It seems to me that a problem we'll have to deal with, specially with answers, is about spanish regional variations.

Native speakers answering questions will naturally tend to provide answers within the particular regional variant that they know, but they might have no way to estimate whether their answer is very regional, or in fact applies widely across many spanish speaking regions.

One problem is when someone writes an answer, perhaps assuming that it applies generally to all/most regions, but this is in fact not the case. The solution here is perhaps simple, someone noticing this could add a comment stating that the “correct answer” would be different in other spanish variants. One might also be tempted to require answers to state the particular region to which they apply, but this–as I will now discuss—introduces other problems.

On the other side, the most common problem I have seen, is that people (trying to be careful, and basically stating their lack of knowledge about other regions) are specifying a regional variation in their questions/answers, while the word or phrase might indeed have the same meaning more widely.

One example is the question “Dale pues” in Nicaraguan Spanish which would give the wrong impression to an onlooker that the use of the phrase “Dale pues” is quite specific to Nicaragua (I know that at least in Mexico the same phrase could also be used and have the exact same meaning).

Another example is a comment in the question How should I translate “table”?, which states

At least in Spain -as opposed to Latin American Spanish- cuadro is not used at all for describing a table. – vemv

Here I understand that vemv is stating his own lack of knowledge about the word uses in other regions outside of Spain. However, an onlooker might perhaps come to the wrong conclusion that “cuadro” is sometimes used in Latin America —as opposed to Spain— to refer to a table. (Again for Mexico, I can confirm that “cuadro” is also not used at all for describing a table. Which is funny because I had always assumed that people in Spain did use the word “cuadro”. As the now accepted answer states, most of the times “cuadro” would be the correct word to use, but apparently nobody does.)

Also questions (some specifically asking about regional variations) such as Regional use of “genial”, “It was great to see you”, and How should I translate “he is a pain in the ass”? are getting peppered by lots of different answers with various regional variations. I fear that useful bits of information would be lost in low-voted answers. While a single “consolidated” answer would be preferable, I have no clear idea of what would be the best way to build such an answer. (Perhaps people can add comments to the best answer so far stating other regional variations? and when these comments get enough up-votes, they merit to be merged with the main answer?)

Another related problem is, of course, on what exactly defines a “regional variation”. Sometimes even within a country (Mexico for sure), one can find many variations of words and phrases used with different meanings.

So, what are the thoughts of the community about this? Is this really a problem? And how can we make the questions/answers in the site most useful not only the people asking the questions, but also to future onlookers which might stumble with the site while searching for related information.

A small idea I've just had. Would it make sense to put “flags” or whatever next to people's names so that they don't have to constantly state where they are coming from? (And thus implicitly state some possible, but not necessary, regional slant on their answers/comments? –  Juan A. Navarro Nov 16 '11 at 13:42
Well there's not such a way to use "flags" but some SE's have semi standard sections that can be included in user profile pages. Literature has fields for the last book you bought or what you're currently reading. We can have something similar to put which variety of Spanish we know and what our level is. –  hippietrail Nov 17 '11 at 6:32
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4 Answers

I think the problem of adding "In XYZ region we say..." simply has to work itself out naturally, and often on a case-by-case basis. As contributors to the site become more familiar with the site (and with regional Spanish), they will learn. And until they do, comments are the proper ways to solve these sorts of problems. This is the way these problems are solved on other SE sites. Consider a made-up programming example:

Q: How can I check for the existence of a string in an array in perl?

A: if ( 'string' ~~ @array )

It's a perfectly valid answer... however, a likely comment will follow:

C: Please note this only works in perl 5.10.0 or newer.

At which point the answer can be edited to include the new information (and possibly a pre-5.10.0 answer), and the answer's OP learns something new at the same time.

SE is part-Wiki for a reason.

I think we should add this to the FAQ since especially new users are making new answers, even they have enough rep. –  JoulSauron May 18 '12 at 7:40
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A variation of this problem occurs on the Gardening SE since different climates and environmental conditions may (or may not) require different diagnoses, treatments and answers. Since part of the process of asking (and answering!) questions is learning the significance of regional variation, we can't expect people to know the complete and accurate scope of the various answers. One solution to the problem has been to fill in geographic information in the user info pop-up, but I don't know how useful that has been.

The way things have settled in the gardening realm seems to be that people try to be specific about where their suggestions apply and as other people answer, the story starts to fill in. Over time, a reader can start to see the big picture. The same seems to be the natural end-state here too: over time we'll all learn to expect some regional-variation and have a feel for when it's likely. As the site gets filled in, the full range of dialects will be filled in.

I recommend the phrases, "at least in X" or "my experience in X, Y, Z". The don't claim universality nor do they claim exclusivity. Both extremes should be avoided. ;-)

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The good part about "regional variation" is that regions can be anything, unlike "national variation" or something. We don't have to define it other than to clarify what regions we are talking about when it's important. I would say though that there's much more variety in Spain than in Mexico. There is variety within Mexico too of course.

I think we're just getting the feel of it and will only get better. I think asking for clarity in comments works pretty good.

We already have a few tags to cover this. There's one for regional variation, at least two for specific regions, and one for "neutral Spanish" which I believe will be the hardest to pin down of all.

I agree with your first paragraph. The problem, as I see it, is that when I'm asking/answering a question, I myself might not know whether my contribution is relative to a regional variation or not (i.e., It's hard for me to tell whether I should specify or not my regional background). Anyway, as you also say, for the moment perhaps asking or adding clarifications as comments would work well enough. –  Juan A. Navarro Nov 16 '11 at 14:57
Yes if the question doesn't make it clear and you know regional variation will be a factor, then instead of answering ask for clarification in a comment. If you are unsure whether your answer will pertain to all regional variants then include such a disclaimer in your answer. –  hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 15:05
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This "problem" occurs in the English Language & Usage SE as well, although maybe the level of variation is different. In that case, each person says "Concerning this zone... etc" and you know what English they're talking about... :)

I don't know how the flag thing can be applied, that is up to the developers or whoever is given this responsibility... It might be a solution, but in the meantime at least, I'd advise to use the "Say-it-in-your-answer" method.

También el EL&U tiene un problema parecido, aunque el nivel de variación puede ser diferente. En ese caso, cada uno utiliza una expresión como por ejemplo "Hablando de esa zona..." y se sabe de que inglés están hablando.

No sé como se puede utilizar la bandera para decir de donde es alguien, eso sería algo que los "devs" o quienquiera que tenga esa responsabilidad. Podría funcionar, pero mientras que esperamos una respuesta sobre eso, yo recomendaría utilizar lo que he dicho antes.

Yes, but the problems that (as in the examples I've pointed out), it is not clear when one should "say-it-in-your-answer". About the feature having to be implemented, if there is a real need and enough consensus from the community, stack-exchange do tends to implement this kind of site-specific extra features. –  Juan A. Navarro Nov 16 '11 at 15:07
You always include it when you know there might be something ambiguous and if you're not sure of that, you include it... If it's useless, it won't harm anyone... But if on the contrary it's useful, its absence might be "dangerous". Yeah I agree on what you say about the feature... :) But I propose that it should work on the spanish you speak and not simply on where you come from... I'm Italian but I studied Castillian spanish (although I know something of south-american spanish). –  Alenanno Nov 16 '11 at 15:15
@Alenanno: Watch out, in South America they call their Spanish Castiallian in some countries, notably in Argentina. I've never been to South America but studied in the country with the most Spanish speakers. –  hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 17:58
I disagree with the "Always say it" answer because it could lead to the impression that a good, solid, universal answer is actually a regional answer. I think you should only say it when you know that there are regional variations. –  Richard Nov 16 '11 at 18:04
@Richard I said you should always include it when you know there is some ambiguity and in cases when you're not sure if other regional variations are different. So, I don't see where you disagree, I think we're agreeing actually. :) –  Alenanno Nov 16 '11 at 18:54
Mostly on the point of "if you're not sure of that, you include it". That leads to the point where we are always including. I think if we're not sure, we shouldn't include it. I agree with your last comment, though, wholeheartedly! :) –  Richard Nov 16 '11 at 18:57
Mi experiencia in english.SE es que muchas veces la gente no se da cuenta de que su respuesta sólo vale para su dialecto. Pero bueno, de acuerdo en que es un problema ahí también. –  Peter Taylor Dec 9 '11 at 21:08
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