BOB GARFIELD: What do you call the AARP in Spanish? What’s the right term for “sequester?” And when Cubans and Ecuadorians have different words for things like drinking straws and pickup trucks, which do you use in a story to be printed in the US for readers from both countries?
In 2012, the Associated Press announced the creation of a Spanish-language Style Guide for media in the US and Latin America. Alejandro Manrique is one of its editors. He’s also deputy Latin America editor for the Associated Press and director of the AP Spanish Service. He joins us from Mexico City. Alejandro, welcome to OTM.
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Thank you for inviting me.
BOB GARFIELD: Take us back to when you started to put the Style Guide together.
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: So I did a pitch on why we need to uniform our style. We have as many language as countries in Latin America and in Spain. The AP Style Book is the main document for consultation and study in journalism schools. It has been advertised as the “bible of the journalists,” so we want to produce a style book in Spanish to become the bible of Hispanic media journalism.
BOB GARFIELD: If you were to write that a pedestrian was hit by a bus, the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans would look for the word – what is it, a guagua?
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Guagua.
BOB GARFIELD: But Mexicans won’t understand that. They call a bus, what?
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Camión.
BOB GARFIELD: And elsewhere, it’s a collectivo.
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Yes, Colombians use “collectivos” but also the Venezuelans use “collectivos” to name the Chavez popular militias, you know?
BOB GARFIELD: So it’s entirely possible to be hit by a collectivo and to have two different things happen to you. [LAUGHS]
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Exactly.
BOB GARFIELD: How do you choose a uniform word that will be understood, at least eventually, by those hailing from all these disparate parts of Latin America?
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: You have to do a lot of consultation, go to all the dictionaries in those countries. You go to a manual that is called Manual de Estilo Online de la AP. That means all of the Hispanic cultures. And then you go to the clients and see what the clients print on their websites, and then you make a ruling. So, for example, we don’t say “guagua” and we don’t say “camión,” we don’t say “collectivo.” Those are localisms, and what we do is do the research and we find out that the most understandable word in the Spanish language, in any country, is “bus” or “autobus.” So that’s what we end up doing.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, this suggests a kind of political problem, the introduction of English words, particularly Americanisms –
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BOB GARFIELD: - to substitute for what some people might have thought were perfectly good Spanish words and thus corrupting Spanish with a sudden spate of English vocabulary. Has this been a criticism?
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Purists, as you call them, don't understand why we have translated words. An explanation is well, this is a style book that is intended to be used by journalists for an American company which happens to have a Spanish service. A normal Spanish style book wouldn’t include English words to be translated. But we did it. For example, you have this Obama program called Dreamers, right? The way Spanish-language newspapers translate that program, which is called the Deferred Action Program is “acción diferida”, which doesn’t mean anything in Spanish. So we don’t use those translations that are sloppy. The right translation for that will be “suspencion temporale de deportation” or, or temporary suspension of the deportation of these people. That’s the right Spanish words to explain what is the program about.
BOB GARFIELD: So it’s more important that the terms reflect actual usage than it is that you be politically correct and try to preserve the purity of written Spanish.
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Exactly, exactly.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you have made very clear the idea is to reflect common usage, but the Style Guide, if it’s successful, will also dramatically affect common usage. It will literally change the vernacular. Is that the goal?
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: The goal was to have more uniform writing on the AP Spanish wire. There was an internal need and we addressed it. But also, it was an opportunity to provide a more usable, wider use of Spanish or Spanish terms through the clients, the students of journalism, teachers, professors and regular people.
BOB GARFIELD: So, what do you call the AARP in Spanish?
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: AARP. Let me see my – my Style Book, actually, okay?
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, sure.
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: Give me a – one sec.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER/BOB LAUGHING]
I’m now at my, at my desk, and let me go to the AP Style Book. AARP, we use it in first reference as, as Asociación de Jubilados de los Estados Unidos, the largest association of retired people in the US.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: You took the words right out of my mouth, Alejandro. Thank you so much.
ALEJANDRO MANRIQUE: You’re welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: Alejandro Manrique is the deputy Latin American editor for the Associated Press.