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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Variations in Spanish

Unlike Arabic or Chinese, with Spanish, you will be able to speak and understand people in every single Spanish-speaking country in the world. Regional variations and accents do not get in the way of understanding after a few hours of practice with a local.

The variations in the Spanish language from one country to another are similar to those of French between Canada, France and Switzerland although slightly more important. For instance, in Chile and in the Caribbean, Spanish speakers eat up the final '-s' in most words. This sounds like the famous Cuban song, "Todo' lo' negro' tomamo' café," which in regular Spanish would be, "Todos los negros tomamos café." In Argentina people use an additional person when conjugating verbs, vos, and pronounce the 'y' as a 'zh'. In Madrid, people pronounce 's' in a wet and whistling fashion that recalls mating snakes. Spaniards generally use Vosotros instead of Ustedes.

These differences in accent will not pose you many problems if you recognize that they exist and work for a few hours on learning the differences, and will be a source of great fun when speaking Spanish with people from across the world.

There are also many regional languages in Spain. Within the current political context of Spain, they are called languages and enjoy an important political status:

Castellano or Castilian is used to denote the regular Spanish, by opposition to the other languages spoken in Spain.

Catalan is the official language of Catalunya, the Spanish state around Barcelona. This is a fun language close to Provencal and French. With Basque, it is the 'dialect' with the most political clout.

Galego, a language close to both Portuguese and Spanish, is spoken is Galicia, the Spanish state just north of Portugal.
Valenciano, very similar to Catalan, is spoken around Valencia.

Basque is not at all related to Spanish and is a very difficult language. It is spoken in the Basque country, capital Bilbao, on both sides of the French-Spanish border.

• Other Spanish dialects/regional languages include Aragonese, Asturian, Murcian, Leonese and Andalusian.

These regional languages should not pose you any trouble as a tourist, but if you travel in Spain you will hear them everywhere. For instance, although everybody in Barcelona does speak Spanish, most people actually converse in Catalan. This will not pose any problem to a visitor, but if you want to speak as the local do, you'll need to learn Catalan.

Labeling some languages 'a dialect' and others 'a language' is a tricky path to walk and by doing so some people will feel offended. This can happen easily in Spain where regional languages often have a long historical tradition and can claim to be direct heirs of Latin. Spaniards justly proud of their regional language would thus react strongly if you label their mother tongue 'a dialect' whereas you would call Portuguese 'a language,' The language learner should, however, keep in mind that the actual differences between Castellano and any of the regional languages of Spain are probably not larger than that between the many dialects of Italian.

When choosing which Spanish accent to learn, for instance when planning a study trip, I recommend you stay away from the Caribbean, Chile and Argentina. These are fine countries, but their strong accents and grammatical particularities will automatically brand you as a native of these countries anywhere you go. If you learn Spanish in Cuba, every time you open your mouth in Spanish you will come across as a Cuban. Try to choose a country with a neutral accent and no grammatical variations.

In my humble opinion, the clearest Spanish is to be heard in Mexico, Colombia and the region of Castilla in Spain. I am sure plenty of people will disagree, so I emphasize that there is no 'right' and 'wrong' accent, but if I was to learn Spanish again, that is the sort of accent I would try to learn.

Bryce said...

I saw your mention of Galego and thought you might find this to be a helpful resource:

Galego wiki browser

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This is the worst thing in languages that variation in different country. According to me variation means not the whole language change just some words. This variation confuse the fresher who want to learn language.

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Modern Spanish developed with the Readjustment of the Consonants (Reajuste de las sibilantes) that began in 15th century. The language continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of other languages, as well as developing new words.

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Regional Variations in Spanish One of our subscribers, a few weeks ago, asked me to address the differences between Spanish in Latin America and in Spain.

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When considering learning a language for an international job many people overlook Spanish. Most people think it is useful locally in the US but it is one of the most spoken languages in the world and large # of countries to choose from.