Discover 11 Mindblowing Facts About Spanish (Dialects)
Do you say “y’all” or “you guys?” Do you call that playground water source a “drinking fountain,” a “water fountain,” or a “bubbler?” Do you ask for a “soda,” “pop,” or “coke?” As an English speaker living in the United States, you’re likely familiar with these and similar regional variations of the American English language.
Linguists refer to these types of regional differences among speakers of the same language as dialects and they aren’t unique to English. If you have ever studied Spanish or gotten to know any native Spanish speakers, you’re probably also familiar with the two most common Spanish dialects: Castilian and Latin American Spanish. Actually, there are at least nine other Spanish dialects spoken in different parts of the world. Let’s take a linguistic trip around the globe to discover some fascinating facts about 11 Spanish dialects.
What is a dialect?
Before we get into the specifics of the different dialects, it’s important to understand what linguists refer to when they discuss the term. You may wonder, for example, “what’s the difference between an ‘accent’ and a ‘dialect’?” While you may certainly find the two terms used interchangeably in articles written by non-linguists, they do have different technical meanings.
Whereas an accent refers to the way different speakers in different locations pronounce words, a dialect has its own grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and common expressions that differentiates it from other dialects. In other words, you can think of an accent as one part of a dialect with ‘dialect’ being an all-encompassing term. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for speakers of one dialect to have difficulty communicating with speakers of other dialects even though they speak the same language. In fact, language experts often debate about precisely where to draw the line between dialects and languages.
So, why do languages have different dialects? The main cause is linguistic change. All living languages are constantly evolving. These complex systems of signs and symbols are transformed in different ways by the people living in different localities where each language is spoken.
In many cases, explorers and settlers traveled from their home countries—from Spain say—to other parts of the world—to Mexico, for example—bringing their native language with them. Once they arrived, their language blended with and was influenced by the languages of the indigenous people already inhabiting the region.
While these changes are gradual, they accumulate over time. When changes appear among one group, they can be adopted or rejected by other communities within the same single language. This is how dialects are born.
11 Facts About Spanish Dialects
Now let’s take a look at some of the most common Spanish dialects and the most important facts that separate them. Keep in mind that the following list is intentionally broad. There are, of course, more subtle regional variations similar to the American English examples discussed in the beginning of this article, but this list serves as a helpful guide.
Spanish Dialects of Spain
As mentioned above, if you knew prior to reading this article that Spanish had different dialects, you were probably aware of Castilian Spanish. This is the dialect representing the majority of Spanish speakers living in northern and central Spain.
The differences between Castilian and Latin American Spanish are significant. For example, Castilian speakers use vosotros in addition to ustedes (to mean “you all”). In addition, some common expressions have different meanings depending on where you are. In Spain, for instance, you’ll hear conducir used as the verb when referring to driving a vehicle. In Latin American Spanish, the term used most often is manejar. In Spain, though, manejar restricts its meaning to managing or administering something, i.e., manejar el negocio (to manage a business).
Similarly, if you wanted to park your vehicle, in Spain the verb is aparcar, in Latin American Spanish you’d instead use estacionar or parquear.
This is the dialect found most often in the southern part of Spain.
The main variation between Andalusian and Castilian Spanish is that Andalusian neutralizes the distinctive sounds commonly referred to as “the Spanish Lisp.” The lisping ‘s’ sound in words like hacer (to do) and gracias (thank you) affects the pronunciation of three different letters: ‘s’, ‘z’, and ‘c’ (when it is followed by an ‘e’ or an ‘i’). This feature of the dialect has also spread to many parts of Latin America, which explains why the lisp is also missing in many Latin American countries.
In addition, Andalusian Spanish also drops many letters, such as the ‘s’ at the end of words and the ‘d’ from pretty much every word. These variations result in a more fluid or smooth sound than other Spanish dialects.
Another dialect found in the southern region of Spain in an autonomous community called Murcia is Murcian. Because it is so similar to Andalusian Spanish, Murcian is a rarely used dialect. In fact, unless you travel to this specific community, you are very unlikely to encounter anyone using this dialect.
The best way to describe Llanito, the dialect spoken in Gibraltar located on the southern tip of Spain, is as a combination of Andalusian Spanish and British English. With a strong Spanish base, speakers of Llanito borrow words from English, Genoese, Maltese, Portuguese, and several other common languages in the Mediterranean region. Additionally, there is a Jewish influence coming from Sephardic Jews who migrated from Morocco and the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa.
As you might guess, this dialect came about mainly because of British influence and the status of Gibraltar as a British colony. It is not uncommon to hear speakers in Gibraltar switching between Spanish and English in the same sentence.
Many language experts label Llanito Europe’s quirkiest language because it reflects an unusually wide blend of cultural influences. Llanito is full of modified English expressions or abbreviated English words pronounced with a Spanish flair. For example, chakaru, is the word for a bouncer or literally a “chucker-out.” Other words resulted from a confusion between Spanish and English, aceitero, for instance is the word that refers to an oil tanker, but aceite is the Spanish word for olive oil, not for petroleum fuel.
Spanish Dialects of Latin America
Even non-Spanish speakers can hear the contrast between the Spanish spoken by Europeans and the Spanish spoken by those living in Latin America. The dialect of urban mainland Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, and the majority of Central and South America is referred to as Latin American Spanish. The difference is similar to English as spoken in the U.K. vs. English as spoken in the U.S.
If you look carefully at the name of this dialect, you will understand where you can find people using this dialect: the Río de la Plata. This refers to the river basin region running through parts of Argentina and Uruguay.
One distinctive feature of this dialect is the mix of European words that have become a part of it. Listening to Rioplatense speakers, you will hear German, French, and English words sprinkled throughout. Researchers also note that the accent is closer to Italian than what you might think of as a Spanish accent. This is likely due to the influx of Italian immigrants to the region, especially to Buenos Aires, in the 19th century.
Mexican Spanish is most often found in, you guessed it, Mexico, but also in large parts of the U.S. and Canada.
This dialect was most strongly influenced by indigenous languages. As settlers from Spain introduced the language to the continent, native inhabitants added words from their own languages. Even today, more than 7.4 million Mexicans speak one of the many indigenous languages of the area. Actually, Mexico is home to 364 language varieties derived from 68 separate language groups.
Of course, Mexican Spanish is also influenced by English. Many refer to it by its nickname, “Spanglish,” because of the many English-Spanish hybrids that have become part of everyday speech.
Spoken exclusively on the Caribbean islands, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and along the Caribbean coast of Mexico and Central America, this dialect resembles Canarian Spanish (more on this below) and, in some ways, Andalusian. In addition, the diversity of cultures in the Caribbean means you’ll also find African, English, French, and indigenous language influences here.
Caribbean Spanish is characterized by elided middle consonants and omitted final consonants, as well as an aspirated ‘r’ that is pronounced like the Portuguese ‘x’. If you learned Spanish from a textbook or your high school Spanish teacher, undoubtedly, it will take some practice for you to comfortably understand Caribbean Spanish speakers.
If you know your South American geography, you know that the Andes mountains run through western South America. One of the longest continental mountain ranges in the world, it passes through many countries and yet, the dialect remains fairly consistent throughout the range.
The term ‘Andean Spanish’ is commonly applied to the Spanish encountered in the highland area stretching from the equator to the Tropic of Capricorn. In the Andes region, the final letters of words are often pronounced clearly and there are differences in certain sets of consonant pronunciation, which are unlike many other Spanish variations.
- Central American
Central American Spanish is spoken throughout Central America, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. These territories have a shared colonial history and were once governed as a single unit, called the Audiencia of Guatemala.
In this dialect, you will hear some ‘s’ sounds transformed into ‘h’ sounds, as in [hanta] santa ‘saint’ and [ẽtõhe] entonces ‘then’, while other consonant sounds often get dropped altogether (e.g., ‘j’ and in certain cases, ‘m’).
Spanish Dialects Around the World
Beyond the Spanish dialects spoken on the Iberian Peninsula (i.e., the region of land shared by Spain and Portugal) in Europe and in Latin American countries, variations are spoken in many other parts of the world. Two other prominent dialects are Canarian and Equatoguinean.
Because the Canary Islands are so remote from other Spanish-speaking countries, the dialect has not evolved or morphed as much as many other varieties of Spanish. Consequently, Canarian Spanish is only spoken on the Canary Islands.
That being said, the dialect is closer to Caribbean and Andalusian Spanish than it is to Castilian Spanish. For example, the people of the Canary Islands do not use the Spanish lisp or the vosotros form.
Additionally, Canarian Spanish has a few quirks of its own, like differences in tense and word order. The Canary Island people have added their own set of vocabulary to the language as well. New words include rascado (drunkenness), chachi (nice), and esachar (to squash).
Equatoguinean Spanish is the only official Spanish spoken in Africa. This dialect is spoken in Equatorial Guinea (hence the name), which is in fact the only country in Africa with Spanish as the official language.
Given its relatively close proximity to Spain, this dialect resembles Castilian Spanish using vosotros and ustedes interchangeably. However, it is also influenced by the native African languages in the area, as well as French, Portuguese, and German. Because of its unique set of influences, Equatoguinean Spanish has pronunciation that is quite different from other places, even incorporating a French-like ‘r’ sound.
Which of these dialects are most useful to learn? Well, the answer depends on your personal and professional goals. If you are traveling and want to communicate with the people who you will encounter in a particular region, it makes sense to be aware of the differences among these variations. Most language learning programs differentiate between Castilian and Latin American Spanish, even though the fundamentals of the language are the same.
If you are looking to expand your business in Spanish speaking markets around the world, you will want to enlist the help of language experts who understand the differences in dialect, especially between Castilian and Latin American Spanish, but beyond this, the differences in cultures is even more important to understand when it comes to marketing and sales.
Our team at DTS Language Services, Inc. is standing by to be your global language partner. When you need a guide to show you the ropes and set you up for success, our project managers, translators, interpreters, and transcriptionists are ready to spring into action. Contact us today to request a quote on your language project.