A Spanish Dialect Primer

culture dialects Dec 17, 2020

With 21+ different Spanish-speaking countries worldwide, there are most certainly un montón de different dialectos. Featuring different vocabulary and various accents or expressions, it can be hard to keep track of so many different ways of speaking. While people from different Spanish speaking countries would ultimately understand each other perfectly, its both important & interesting to know how & why they vary.

Here are a couple of key differences:


The Spanish Lisp or 'el ceceo'

Probably the most emblematic feature of any accent from Spain (there are numerous regional dialects within the country) is the ceceo or the way Spaniards pronounce their Zs and Cs (before an I or E) -which sounds like a 'th'.

In Latin America however, these two letters are pronounced as 'S'.

Ex. Nací en Zaragoza pero vivo en Barcelona.

Pronunciation from Spain: Nací en (th)arago(th)a pero vivo en Bar(th)elona.

Pronunciation from Latin America: Nací en (s)arago(s)a pero vivo en Bar(s)elona.

The Rioplatense 'sh'

In some parts of Argentina and Uruguay, LL and Y' sounds are pronounced with a 'sh' sound -known as 'sheísmo'- while other Spanish speakers would pronounce it as a Y sound. 

 Ex. Cuando llegué a la playa estaba lloviendo a cantaros.

Pronunciation from Argentina/Uruguay: Cuando (sh)egué a la pla(sh)a estaba (sh)oviendo a cantaros.

Elsewhere: Cuando (y)egué a la pla(y)a estaba (y)oviendo a cantaros.

*The specific sound can vary from country to country, but Argentina and Uruguay are the only two nations with 'sheísmo.'


Ustedes vs. Vosotros

Spain is the only Spanish-speaking country where the vosotros and vosotras pronouns are used, the casual form of the plural second person. Everywhere else, ustedes is used.


Spain: ¿Vosotros prefiráis cenar hamburguesas o pizza?

Latin America: ¿Ustedes prefieren cenar hamburguesas o pizza?

Vos vs. Tu

Another particular feature about the rioplatense dialect is the use of vos in place of tu. Vos is also used after prepositions, so any use of ti would be replaced as well.

Rioplatense dialect: A mi me gusta el chocolate blanco. ¿A vos te gusta?

Everywhere else: A mi me gusta el chocolate blanco. ¿A ti te gusta?

For more, check out out our Carlos Gardel-related mini-lesson.

Past Tense

In Spain, it's common to talk about the part using the present perfect tense. In Latin America however, it is more common to use the simple past:

Spain: He terminado mis estudios (I have finished my studies).

Latin America: Terminé mis estudios (I finished my studies).

Español vs Castellano

In Latin America, the Spanish language is simply called español (Spanish), since it was brought from España. In Spain however, Spanish is called castellano (Castilian), which refers to Castilla, the province in Spain where the language is said to have originated. While people in España will understand what you mean if you say español (and vice-versa with Latin American and castellano), it's better to use the correct term if you want to fit in with the locals:

Spain: En España hablamos en castellano.

Latin America: En Latino America, generalmente decimos español.

Vocabulary and expression-wise, there are too many different phrases and words to explain in one primer (that's why we're making a new Slang Dictionary!) - stay tuned for more posts regional jerga and vocab coming atcha' real pronto.

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