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Saturday, July 6, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Microsoft Accepts Blame -- Offensive Words To Be Zapped From Spanish-Language Software

Seattle Times Business Reporter

Microsoft is taking steps to remove offensive translations from its Spanish-language word-processing software, while cranking up a public-relations campaign from Mexico to Spain to apologize.

The steps came as Mexican officials responded with outrage at news reports that the thesaurus in the Spanish-language edition of Microsoft Word lists such words as "man-eater" and "savage" as synonyms for "Indian." Mexico and other Latin American countries have large populations descended from native Indians.

For the word "lesbian," meanwhile, the thesaurus listed "pervert" and "depraved person." The word "Western," by contrast, drew synonyms such as "Aryan," "white" and "civilized."

Media outlets in Spain and Latin American markets and others with Spanish-language readerships in the United States have reported the situation.

A Native American leader in the Seattle area said the controversy had not yet caused a stir here.

Microsoft, which markets its software extensively in Spain and many Latin American countries, quickly took full responsibility for the error.

The company placed several large ads in Mexican newspapers and trade publications apologizing. Internally, the company is planning to change some of the ways it develops different language versions of its products.

"Obviously, there were some mistakes," said Renee Dunn, a senior public-relations officer for Microsoft's international operations. "We are fixing it. We are taking it seriously."

Microsoft typically hires local companies in other countries to provide translations for the company's English-language products, Dunn said.

Dunn said Microsoft had contracted with a Mexican dictionary company to provide Spanish translation for the Word software.

The controversial translations were provided by that company, Dunn said.

Microsoft officials had not reviewed the translations or been aware of them until the news broke this week.

Microsoft has declined to identify the Mexican dictionary company, because the Redmond-based software giant wants to take full responsibility for the incident, Dunn said.

"Its definitely our error," she said.

It was not clear who at the Mexican company entered the translations or why those specific synonyms were listed.

Ignacio Blum, Microsoft Mexico's product manager for office products, said that the translations were based on those found in existing dictionaries. Dunn said that the error was one of misunderstanding.

"In translating cultural (words) . . . there will be some growing pains," she said.

As many as 200,000 people use the software in Mexico. Numbers for other Spanish-speaking countries weren't available yesterday. The English-language version does not list the same words as alternatives.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is aware of the situation, and the company has made it a priority to get a revised version of the software to customers as soon as possible, Dunn said. Microsoft officials will be meeting with language and cultural experts in Mexico and Spain over the next several weeks. A new version, which will be distributed for free, should be available within a month or two.

But that news did little to satisfy some Mexican politicians.

"I see this as profoundly dangerous because it is a lack of respect for our dignity as Mexicans and for our indigenous roots," said Adriana Luna, a Mexican congresswoman.

Information from Reuters is included in this story.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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