Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spanish and Spanish

Here in the Kingdom of Spain, Madrid specifically, conveniently located between Old Castille and New Castille, one notices some differences between Castilian Spanish and the Spanish spoken in the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos is the official name, just as "Reino de España" is the official name for Spain).

There is a significant difference in accent, of course. In Castellano (in Madrid and other places in Spain, they refer to the language they speak, not as "español" but as "castellano", Castilian Spanish) the letters "c" and "z" are pronounced as "th" while in the South of Spain and in Latin America, mostly colonized by immigrants from the South, they are pronounced as "s". And everyone pronounces "s" as "s". For example, here everyone says "grathias" instead of "grasias" as I am used to. The word, meaning "thank you" is spelled "gracias." So every time I open my mouth here, people know that I learned Spanish in Latin America.

But there are a lot of differences in vocabulary as well. I'm sure there are a lot of vocabulary variants between Mexican Spanish and that of other Latin American countries, but I haven't had the opportunity to compare. Here are some examples, with the English word first, the Spanish word second and the Mexican word third:

  • "slice" as in "slice of pizza" - pincho - rebanada
  • "juice" zumo - jugo
  • "swimming pool" piscina - alberca
  • "bacon" bacon - tocino
  • "peanut" maní - cacahuate
This last one is interesting: the word "cacahuate" which doesn't look Spanish at all, isn't. It comes from Classical Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and it is only used in Mexico and Honduras. Back in San Miguel there are a lot of street names from Nahuatl: Huitzilopotzle for example, an Aztec war god or the name of the volcano near Mexico City: Popocatépetl.

There are a number of other words in Mexican Spanish that have also become part of English vocabulary that are actually Nahuatl in origin: tomato comes from the Nahuatl "tomatl" or "xitomatl", avocado comes from "ahuacatl", chocolate comes from "xocolatl" and so on. All these foods, plus tequila, originated in Mexico. So did the potato, but it also comes from Peru, so Mexico can't claim exclusivity.

As one Spanish teacher, from Latin America, informed me, the Spanish dictionaries tend to be written by Castilians, which is why they may not have some words commonly used in Latin America. Another interesting thing here is that when you run into someone who speaks English, as often or not they speak it with an English accent.

So there you have it, fun-filled facts about Spanish. How about some music? This purports to be pre-hispanic music from Mexico, but while the instruments may be authentic copies, the music likely is not. The Aztecs had no musical notation, so any attempt to recreate their music is 100% speculation!


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Just curious, is Catalonian close enough to Spanish that you can understand/read it?

Bryan Townsend said...

Haven't really tried as I have yet to visit Barcelona. But I am going to Valencia for a couple of concerts this weekend and the Valencian dialect is close to Catalan. Maybe I will get an idea!

Marc Puckett said...

Was just yesterday talking a fellow who, after a first year in NYC, grew up in Montevideo in Uruguay. Differences in the Spanish, yes indeed. I found it privately amusing that he seemed to consider that the Spanish of Uruguay is the closest New World Spanish to castellano; perhaps, perhaps-- I didn't go investigating online-- but in my limited experience it is a class thing, wanting to identify one's mother tongue with 'the language of the Golden Age': the linguists' research tells a sometimes different story than what is taught in the schools.

Have spent lots of pleasant hours listening to the different versions-- Castillian, Valencian, Catalan, Provençal, Latin-- of the Song of the Sibyl recorded by Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, and others, and read in the grammars irregularly: the point being that I believe that all the surviving 'Spanishes' are mutually comprehensible-- in significant part, at least.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, I think you are right. The Spanish they speak in Argentina seems very influenced by Italian, certainly in the lilt of it. I can tell a table of Argentinians from half a restaurant away.