Posted by: janecronin | June 18, 2017

European and South American Spanish


Just as there are very big differences between British and American English, so there are equally enormous variations between European and South American Spanish.  I would venture to suggest that the differences are even greater, or at least more complicated, because of the number of South American countries that are Spanish speaking, each with its own peculiarities of accent, vocabulary and grammar.

In terms of accent, one of the most obvious differences is the pronunciation of the lisped “c” (before an “e” and an “i”) and also the “z” in standard European Spanish which is uniformly replaced by the “s” sound in South America.  Another significant difference, in some areas, is the “y” and “ll” sounds which can almost sound like the English “j” particularly in Argentina.  In more general terms, a South American accent can sound slightly more nasal and also more sing-songy that the more monotonous European intonation.

Another difference is the use of the informal “tú” and more formal “usted” meaning “you”.  “Usted” is generally far more common in South American and in some parts the “tú” form doesn´t exist at all.  Again in Argentina they have another “you” word which is “vos” which is a word that has completely dropped out of modern European Spanish.

Then there are differences of vocabulary, and these really are huge with every country having its own name for every day things.  For example the word for car, “coche” in Spain, is “auto” in Chile, and “carro” in Mexico (a word that means “cart” in Spain) whilst in Spain the verb to drive is “conducir” and in South America is “manejar”.  My daughter who is currently in Chile has had to get used to a lot of differences which can give rise to many misunderstandings.  One of her favourite words means “plaster” which is “tirita” in Spain and “parche curita” (little cure patch) in Chile.

Between American and British English there are words that are quite acceptable in one country but quite unacceptable in others.  We all know that the American have “fanny bags” whilst for us a “cock” still has the basic meaning of “male hen”, whilst in the States this bird can only be called a “rooster”.  The same thing happens in Spanish.  The Spanish word for shell is “concha” which unfortunately also means the “c” word in South America.  The fact that here is it also a woman´s name (the abbreviation of Concepción) is a little alarming for South Americans, whilst the perfectly innocent word “coger”, “to catch” or “pick up” in Spain, means something much cruder in Argentina, so I have been told.  For “take” they use the less dangerous word “tomar”.

So yes, in case you didn´t have enough to worry about, you must definitely not pick up a shell when you cross the Atlantic, or at least, please don´t talk about it, just in case.

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