Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Our Spanish

“You’re here in Spain.   You have to learn our Spanish.”

One of my coworkers at the Centro Hispano-Dominicano, where I have my internship, has said this to me several times after Latin American words slipped out of my mouth.

I learned Latin American Spanish for nine years before coming to Spain.   All of my teachers either came from or studied in Spanish-speaking countries in the Western hemisphere, and I’ve spent time in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Panama.   That’s not to say that Spanish in Latin America is at all uniform : there are substantial differences in accent and vocabulary : but certain things set Spanish Spanish apart.

1. The “Lisp”: This was one of the first subjects that came up when I told people in the U.S. that I was going to study in Spain.     Unlike other Spanish speakers, Spaniards do make soft c’s and z’s sound like th’s. They don’t, however, say things like bienvendoth a Ethpaña.

 It’s common here in Madrid to pronounce ch as ts, changing chico into tsico or coche into cotse.  I’ve also heard what sounds like a Sean Connery breed of Spanish, which converts s’s into sh’s.

2.  Vosotros: Spanish around the world has two forms of a singular “you”: tú is familiar and usted is more formal.   To address a plural “you,” Spain uses a familiar vosotros and a formal ustedes, while Latin America uses ustedes in all situations.   My classmates here have ragged on me for using ustedes to speak to them as a group because it strikes them as strangely deferential from someone of their own age.

3. Vocabulary: A lot of words used in Latin America are more similar to English words than the equivalents used in Spain.   Instead of saying computador, depósito, and marcadora for computer, deposit, and marker, Spaniards use the more original ordenador, fianza, and retulador.

Some words have distinct meanings on either side of the Atlantic.   Coger, for example, is a useful verb in Spain that means to take, to catch, to pick up.   In Latin America, however, coger means to screw, to fuck.   The first few times I heard the verb here, I had no idea why people were talking about screwing the phone or the train.

I would never say to someone who had learned British English and was living in the U.S., ” You have to learn our English.”   Even so, it makes sense for me to adopt the native ways of speaking as best I can.   Here I go!

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  • S

    SpencerMar 4, 2012 at 12:49 am

    Dialects–and how people identify with them–fascinate me. In Japan, there are numerous different dialects depending on the region, but if you speak 標準語 (standard Japanese), then you can make yourself understood anywhere. For that reason, my Japanese classes teach standard Japanese, but I’m also learning the Kansai region-specific dialect through daily life and a few extra classes my program has offered.

    Sometimes, when I’ve traveled outside of the Kansai region, such as to Hokkaido or Tokyo, I’ve had to consciously keep myself from slipping into the Kansai dialect. I don’t know if it’d be a matter of misunderstanding, especially since TV dramas and other media have popularized certain dialects like Kansai-ben, but it would certainly be strange.

    On the flip side, I can use standard Japanese anywhere, and in my experience, nobody has looked at me and said, “You’re in Nagasaki–use Nagasaki Japanese.”

    Thanks for sharing the insight!