Spanish is one of the main Romance languages, which means that much of its vocabulary, sounds, and grammar comes from the language of Rome – Latin. An estimated 70% of Spanish is derived from Latin and the other 30% from Arabic. In Latin America, Spanish has also adopted a significant vocabulary from native languages and other languages such as English. Around the world about 450 million people speak Spanish as their native language, and over 300 million of these are in Latin America.
The form spoken in Spain is called Castilian Spanish, European Spanish, Peninsular Spanish or Spanish for Spain (while Spaniards would just call their language español, and not castellano); and there are many dialects spoken in the Americas.
Compared with European Variety
Pronunciation varies from country to country and from region to region, just as English pronunciation varies from one place to another, but there are also general differences between how the language is spoken in Spain and in the New World:
- Differences occur mostly in pronunciation and vocabulary, and less so in grammar.
- In general, coastal dialects throughout Latin America show strong similarities to Atlantic-Andalusian (western Andalusia and the Canary Islands) speech patterns, while inland regions in Mexico and Andean countries are not similar to any particular dialect in Spain.
- The distinction between the phonemes [s] and [θ] is maintained in northern and central Spain, while the two phonemes are merged in Latin America and most of southern Spain. The merged phoneme is realized as [s] in the Spanish of the Americas and Canary Islands, and as either [s] or [θ] in different parts of Andalusia in southern Spain. Depending on this realization, the use of the merged phoneme is called either seseo or ceceo, respectively.
- In Latin American Spanish, direct loanwords from English are more frequent, often used without adapting the spelling to the traditional norms. The most notorious example is the use of the word “email” or “e-mail” in Latin American instead of the more literal translation, correo electrónico, used in Spain; or la computadora instead of el ordenador.
- Indigenous languages have left their mark on American Spanish, which is particularly evident in vocabulary to do with flora, fauna, cultural habits and proper names.
- Since Latin American Spanish is closer to the dialects spoken in the south of Spain, synonyms of Arabic origin are more common. Examples include alcoba along with standard cuarto, recámara, habitación, dormitorio, aposento or pieza (bedroom), or alhaja for standard joya (jewel).
- Most Latin American Spanish dialects feature yeísmo—that is, there is no distinction between “ll” and “y”, and both are pronounced [ʝ]. However, yeísmo is an expanding and now dominant feature also in European Spanish. Additionally, speakers of Rioplatense Spanish pronounce both “ll” and “y” as [ʒ] or [ʃ], so that for example the first sound of the word Yo (“I”) is similar to either the English sound of “s” in vision or the “sh” in shop.
- Most speakers of Caribbean and coastal dialects debuccalize syllable-final “s” to [h], or drop it entirely, so that está [esˈta] (“s/he is”) sounds like [ehˈta] or [eˈta], like in southern Spain.
- In some areas of Spanish America, final “n” is pronounced as velar [ŋ], so a word like pan (bread) is often articulated [‘paŋ], a phenomenon known as velarization.
- For the second person formal, virtually all Spanish dialects of Spain and the Americas use usted and ustedes (singular and plural respectively), but for the second person informal, there is regional variation—between tú and vos for the singular, and between vosotros and ustedes for the plural. The use of vos (and its corresponding verb forms) rather than tú is called voseo.
There are also different conventions in punctuation between Latin American countries:
|Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela||Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Puerto Rico|
|Decimal Separator Example||0,25 cm||0.25 cm|
|Thousand Separator Example||$ 1.500,00||$ 1,500.00|
Although there are significant differences between Latin American Spanish dialects, all speakers can understand each other without major difficulties.
- Andean Spanish – The term Andean Spanish is commonly applied to the spectrum of speech types encountered in the highland area stretching from the equator to the Tropic of Capricorn. It has been influenced by long-lasting and intense language contact between Spanish and indigenous languages Quechua and Aymara.
- Caribbean Spanish – This is a Spanish marked with idioms, influenced by those who speak Andalusian, Canarian and above all the African presence. It is spoken in the island territories of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, as well as the coastal areas and, by extension, the interior of Venezuela, northern Colombia and the majority of Panama. It is also the most common Spanish in Miami and New York in the United States and the form most used by Salsa singers.
- Central American Spanish – The Central American republics of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, together with the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, have a shared colonial history. The territories in question originally formed a single administrative unit, the Audiencia of Guatemala. This along with common economic and cultural trends of decline and isolation throughout the colonial period and afterwards, has resulted in a broad linguistic unity throughout the area. Central American Spanish is characterized by a combination of archaism and innovation away from standard Spanish.
- Chilean Spanish – Chile occupied a rather peripheral position in the Spanish Empire, isolated from the principle trading routes and administrative lines of communication. The Spanish spoken in Chile differs with other Latin American dialects in pronunciation, syntax and vocabulary.
- Equatorial Spanish – Also called Coastal Colombian-Ecuadorian dialect or Chocoano, it is a dialect of Spanish spoken mainly in the coastal region of Ecuador, as well as bordering coastal areas of northern Peru and southern Colombia. It is considered to be transitional between the Caribbean and Andean Spanish.
- Mexican Spanish – The territory of contemporary Mexico is not identical with Mexican Spanish usage. Firstly, the Spanish of the Yucatán peninsula is similar to the dialects of Central America, as is the Spanish spoken in the areas that border Guatemala. Secondly, the waves of 19th and 20th century migration from Mexico to the USA have caused Mexican Spanish to become the most widely spoken variety of Spanish throughout the USA. Mexico City, the capital of the country, hosts most of the mass communication media with international reach. Because of this, most of the dubbing identified abroad with the label “Mexican Spanish” or “Latin American Spanish” actually corresponds to the Central Mexican variation.
- Rioplatense Spanish – The area around the Río de la Plata is now one of the most densely populated in Latin America, but throughout much of the colonial period it was in economic and cultural isolation. This is reflected in a variety of Spanish characterized by archaism and non-standard innovation. Main outstanding features of Rioplatense Spanish is widespread use of vos instead of tú, with their corresponding verb conjugation changed, especially in their accentuation, so that the words with “ll” sound like “ye” and in some regions like “sh”.
Examples of Spanish Variants
The flight was uneventful, and I slept most of the way in the spacious, first-class seating of the Boeing 787. I had a busy couple of days ahead of me filled with meetings and presentations for clients. I was woken up by the flight attendant on the PA system announcing we were landing soon and asking everyone to buckle up and adjust their seats and tray tables. As the wheels hit the tarmac, I breathed a sigh of relief and looked around for my suitcase. My heart missed a beat – it was gone!
What would you do in this situation?
El vuelo fue rutinario y dormí casi todo el vuelo en ese espacioso y cómodo asiento de primera clase del Boeing 787. Los siguientes dos días iba a estar bien ocupado con reuniones y presentaciones para clientes. La azafata me despertó al anuncia por el parlante que ya íbamos a aterrizar y nos pidió que nos ajustáramos los cinturones de seguridad, enderezáramos el asiento y guardáramos las bandejas. Cuando el avión tocó tierra, respiré con alivio y me paré a buscar mi maletín. Mi corazón se detuvo un instante… no estaba el maletín.
¿Qué haría usted en esa situación?
El vuelo no tuvo inconvenientes y me la pasé durmiendo casi todo el viaje en el espacioso asiento de primera clase del Boeing 787. Me esperaban un par de días muy agitados, llenos de reuniones y presentaciones con clientes. Me desperté cuando la azafata anunció por los parlantes que pronto aterrizaríamos, pidiéndole a todos los pasajeros que se abrocharan los cinturones, recolocaran los asientos y plegasen las bandejas. Cuando las ruedas tocaron la pista, respiré aliviada y miré alrededor buscando mi valija. Casi me da algo, ¡la valija había desaparecido!
¿(Vos) qué harías en esta situación?
El vuelo no tuvo inconvenientes; dormí la mayor parte del camino en el espacioso asiento de primera clase del Boeing 787. Me esperaban un par de ajetreados días con reuniones y presentaciones para clientes. Desperté por la voz de la auxiliar de vuelo en el sistema de sonido anunciando que aterrizaríamos pronto y pidiendo a todos que abrocharan sus cinturones, ajustaran sus asientos y plegaran sus bandejas. Cuando las ruedas hicieron contacto con la pista de aterrizaje, respiré aliviado y miré a mi alrededor en busca de mi maleta. Mi corazón se detuvo por un instante: ¡había desaparecido!
¿Qué haría usted en esta situación?
El vuelo fue tranquilo y dormí durante la mayor parte del trayecto en el asiento espacioso, de primera clase, del Boeing 787. Tenía por delante varios días llenos de reuniones y presentaciones a clientes. Me despertó la azafata, al avisar a través de los parlantes que estábamos por aterrizar y que era necesario ajustar nuestros cintos de seguridad y poner nuestros asientos y mesas en posición. Al tocar las ruedas la pista de aterrizaje, di un suspiro de alivio y miré alrededor buscando mi maleta. Mi corazón se paró por un segundo: ¡mi maleta había desaparecido!
¿Qué harías en esta situación?
El vuelo fue muy tranquilo, y me pasé casi todo el viaje durmiendo en el espacioso asiento de primera clase del Boeing 787. Me esperaban un par de días muy ajetreados, llenos de reuniones y presentaciones con los clientes. Me desperté cuando el auxiliar de vuelo anunció por el sistema de megafonía que pronto aterrizaríamos, pidiéndole a todos los pasajeros que se abrochasen los cinturones de seguridad y que recolocasen los asientos y plegasen las bandejas. Cuando las ruedas tocaron la pista, respiré aliviada y busqué mi maleta con la mirada. Casi me da algo, ¡la maleta había desaparecido!
¿Qué harías en esta situación?
The information is part of Andovar’s Languages of Latin America white paper. Click here to download your FREE copy.
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