SPANISH in America: a succinct study.

Uncountable times I have heard that the way porteños speak is different from “the rest of America”. This is probably due to the (mistaken) belief that Argentina is the only country with voseo. The same happens when it comes to the pronunciation for “y” and “ll”. For many people there are only two ways to speak Spanish in America: like Buenos Aires inhabitants or like “the rest of America”.

This idea is so deep-rooted that, every time, I have a hard work convincing people (who, after all my attempts, will give me that suspicious look) that there is no such thing. There are more dialects coexisting in America than I will ever know. Each of them, different.

It would be an impossible task to give a complete report of what America dialectal situation is like. Instead, I will simply provide (without becoming punctitious at all) a few examples to prove the variety and complexity of American Spanish dialects.

1- Regarding pronunciation, I can easily think of:

– 6 different ways to pronounce “y”:

/ʃ/ – as in she

/ʒ/ – as in vision

/ʤ/ – as in June

/ʤi:/ – as the name for “g”

/ʧ/ – as in chin

/I:/ – as in see

– 3 for “r”

/l/ – as in leg

/ʒ/ – as in vision

/r/ – the most known pronunciationl.

– 3 for “b”

/b/ – as in bed

/u:/ – as in too

/g/ – as is got

– And 3 for “s”

/ʃ/ – as in she

/s/- as in so

/Ɵ/ – as in thin

Morphology:

The following map shows (as reliably as Wikipedia allows) those countries where vos is used.

In dark blue and blue, countries with voseo predominance (except for Chile where they use vos in a different way). In green, countries where vos is used in some regions. In sky blue, countries where is almost unused. In red, countries where only tuteo exists.

Technically, only Cuba and Spain don´t have “vos” among their available forms.

Another interesting nuance is the opposition “tú/vos” vs. “usted”. The most spread use says that “usted” is formal and “tú/vos” are informal. However, this ignores the fact that in Colombia people use “usted” as an intimate and familiar form. In Buenos Aires, instead, “usted” implies aging but not always formality; several times it´s used as a friendly form and not few times it´s a sign of “flirting”.

At the same time, in the places where both “tú” and “vos” are used, they are not interchangable. Each has its own context of usage.

Vocabulary:

I chose “remera” just to take a very common word. The following chart shows how many different words exist for the same object according to the countries.

I could continue for ever but I will stop here. Don´t panic.

Not even us, as native speakers, know (let alone use) every one of these variants. A common grammar (with this I am meaning syntaxis) let us understand each other in a very high percentage, high enough to leave vocabulary variation as the only one aspect to be learnt. We become more and more familiar with it as we are being in touch with movies, people, songs, news, places, etc: understanding other slang is a process that needs culture contact, ergo, time. However, even then, when we get to understand it, we don´t change our way to speak to talk to someone with a different dialect.

I, as porteño, am not expected to change “vos” to “tú” when talking to a Venezuelan guy, neither I expect a Peruvian to say “sho” as in Buenos Aires; Colombian people are free to use “usted” in a colloquial and familiar way, and so on and so forth…

So if we, native Spanish speakers, are not able, therefore, not requiered to know and to use every single existing form in America at a certain time, why should a student?

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