Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Spanish dialects and varieties
There are a series of significant differences in the way the Spanish language is spoken in the 20 or so countries and territories where it is an official language.
The letters s, c (before e and i), z and x
Within Spain one can roughly distinguish between the standard Castilian and the Andalusian dialects of Castilian Spanish. The first Spaniards to settle in the Americas, mostly Andalusians, brought some of their regionalisms with them. Today distinct accents are found in the different nations of the Americas. Typical of Latin America is seseo. The modern European Castilian phoneme IPA as in ciento, caza (interdental voiceless fricative, like English th in thin) does not exist in American Spanish; it combined with /s/ as in siento, casa.
The most distinctive feature of the spanish variants is the pronunciation of the s. In Northern and Central Spain and Antioquia, Colombia it is apico-alveolar; in Southern Spain and most of Latin America it is alveolar or dental. In most of Latin America, except Mexico, Andean Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Andean Venezuela, Quito and highland Bolivia, the s in the end of a syllable is pronounced as an aspiration, or even in rapid speech in some variants is not pronounced at all. For instance, todos los cisnes son blancos ("all the swans are white"), can be pronounced as todoh loh cihneh son blancoh, where the h represents an aspiration, or even todo lo cine son blanco. In parts of Andalusia, the distinction between syllables with silent s and those without s is preserved by pronouncing the syllables ending in s with open vowels.
The pronunciation of the letter x is affected: excelente is pronounced in Northern and Central Spain as "esθelente" but as "ekselente" by the rest.
The y and the ll.
Traditionally Spanish had a phoneme /ʎ/, a palatal lateral, written ll. This was lost in most of the Americas (with the exception of bilingual areas where Quechua and other indigenous languages that have this sound in their inventories are spoken), but now it is also being lost in Spain (also with the exception of bilingual areas of Catalan and other languages that have preserved this sound in their inventories). In many Spanish-speaking regions, the palatal lateral /ʎ/ has merged with the palatal fricative /ʝ/ (usually written y), and this merged phoneme is pronounced in a variety of ways. This phenomenon is called yeísmo. In most of the area where yeísmo is present, the phoneme is pronounced just as /ʝ/. In the area around the Río de la Plata (Argentina, Uruguay) this phoneme is pronounced as a postalveolar fricative, voiceless or weakly voiced (similar to /ʃ/ or /ʒ/).
Sets of variants
In a broad sense, the Latin American Spanish could be grouped in five sets of variants, according to the pronunciation. The first group, the Caribbean is spoken in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela (the Caribbean part, which is the principal part of the country), the Colombian Caribbean and Panamá. The second one is the South American Pacific, which comprises Perú, Chile and Guayaquil, Ecuador. The third is the Central American (just Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador). The fourth is the Argentinian-Uruguayan-Paraguayan, which probably includes the Santa Cruz de Bolivia variant. The fifth, which probably is not a group, but a cluster of places that resisted changes in the pronunciation of the s sound in the end of a syllabe, is has been called the Highland Latin American Spanish, and is spoken in México, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Andean Colombia, Andean Venezuela, Quito, and Bolivia (except in Santa Cruz).
Second person singular
Most Spanish dialects have two second person singular pronouns, one for informal use and one for more formal treatment. In most dialects the informal pronoun is tú, and the formal pronoun is usted. In a number of regions tú is replaced by another pronoun, vos, and the verb conjugation changes accordingly (see details below).
In any case, there is wide variation as when each pronoun (formal or informal) is to be used. In Spain, tú is informal (for example, used with friends) and usted is formal (for example, used with older people). In several countries, however, the formal usted is used to denote a closer personal relationship. Some Chileans, for instance, not only employ usted to address from child to parent, but also from parent to child. In Ecuador and Colombia usted is used among close friends, and many times even between couples. Some countries like Cuba privilege the use of tú even in very formal circumstances and usted thus remains seldom used. Meanwhile, in other countries, the formal vs. informal use of second-person pronouns are used to denote authority. In Peru, for example, senior military officers will use tú to speak to their subordinates, while junior officers will only use usted to address their superior officers.
Using tú informally, especially in contexts where usted was to be expected, is called tuteo. The corresponding verb is tutear (a transitive verb, the direct object being the person addressed with the pronoun). Tutear is used even in those dialects where the informal pronoun is vos.
The use of vos instead of tú is called voseo. Voseo is informal in most countries. In Argentina and Uruguay it is the standard form of the informal second person singular, and is used by all to address others in all kinds of contexts, often regardless of social status or age, including by cultivated speakers and writers, in television, publicity, and even in translations from other languages. In Uruguay vos and tú are used concurrently, though vos is much more commonplace. In both cases the verb is conjugated as vos ("Vos querés / Tú querés", rather than "Vos querés / Tú quieres").
The name Rioplatense is applied to the particular dialect, spoken around the mouth of the River Plate (Río de la Plata) and the lower course of the Paraná river, where vos is always used, with verb conjugations that resemble those of the Castilian second person plural. This area comprises the most populated part of Argentina (the provinces of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe) as well as an important part of Uruguay including Montevideo, the capital.
In Ecuador, Vos is also the most prominent form throughout the country, though it does coexists with usted and the lesser used tú. Vos is regarded as the unofficial standard, but it is not used in public discourse, the media or television. To make things more complex, in Ecuador the choice of prounoun to be used depends on the participants' likeness in age and/or social status. Based on these factors, the addresser can assess himself as being an equal, superior or inferior to the addressee, and the appropriate choice of pronoun to be employed can then be made. Ecuadorians generally use vos among familiarized equals, or by superiors [in both social status and age] to inferiors; tú among unfamiliarized equals, or by a superior in age but inferior in social status; and usted by both familiarized and unfamiliarized inferiors, or by a superior in social status but inferior in age.
Vos can be heard throughout most of Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, and a small part of Peru, but in these places it is reproched as sub-standard and the speech of the uneducated and ignorant. It is also used as the unofficial standard in the Department of Antioquia (Colombia), in Maracaibo (Venezuela), in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the State of Chiapas in Mexico.
A usage similar to voseo is vos with the verb in the grammatically plural form (as if it used vosotros). It appears as a formal or disrespectfully familiar use in the works of the Spanish Golden Century and period works placed in that era.
In Colombia, the choice of second person singular varies with location. In most of inland Colombia (chiefly the Andean region), usted is the pronoun of choice for all situations, even in speaking between friends or family, but in large cities (Bogotá mainly), the use of tú is becoming more accepted in informal situations, especially between young interlocutors of the opposite sex (i.e., a young man talking to a young woman) and among young women. In Valle del Cauca (Cali) Antioquia (Medellín) and the Pacific coast, the pronouns used are vos/usted. In the Caribbean coast (mainly Barranquilla and Cartagena), tú is used for practically all informal situations and many formal situations, usted being reserved for the most formal environments. A peculiarity occurs in Boyacá and among older speakers in Bogotá: Usted is replaced by sumercé for formal situations (it is relatively easy to spot a Boyacense by his/her use of this pronoun). Sumercé comes from "Su Merced", an early formal pronoun.
In parts of Spain, fifty years ago a child would not use tú but usted to address a parent. This would be very unusual today. Among the factors for the ongoing substitution, there are the new social relevance of youth and reduction of social differences. Being addressed as usted makes one feel older. It has also been attributed to the egalitarianism of the right-wing party Falange. On the contrary, Spanish leftists of the early 20th century would address their comrades as usted as a show of respect and worker's dignity.
Joan Corominas explains that vos was a peasant form in classical Castilian, and since most Spanish immigrants to the New World belonged to this class, vos became the unmarked form.
Another explanation is that in Spain, although "vos" denoted high social status by those who were addressed as such (monarchs, nobility, etc.) these people never actually used the pronoun themselves since there weren't any people above them in society. Those who used "Vos" were the inferiors (lower classes and peasants). When the waves of Spanish immigrants arrived to populate the New World, they were primarily comprised of these lower classes and peasants. These would then want to raise their social status from what it was in Spain and would demand to be addressed as a "vos". Everyone thus became a "vos" in the Americas, and the pronoun was transformed into not only indicator of low status for the addresser, but also for the addressee. Conversely, in Spain today "vos" is still considered a highly exalted archaism that is confined to liturgy, and its use by native Spaniards is seen as deliberate archaism.
Other less frequent forms analogous to usted are voacé, bosanzé and boxanxé (by Moriscos), vuecencia, usía.
Second person plural
In Standard European Spanish the plural of tú is vosotros and the plural of usted is ustedes. In Latin America vosotros is not used, and the plural of both tú and usted is ustedes. This means that speaking to a group of friends a Spaniard will use vosotros and a Latin American will use ustedes. The verb conjugation for ustedes employs a grammatically third person plural form (even though ustedes is semantically second person). The only rest of vosotros in America is boso/bosonan in Papiamento. Joan Corominas supposes that the vos forms in the Caribbean were perceived as slave-talk, and disrespectful for, initially, whites and later for everybody.
The plural of the Colombian Sumercé is Sumercés, from Sus Mercedes.
In some parts of Andalusia, the use is what they call ustedes-vosotros: ustedes is combined with the verbal forms for vosotros.
Second Person Verb Conjugation
Changes in the pronoun also bring along a change in the second person of the verb. Roughly a third of Latin American speakers of Spanish replace the singular pronoun Tú by Vos. This also affects verb conjugations, which are replaced by forms related with the plural vosotros, either without the diphthongization of those forms or without the final s. This originated because an influence of French (where even if the singular 2nd person is Tu, when talking to someone with respect Vous [2nd person plural] is used). When irregular verbs are observed it is obvious that vos conjugations are related to the vosotros forms. Vosotros and the French vous autres ("you others") were the informal 2nd person plural in the old days, distinct from their respective formal conjugation : "vos" and "vous". In France, "vous" is now both formal 2nd person singular and informal 2nd person plural; in Québec (Canada), it is not uncommon to also hear "vous autres", which is as odd to a Frenchman to hear as "Thou" for an anglophone. Examples:
- 'You speak'
- Spain Spanish singular - tú hablas
- Argentina and Central America - vos hablás
- Uruguay - vos hablás, tú hablás
- Chile - tú hablái, vos hablái
- Colombia - usted habla, sumercé habla
- Venezuela (Maracaibo) and archaic Spanish formal singular - vos habláis
- Ecuador - vos hablas, vos hablás, vos habláis
- Spain Spanish plural - vosotros habláis
- 'That you lose' (perder is a semi-regular verb, with vowel alternation according to stress position)
- Spain Spanish singular - que tú pierdas
- Argentina and Ecuador - que vos pierdas
- Uruguay - que vos pierdas, que tú pierdas
- Central America - que vos perdás
- Chile - que tú perdái, que vos perdái
- Colombia - que usted pierda, que sumercé pierda
- Venezuela(Maracaibo) and archaic Spanish formal singular: que vos perdáis
- Spain Spanish plural - que vosotros perdáis
- Spain Spanish singular- ven tú
- Argentina, Central America, Venezuela (Maracaibo) - vení vos
- Ecuador - vení vos, ven vos
- Chile - ven tú, ven vos
- Colombia - venga usted, venga sumercé
- Spain Spanish plural - venid vosotros
The term voseo also applies when a pronoun other than Vos is used but the verb immediately following is nonetheless conjugated according to the norms of Vos: hence "Tú subís, Tú decís, Tú querés" is still considered voseo.
Spanish has two ways to express an action finished in the past: the simple past called pretérito indefinido, and the compound tense called pasado perfecto. In Spain and many other places, the compound tense is preferred in most cases:
- Yo he viajado a los Estados Unidos. "I have travelled to the USA."
- Cuando he llegado, la he visto. "When I had come, I had seen her."
However, in other dialects the simple past tense is preferred:
- Viajé a Estados Unidos. "I travelled to the USA."
- Cuando llegué, la vi. "When I came, I saw her."
In Argentina, the compound past tense is used rarely, most notably when the action has been finished recently, to stress its immediacy, much like the present perfect in English, but even in those cases the simple past tense is prevalent.
- ¿Dónde estuviste? "Where were you?"
In this dialect, the first example of the compound past given above (Yo he viajado...) is grammatical, though it sounds affected or foreign. The second example, however, would be considered grammatically incorrect, probably because of the presence of the compound tense in the clause started by cuando ("when").
The Swedish Hispanist Bertil Malmberg holds that there is a tendency in the evolution of Spanish to prefer syllables that end in vowels. In variants like that of Argentine gauchos, that were less subject to the standard, this leads to a weakening of final consonants like /l/, /r/ or /s/. The change of syllable-final /s/ to a barely audible /h/ or simply nothing is rather noticeable in many dialects including the Argentine ones. In the Castilian variety, this tendence exists but is less marked.
However, Malmberg points out that in Mexican Spanish, it is vowels which lose strength, while consonants are fully pronounced. Malmberg explains this by the influence of the consonant-complex Nahuatl language through bilingual speakers and placenames. Others have pointed out that Mexican Spanish is tending towards stress timing and concomitant vowel reduction, and that this is likely to be caused by the influence of geographically close American English.
The different dialects and accents do not severely block cross-understanding among the educated. The basilects have diverged more. As an example, early sound films were dubbed into one version for the entire Spanish-speaking market. (Disney Pictures used educated Puerto Rican speakers). Currently, non-Spanish (usually Hollywood) productions are dubbed separately into each of the major accents, but productions from another Spanish-language country are never dubbed. The popularity of telenovelas and Latin American music familiarize the speakers with other varieties of Spanish.
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