Differences Between American and Castilian Spanish

Ed   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 03:23 GMT

In primetime the novelas are Mexican. On Telemundo they are mostly Colombian. Now you're asking where those blue-eyed people from. They are just as Mexican as anyone who looks like Montezuma. The producers choose white people in their novelas for some reason.
Jordi   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 07:46 GMT
Most of the people who appear, in leading roles, in South American novelas are of direct European descent, even if they are born in those countries, very often Spanish or Italian but also from other European countries. Some native Spanish (always meaning from Spain, please) actors are also known to have played in those novelas for years, once they accommodated to the South American accent. It usually means losing a couple of phonemes and not learning new ones, which would be much more difficult, and acquiring a different lilt to the language.
I read, the other day, that 20% of Spaniards have got blue eyes and light hair and clear eyes can be found all over Spain, specially in Eastern and Northern Spain. Most of my family, including myself, has got very light skin (I burn easily) green eyes and blond hair that darkens to brown as we get older. Obviously, more than half the population in Spain looks European Mediterranean, like many of the French or Italian. You'd be surprised at how many English and Irish native Mediterranean types you'll find in those countries. Everybody has heard about the dark Irish and English types who've been licing there since there since Roman times. You don't tan as well in Ireland as you do in Spain with 300 days of sunshine in most of the regions. Not everybody is blond and blue-eyed in Northern Europe and they all come down here to try and get darker.
What I dislike about South American novelas is that many of the supporting roles, specially those involving lower classes, definitely give the lower roles to more "native" or "mestizo". Over 90% of the population of Mexico must be mestizo (mixed American and European descent) and I'm totally against a system that bans most of its citizens from top opportunities.
Obviously, the ruling South Americans are, more often than not, of European descent. Isn't that, more or less, what happens in the US where wasps are still very much on the top of the ladder although losing ground?
Regarding correctness in Spanish, it's as Juan tells us, more based on Standard than on accent. As long as you speak Cultivated Spanish you are considered a member of the "educated classes", which is different to the traditional British "upper class system". An orphan who'd learnt Spanish in a Catholic orphanage could be a member of the "educated classes" since Catholic schools have always taught cultivated Spanish. You didn't need to go to Eton for that and you could get a nice Standard at the parish school. Cultivated Andalusian Spaniards speak with a moderate Andalusian accent and there is nothing like RP although Central Castilian Spanish has always had the greatest consideration. In Spain it has always been considered more important to have money, as a social marker, than to have a beatuiful accent. If you had both you had everything, of course but the ruined gentry has never been fashionable nor accepted. You might as well speak like the King if you couldn't pay for your "tapas"... No way...
Jordi   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 07:50 GMT
Found a few typos when I read that again but I won't bother. My mails are way too long and I write them far too quickly.
Mxsmanic   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 14:16 GMT
While I don't speak Spanish myself (there was no way for me to learn it in the American Southwest without it being polluted by the very poor Spanish around the Mexican border), I've read on several occasions that the Spanish spoken by educated Mexicans is among the most "standard" of Spanish dialects--that is, it is among the least likely to sound strongly foreign to other Spanish speakers.

I think the best accent to have, in English or any other language, is the one that is the least likely to be noticed by the greatest number of native speakers. If you have a noticeable accent, you spend a lot of time fighting any preconceived notions that people associate with the accent. If nothing about your pronunciation stands out, then obviously people will have no preconceived notions. This is one reason why television and radio networks try to have announcers with "standard" accents: the idea is for them to speak in a way that doesn't sound "weird" to anyone.

In English, there are unfortunately two dominant pronunciations instead of one. You have the choice between American English and Received Pronunciation. Either one tends to be well regarded, but you'll always come across people who associate one or the other with negative preconceptions, so you can never really win. If you manage to blend the two you might get along a bit better (or worse): you'll sound foreign to both camps, but not _very_ foreign (and not identifiably foreign).
Juan   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 14:18 GMT
Mxsmanic sez:
<< without it being polluted by the very poor Spanish around the Mexican border >>

You mean Spanglish?
Jordi   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 15:26 GMT
I suppose you know I send you all these mails from Spain. Once again, all Standard Spanish is considered correct and there isn't an acknowledged model of accent although each country tends to favour a Standard based on the speech of educated speakers around its capital city. As I said in a previous mail, our vowel system is quite simple and somebody from Spain understands somebody from Patagonia immediately. This doesn't always happen between the American Southwest and the English Southwest mainly because of phonetic difficulties.
As far as languages are concerned the main point is communication. The worst Spanish (or English) is the one you don't speak at all. I can assure that the "polluted" Spanish in your area probably would give you the opportunity to learn Spanish --and improve afterwards if you so wish-- and be understood throughout the Spanish speaking world. Are you sure you don't have any other reasons? Is it very poor Spanish or very poor people who frighten you? Did you know that some American Southwestern families have been speaking beautiful Spanish for centuries, long before the first English language speakers arrived?
Ed   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 16:13 GMT
I forgot to mention that some of the actors and actresses on Mexican tv were born in Eastern Europe but emigrated to Mexico when they were kids.
Mxsmanic   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 16:21 GMT
By Spanglish I suppose you mean a mixture of English and Spanish. What I have in mind, though, is just the very substandard, illiterate Spanish spoken by many Mexican immigrants and their descendents, and by poor Hispanophones in proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border. It's known not only for its extreme incorrectness, but also for its extraordinary reliance on profanity in vocabulary. People who speak this dialect of Spanish use words in everyday conversation that would make a seasoned sailor blush, and their vocabulary is very shocking to more educated Mexicans and other Hispanophones accustomed to a more refined and obscenity-free vocabulary.
Random Chappie   Saturday, August 21, 2004, 20:01 GMT
Regarding mutual comprehension despite different accents, Jordi wrote: "This doesn't always happen between the American Southwest and the English Southwest mainly because of phonetic difficulties."

I am of the conviction that this occasional failure of mutual comprehension has as much to do with cosmopolitan exposure as phonetic differences. People in London and San Francisco won't have trouble understanding a wide variety of accents because of the high numbers of immigrants and the high rates of media exposure and internet access in both cities. Having lived in relatively cosmopolitan cities (including London and SF) all my life, I can testify to almost never having baffled any native English speaker with my accent. San Franciscans are more likely to say "ooh...what a British way of talking" than "what the heck are you talking about?".

On the other hand, I would not expect a rural Alabaman and a Cumbrian farmer to completely understand each other.
Xatufan   Sunday, August 22, 2004, 00:42 GMT
The "gorda" in "Mi Gorda Bella" was born in Spain, weird?!
Jordi   Sunday, August 22, 2004, 01:29 GMT
I understand and perfectly agree with what you say regarding cosmopolitan exposure pof English varieties. The thing about Spanish is that even people from isolated rural areas in Spain and the Americas usually understand each other without any trouble, to a much greater degree than your Alabaman and your Cumbrian farmers. The first reason is that phonetics are almost identical throughout the Spanish world. The vowel system is identical and we have only a couple of consonants more in Standard European Spanish (interdental "c" as in English "think" and palatal "ll", which doesn't exist in English) South Americans will pronouce the first as an "s" and the second as a "y", but that is very close anyway. The main differences is the lilt in the language (accent).
There might be some differences in specific vocabulary but almost never in what we could call the "basic vocabulary", which makes up for more than 90% of the words we use in everyday conversation.
As far as educated Spanish is concerned differences are even lower, as happens in all languages. Precisely, one of the features of Spanish is how non educated rural speakers thousands of kilometers apart understand each other perfectly from the very first moment although they are aware, by the accent, that the other is from another Spanish speaking country.
Random Chappie   Sunday, August 22, 2004, 04:30 GMT
Thank you for the explanation, Jordi! Even though I am not acquainted with Spanish (I learnt French in school), I find this thread rather intriguing. I wonder if there is a website out there with MP3 files of Spanish speakers from different regions reading the same passage (like the University of Kansas' IDEA site for English dialects and accents).

There are many different accents and dialects in French too. Of course, the most obvious differences are between French French and Québécois French but there also are several accents and dialects within France. My GCSE French teacher was Parisian and pronounced her "r"s like the German and Scottish "ch". My A-level French teacher was from Normandy and trilled her "r"s.
Juan   Sunday, August 22, 2004, 04:59 GMT
Hey, if I knew how I could send you my accent. Damn, unfortuanatley I'm not that knowledgable when it comes to the techie kind of related stuff.
Ed   Sunday, August 22, 2004, 16:42 GMT

The Gorda in Mi Gorda Bella is Natalia Straignard who as far as I know is Venezuelan.
to Xatufan   Sunday, August 22, 2004, 18:11 GMT
Natalia Streignard was born in Madrid but grew up in Venezuela (since the age of 3). She considers herself Venezuelan.