Monday, December 14, 2009

Spanish Dialects

Spanish teachers are often asked about the way Spanish is spoken in different countries. Often, their curiosity is piqued by something they have been told by someone they have met or know who is from a Spanish-speaking country. If that native informant is well travelled or has been otherwise exposed through movies, music, or even the internet, the information they receive generally is accurate, even if it is anecdotal.

Here is a wonderful -- in fact amazing -- short video by Isabel Arraiza, a very talented young woman who accurately imitates a number of Spanish dialects, as well as German, Russian, Hebrew, French and even various types of English!

Returning to Spanish... Spanish is spoken by about 450 million people as a first language, in 21 countries (plus the USA). While it is probably impossible to get all linguists or speakers of Spanish to agree, for argument's sake, it could be said as a starting point, that there are about six major dialect groups in the Spanish language. They are:

1. Castilian -- you know, the one that English speakers think has a lisp!
2. Mexican
3. Central American
4. Andean
5. Caribbean
6. Southern Cone

Which dialect students should decide to imitate is an important decision, but it is often one that is made for them by the dialect of their teacher or teachers, or by a study-abroad experience. It is risky to one's progress in the language try to imitate an accent that few speakers or learners around him or her are using.

Naturally, the most commonly heard dialect of Spanish in most of the USA is Mexican, although, as is well known, Cuban Spanish, a sub-dialect of the Caribbean, predominates in Florida. Likewise, Puerto Rican Spanish, another sub-dialect of the Caribbean, is more commonly heard in New York.

The Spanish Royal Academy recently published a grammar of the Spanish language that took 11 years to complete and which takes into account the varieties of this amazing language. This monumental task was a labor of love for their language in all its forms.

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