Spanish Dialects of the Caribbean and Central America
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Spanish is the official language in twenty countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela. Spanish dialects differ between countries and specific areas, and these differences include aspects such as pronunciation, vocabulary, accent, grammar, and speech speed.
In this blog, we will talk about some of the different Spanish dialects found in the Caribbean and Central America.
Spanish spoken in Cuba features both "yeísmo", where "ll" and "y" are pronounced the same, and "seseo", where there is no phonetic distinction between /θ/ and /s/. There is a weak pronunciation of consonants, especially at the end of a syllable. Additionally, it is common for /d/ to be eliminated in pronunciation when it is intervocalic (Example: "cansado" would become "cansao"). Lastly, the final /r/ in a word is sometimes elided or pronounced like /l/ (Example: "parar" would become "para" or "paral").
Cuban Spanish does not use "voseo", or the use of "vos" as a second person singular pronoun. "Tú" is used instead, and the use of "usted" is rare. It is also common for diminutive suffixes such as -ica and -ico to be used. Lastly, the word order in Wh-question sentences is different from what appears in other dialects of Spanish. Speakers in other Spanish dialects would usually say “Qué quieres?” or “Qué quieres tú?” and Cuban Spanish speakers would more often say “Qué tú quieres?”.
Below are examples of some words that appear in Cuban Spanish.
Pinchar- to work
Jamar- to eat
Camello- articulated bus
Paladar- restaurant or cafe
Spanish spoken in the Dominican Republic features both "yeismo" and "seseo". There are often contractions in speech, for example: "voy a" turns into "vuá" or "voá", and "¿para adónde vas?" turns into "¿p'ónde va'?". The fricative /s/ disappears or becomes a voiceless glottal fricative [h] at the end of syllables. (Example: las mesas becomes lah mesah). Sometimes the final /r/ of infinitive verbs is not pronounced, and additionally syllable final /r/ becomes /l/ or /i/ (Example: perdón becomes peldón or peidón). Lastly, the intervocalic /d/ often becomes silent.
Dominican Spanish does not feature "voseo". Double negation in speech is common (Example: "Ella no va no"). Redundant subject pronouns are frequent (Example: "yo no se" instead of "no se").
Dominican vocabulary has influences from native Taíno and Arawakan languages. Below are some words that appear in Dominican Spanish.
Chin/ chin chin- a little, a bit
Some phonetic aspects that are common to Puerto Rican Spanish include long, stressed vowels, the aspiration or elimination of /s/, the elimination of the intervocalic /d/, "seseo", and "yeismo". Words are often shortened, as well, and some examples include: "pa" for "para", and "mai" for "madre".
Puerto Rican Spanish has Taíno and African influence on its vocabulary. Some words that appear in this dialect are listed below.
Boricua- Puerto Rican
Typically, in Spanish spoken in Panama, /s/ is elided at the end of a word or syllable, word final /d/ is typically not pronounced, and occasionally, /ch/ is pronounced more like /sh/ (Example: "muchacho" becomes "mushasho").
Some verbs are written with prefixes, such as "arrecordar" ("recordar") and "arrebuscar" ("rebuscar"). "Cualquiera" is also commonly used as an adjective.
Below are some words that appear in Panamanian Spanish.
¿Qué xopá?: What's up?
Un(a) chambón(a): a person who's bad at doing something
Estar limpio(a): to be broke
In Costa Rican Spanish, syllable final /s/ is only infrequently aspirated. /X/ (written as j or g) is a weak aspiration, sounding more like [h], and can barely be heard.
"Usted" is a common second person singular pronoun, "vos" is used in informal or familial settings, and "tú" is occasionally used. The affix -ico is frequently used.
Below are some words that appear in Costa Rican Spanish.
Tico- Costa rican
Salvadoran Spanish features "seseo", the syllable final /s/ is almost always pronounced, and the intervocalic /d/ often disappears.
"Vos" is used more frequently than "tú" for the second person singular pronoun. It is also common to place an indefinite article before a possessive pronoun.
There is influence from the indigenous Nawat language. Below are words that are unique to Salvadoran Spanish.
Casamiento- traditional rice and bean dish
Vaya pues- See you later
In Guatemalan Spanish, "vos", "tú", and "ustedes" are all used all as second person singular pronouns. It is also common to place an indefinite article before a possessive pronoun.
Word final /n/ is pronounced more like [ŋ], and /x/ (written as j or g) is pronounced like glottal /h/.
Many people speak Mayan and Arawakan languages as well as Spanish. Below are some words that appear in Guatemalan Spanish.
Chapín – Guatemalan
Chish - interjection signifying disgust
Cincho - belt
In Honduran Spanish, /x/ (written as j or g) is pronounced like aspirated /h/, word/syllable final /s/ is often aspirated or elided, and word final /n/ is pronounced like /ŋ/.
"Vos" is not used as the second person singular pronoun, but "tú" is commonly used.
Below are some words that appear in Honduran Spanish.
Bululo - bread roll
Trucha or Pulpería - corner shop
Relajo - mess
In Nicaraguan Spanish, "seseo" is used. Additionally, syllable-final /s/ and /x/ are both realized as glottal /h/.
"Vos" is commonly used as the second person singular pronoun along with "Usted". "Tú" is understood but not frequently used.
Many words have Nahuatl, Chibcha, or other Indigenous origins. Below are some words that appear in Nicaraguan Spanish.
Bróder- friend, brother, companion
Bachipil/cachimbo- a lot, a large quantity
Despite dialectical differences, Spanish speakers everywhere can understand and communicate with one another.