to Vol. 22 of the Spanish Online Newsletter. Spanish lessons with
audio links, as well as Spanish speaking travel spots. This week
I look briefly at the development of Spanish in Latin America -
who exactly brought this language to the New World, and what caused
all of the regional variations in speech?
Did Latin American Spanish Develop?
When I was doing
my M.A. in Latin American Studies at Tulane University, my most
interesting class was about the dialectology - or the study of dialects
- of the Spanish language. I always knew that Mexicanos
spoke very differently from Argentinos, who spoke differently
from Cubanos...but this course helped explain why. There
are many fascinating aspects to this subject, but here I'll share
just a few of the tidbits I've picked up.
language comes from the Castile region of Spain, which is why in
some countries you hear it referred to as "castellano"
(other languages still spoken in Spain include Catalan, Galician
and Basque). The Castilian language became the official language
during the reign of King Alfonso X in the 1200s, where traditional
Spanish became mandatory for all government documents (it's been
suggested that the reason Spaniards even today use the lispy TH
sound when pronouncing the /z/ is because King Alfonso had a lisp!)
The speech in the Andalusian region of Southern Spain evolved distinctly
with a sing-song quality and a notable under-pronouncing of the
final /s/ at the end of words. As the conquest of the New World
occurred from the late 1400s up until the 1800s, ships departed
from Southern Spain, and passed through the Canary Islands. Consequently
many of the deckhands spoke with Andalusian style dialects, and
carried this style of speech into their new communities in places
like Santo Domingo, Cuba, and elsewhere.
who later emigrated to the colonial administrative centers in places
like Lima and Mexico City brought with them the more traditional
dialects spoken by government officials in Madrid. Even today, the
speech in Mexico city sounds more like the other former colonial
center of Lima than the speech of Mexico's Caribbean coastal region
of Yucatán. The speech throughout the Caribbean has retained
many of the features found in Andalusian and Canary Island Spanish.
"It was, however,
the massive immigration of Canary Islanders to Cuba in the late
19th and early 20th centuries that left the deepest Canary Spanish
footprint, to the extent that Cubans and Canary Islanders frequently
mistake one another for compatriots when meeting for the first time.
Originally working in the countryside, Canary Islanders or isleños
as the Cubans called them eventually moved to the cities, comprising
nearly 25% of the Cuban population around the turn of the 20th century"
(Lipski pdf below, pg. 11).
But Latin American
Spanish also evolved in completely new directions, and in ways unique
to each country or region. According to linguist Dr.
John Lipski, author of Latin American Spanish, there
are 3 main factors in the development of Spanish in the New World.
- the varieties
spoken by Spanish settlers from Spain
with other languages
drift, spontaneous changes which occur in all languages across
Among the strongest influences
in the formation of modern day Latin American Spanish were the African
slaves in the Caribbean, the Italian immigrants in the late 19th
and early 20th century in Buenos Aires, and the indigenous groups
throughout Mexico and South America.
"The arrival of
tens of hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires
and Montevideo beginning towards the end of the 19th century completely
transformed the phonetic and lexical patterns of Rio Platense Spanish.
To give an idea of the magnitude of this immigration, nearly 2.3
million Italians emigrated to Argentina alone between 1861 and 1920,
with more than half arrived after 1900, making up nearly 60% of
all immigration to Argentina" (Lipski pdf below, pg. 11).
"By far the largest
extra-Hispanic demographic and linguistic influence to reach Latin
America was carried by the hundreds of thousands of African slaves
who for nearly four centuries provided much of the labor force in
colonial and post-colonial Spanish America...Following the abolition
of slavery in the second half of the 19th century, many former slaves
moved to urban areas, where their speech patterns gradually influenced
the lowest sociolinguistic strata, and ultimately percolated up
to provide vocabulary items and possibly even subtle pronunciation
variants to the Spanish Caribbean population as a whole." (Lipski
pdf below, pg. 12).
I could fill up dozens
of newsletters exploring the variations of Latin American Spanish!
For anyone who wants to learn more, I suggest the book Latin
American Spanish by John Lipski, and the book The Spanish
Speaking World by Clare Mar-Molinero.
of Latin American Spanish
article on the history of the Spanish language in Spain
of Spanish speakers in different countries
by Dr. John Lipski (pdf) - not exactly easy reading but contains
a wealth of fascinating historical and linguistic information
role of the city in the formation of Spanish American dialect zones
to Spanish Online Learning Menu