical terminology and abbreviations – for example, the term and abbreviation used in France for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disorder (COPD) is broncho-pneumopathie chronique obstructive (BPCO) whereas in Canada it’s known as maladie pulmonaire obstructive chronique (MPOC).
Some differences are orthographic in nature and can mark a text out as not being local, such as the use of a non-breaking space before punctuation in France but not in Canada, the Swiss German use of ‘ss’ instead of ‘ß’ and the prevalence of Oxford (serial) commas.
This is why at GlobaLexicon we recommend localising French text for Canada, Spanish for the Latin American markets, and for the different Portuguese, German and English-speaking markets. Not doing so may mean people will not be able to understand part of your text, though sometimes it’s not just a question of comprehension. Globalisation, TV and the internet have greatly increased people’s exposure to different varieties of their language but the value in calling something what your audience calls it is undeniable and can enhance the feeling of being spoken to directly.
After all, when we at GlobaLexicon talk about “giving you the power to speak to the world”, we want you to be able to grab your audience’s attention by doing it in their own words and showing them that you know both their language and their market.