Differences Between American and Castilian Spanish

Xatufan (Castilian Spanish Learner, Olé)   Tuesday, July 06, 2004, 02:06 GMT
Following the tradition, I've created a forum dedicated to the differences between two dialects of our favourite language, the language of the "paella", "ensaimada", and that strange food.

Where would we be if "siestas" and "fiestas" don't exist? Well, let's know about the differences.

Let the fiesta begin. Y Olé!
Julian   Tuesday, July 06, 2004, 07:50 GMT
You do realize that there are several dialects of American Spanish so there's going to be a whole range of differences within this group alone. For instance, the use of 'vos' in Argentina, Uruguay, Central America, etc., and their corresponding 'vos' verb conjugations that are unheard of in say, Mexico. You also have pronunciation variances, like 'll' pronounced as either [j], [lj], or even [Z] (in the case of Argentina and Uruguay).

Anyway, here are a few Castilian vs. American Spanish differences that I know of:

CS: vosotros - AS: ustédes
CS: ordenador - AS: computador/computadora
CS: fichero - AS: archivo
CS: judías/habichuelas - AS: frijoles/habas/porotos
CS: cocina eléctrica - AS: estufa

CS speakers also have a tendency to use 'haber' as an auxillary verb more often than AS speakers. For instance, "Te he visto ayer" vs. "Te vi ayer".
Jordi   Tuesday, July 06, 2004, 08:09 GMT
You'd be surprised that all the words you mention are alive in Spain.
In Spain "vosotros" is more informal and "ustedes" is more formal. Nevertheless, "ustedes" is widely used in all situations in southern Spain, and that makes sense because South American Spanish is closely linked with Spanish southern varieties.
Dentro de un archivo pueden haber muchos ficheros. (Fichero would be "file" and archivo "archive")
Judías/habichuelas/fríjoles and "habas" are different things in Spain. Some are used in some Spanish regions and not in others. Never heard of "porotos".
Cocina eléctrica is with electricity in Spain and "estufa" would be the old-fashioned ones with wood. In some Spanish regions you'll hear "estufa eléctrica".
I think it would be almost impossible to make real differences because all words and expressions would be found in several places at a time, both in Spain and South America. I would say accent and intonation would be the first thing you'd realise and South American Spanish tends to keep archaisms and adopts anglicisms, which we don't have in Spain. As you know it's impossible for a Spaniard not to fully understand a South American. The same can't always be said with English varieties.
Gabriel   Tuesday, July 06, 2004, 17:23 GMT
patata - papa
melocotón - durazno
Julian   Wednesday, July 07, 2004, 06:40 GMT
Hi Jordi,
Thanks for the clarification. I've been brushing up on my Spanish (again), and all my old Spanish textbooks are based on "pure" Spanish, i.e. Castilian (the textbooks' words, not mine!). All of them mention that vosotros and ustedes are used in Spain depending on familiarity and social standing, whereas vosotros is seldom (if ever) used in Latin American Spanish. Nowhere does it mention the southern Spain varieties. I guess they just don't count to the purists!

Anyway, as I said, I'm brushing up on my Spanish because I'm planning to take a trip to Argentina later this year. My books don't make any mention of Argentinean idiosyncracies. So I recently picked up a pocketbook on Argentinean Spanish. I was quite suprised to learn that 'vos is used in place of 'tú'. So I figured I would just re-learn the vosotros verb forms (btw, in all my Spanish classes, we just skimmed over vosotros since we figured we didn't have much use for it!). Well guess what -- the Argentinean 'vos' has a whole different set of verb conjugations that appear to be a hybrid of the 'tú' and 'vosotros' forms! Add to that a whole bunch of non-standard pronunciations...

Though I find this all very fascinating, I'm wondering whether I should just stick to the standard forms that I know and hope for the best. Do native Spanish speakers really have little trouble understanding other Spanish dialects? I recall a Mexican friend of mine having to tell a Cubana to slow it down b/c he was having trouble understanding her, but that's probably b/c she was speaking a mile a minute.
Jordi   Wednesday, July 07, 2004, 07:44 GMT
Hello Julian,
Spaniards often travel to South America for holidays and such and most sopa operas on Spanish TV are South American. They, obviously, realise from the start that we are from Spain but I would say that standard European Spanish has got quite a bit of prestige in South America. South Americans will often refer to Spain as the "Madre Patria" (the Mother Land) and I would say that there is a lot of fondness amongst both sides of the pond. There's on old joke in Spain when we're told that we robbed their gold and silver (all too true). "Not us, your forebears, because mine happened to stay here." Doesn't all this happen, to a certain extent, with British RP in the US? I would say that Argentinean is perhaps the most characterised form of South American Spanish (for European ears). It not only has archaisms, such as the ones you mentionned (vos) which were common in Spain a few centuries ago, but also a strong Italian influence; especially around Buenos Aires. It's both the accent, pattern of speech and intonation that reminds us, in Spain, of a somewhat Italian accent. The reason, as you know, is so many Italians migrated there. I think we have Argentineans in Antimoon (Eugenia?) and maybe she could add more. We have many Argentineans in Spain now and although they never lose their accent they adapt to the European norm quite quickly. On the other hand, Argentineans claim to be the most European society in South America and that may well be true. I don't think native Spanish speakers have any trouble understanding each other. The phonetics are almost the same (much more than in English varieties) and you might stumble upon the odd word. But, as you know, you don't need to get out of your country for this to happen. Anyway, South American Spanish is often "slower" than European Spanish. I would say Cubans do tend to speak faster than Mexicans and you'll find people who mumble their words in all lands and languages.
Jordi   Wednesday, July 07, 2004, 07:45 GMT
soap operas
|||   Wednesday, July 07, 2004, 14:22 GMT
Ya, coño...
Random Chappie   Wednesday, July 07, 2004, 22:45 GMT
Yay! So 'ordenador' does exist in Spanish! I have been wondering for years on end why the French say 'ordinateur' but the Spanish, who are their neighbours, say 'computador'.
Juan   Thursday, July 08, 2004, 02:50 GMT

<<standard European Spanish has got quite a bit of prestige in South America.>>

I'm not sure if by referring to "South America" you are including North and Central. If you are, sorry to burst your bubble Jordi, that is certainly not the case around here. We have immense pride in the way we speak and are not particularly impressed by the way Spaniard speaks, no offence intended. The only accent that tickles my fancy is the Chilean since it sounds so soft and musical to my ears.

<<and I would say that there is a lot of fondness amongst both sides of the pond. >>

Personally I don't have any resentment towards the Spaniards but some in these parts still do. It is perhaps due to the heavy indoctrination that it is gradually taught at a very early age to school children regarding the historical events that led to the "conquest". It is customary when describing these events to throw around words such as annihilation, massacre, butchery, avaricious, covetous and having contempt for the sanctity of human life when describing the behaviour and behavioural traits of the Spaniards that although strangers, we received and treated with upmost hospitality when they arrived here unannounced. So you can understand why some may not have the fondness that you have confidently and assertively stated.
I think it’s time to move on. It has been over 500 years and the current citizens of Spain were not responsible for any of atrocities committed back in those days. In fact, the blood of those responsible run through our veins. I also tend to believe that the crimes tend to be exaggerated because the majority of the native population died not by the sword but by natural causes. Disease proved to be one of the Spaniards greatest allies along with some of the rivalling nations that were subjugated to the Aztec Empire patiently waiting for an opportunity to rise and dethrone the Aztecs. Little did they know that the Spaniards were not friends but wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing.

<<uch as the ones you mentionned (vos)>>
The usage of vos also prevalent in Central America.
Jordi   Thursday, July 08, 2004, 16:16 GMT
It's hard to say a lot in a few sentences. Prestige does not necessarily mean imitation. What I meant is that Spaniards and European Spanish are usually very well received throughout Central and South America. There's a lot to be said, and a lot has been published, about imitation by upper class New World citizens (it affects both English, Spanish and even French in Quebec) regarding their European counterparts. Perhaps, the reason is most or many descend from the ship and not from the natives and most are a mixture of both.
It's a fact, nevertheless, that thousands of South American students still attend Spanish universities every year, the way they've been doing for a few centuries now. They, very often, belong to the "elite" (it must cost quite a lot of money) but I made quite a few life long Central and South American friends at University, who now hold top executive positions in their countries.
Anyway, as a Catalan I can tell you we had nothing to do with the Spanish conquest of America until the 18th century, when Castille opened the doors to the other Spanish kingdoms for commerce. In fact, we suffered as much as you did and Castile forbade our Catalan language back in 1714 and it wasn't official again until a brief period in 1931-36 and then since 1976. But it is true that a lot of Spanish blood runs in your veins and very little "Amerindian" blood runs in ours. You descend from both European and Amerindian blood and that makes you only greater. And that is my sincere opinion and everybody should be proud of what he is.
And as far as I'm concerned I believe in friendship and in respect for cultures and languages. It's up to you to keep the rich heritage that European cultures tried to destroy when they arrived on the New Continent.
The fact is that the more you go way up on the social scale the more you find people are hispanised or anglicised. Real pride means something quite different because I agree Europeans found some of the world's greatest cultures and languages when they arrived to the New World, which are older than us in many ways. The problem is most are prouder of their European roots than of their native roots. There's a lot which can still be done to return dignity to the people of your countries and I'm sure you'll find many friends on this side of the pond.
Juan   Friday, July 09, 2004, 01:38 GMT

<<Prestige does not necessarily mean imitation.>>

I wasn't talking about imitation.

<<What I meant is that Spaniards and European Spanish are usually very well received throughout Central and South America.>>

That’s exactly what I was referring to. Unlike US Americans, the Peninsular Spanish accent is not looked up to as proper or better by the majority of the population in Latin America. Perhaps the “elite” minority have this perception that you claim but the common citizen out there on the streets will certainly not share this opinion. Some of the members of the elite have unresolved issues and delude themselves into thinking that anything European is superior. A bunch of nut-cases if you don’t mind me saying.

<<There's a lot to be said, and a lot has been published, about imitation by upper class New World citizens>>

I’ll agree on this. This are the group that think the rest of population is beneath them and pathetically attempt to mimic European behaviour including imitating accents. Sad, really. They suffer from an inferiority complex and have led themselves to believe they are sophisticated European exiles stranded in Latin America.

<< Perhaps, the reason is most or many descend from the ship and not from the natives and most are a mixture of both.>>

True to a point. You seem to be contradicting yourself there. On one hand you say MOST are descended form the ship and then near the end you say MOST are mixture of both. Well, I’ll tell it how I see it. There has been a lot of “mixing” between the different ethnic groups since the Spaniards arrived. The elite members tend to be more European in their genetic composition mainly because being “light skinned” is associated with power, intelligence and beauty, which can be best described as a kind of internal discrimination. Hence the most successful individuals or people that hold important positions in society, who may or may not be “light skinned” themselves, generally tend to favour marrying other “light skin” individuals. And this is a process that has being going on and practiced for over 5 centuries now. Granted, a miniscule percentage of the population can accurately lay claim to being “pure” in their European ancestry, for example immigrants that arrived not long ago from France, Ireland and Germany. But I sincerely and seriously doubt anyone can realistically claim to being a 100% pure “European” descendant of the Spaniard conquistadors without any other admixture whatsoever. I just think it’s absurd but maybe it’s possible since I’m not an expert in this area.

<<But it is true that a lot of Spanish blood runs in your veins>>

It varies from individual to individual. The point I was trying to get across was that descendants of the so-called conquistadors that committed the heinous crimes we are taught about from an early age, are not those that are part of present day Spain rather they are right here, it’s us. That’s why I don’t share the bitterness and hatred of some of my fellow Latin American. It serves no purpose to feel that way, I don’t think there is any logic behind it.

<<veins and very little "Amerindian" blood runs in ours.>>

Of course, hardly, if any, American Natives left this shores to travel to Spain. There would more Berber, Arabic and Jewish ancestry present in Spain than any Native American ancestry I would imagine.
Xatufan   Friday, July 09, 2004, 01:51 GMT
"Vos" is used principally in Río de la Plata (Argentina and I don't know if Uruguay too), Central America, and even people from the mountains here in Ecuador and Colombia.

"Vos" is very similar to "vosotros". Look:

- In all the tenses and indicative and subjunctive mood: erase the "i" in the vosotros's conjugation: jugáis (vosotros) - jugás (vos).

-In the imperative mood, erase the "d" in the vosotros's conjugation: jugad (vosotros) - jugá (vos).

Notice that people from Argentina use the conjugation above. Other people use the "vos" with the normal conjugation of "tú".

Juan: I agree. I don't feel angry with Spaniards for killing our Amerindian people and stealing our gold (yes, Jordi, it's true, it was Atahualpa's gold). And if Spaniards hadn't come, I wouldn't exist. Most of us Latin Americans are mestizos.

Jordi: A lot of Ecuadorian people travel to Spain to work and earn money. Your Cortez, Pizarro, Orellana, Valdivia, etc. came to the Americas to earn a lot of money. Now it's our time... Ha Ha Ha!...
Juan   Friday, July 09, 2004, 01:53 GMT
How old are you Xatufan?
mjd   Friday, July 09, 2004, 02:19 GMT

I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say: "Unlike US Americans, the Peninsular Spanish accent is not looked up to as proper or better by the majority of the population in Latin America."

Who are we looking up to? We certainly don't think British English is any better than our own dialect.

As far as the Spanish that is taught here in the U.S...I'd say the focus in the majority of American high schools is on Central America (especially Mexico for obvious reasons) and South America. This was certainly the case in my high school.