Spanish’s Closest Living Relative—Asturian

It is common knowledge to many of us that all the modern Romance languages are related to one another because they all stemmed from one common ancestor—Latin. If you learned Spanish, chances are learning French, Italian, and especially Portuguese would be a breeze because of the close lexical correspondence. But did you know there are more Romance tongues than the ones commonly know such as Italian, French, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish? Here’s the complete list and their respective geographic distribution. Some extinct:

Seychellois Creole (Seychelles, Africa)

Romansch (Switzerland)

Sardinian (Italy)

Tuscan (Italy)

Haitian Creole (Haiti)

Walloon (Belgium)

Umbrian (Italy)

Sicilian (Italy)

Neapolitan (Italy)

Norman (France)

Piedmontese (Italy)

Ramognol (Italy)

Picard (France)

Catalan (Spain and Italy)

Occitan (France, Spain, Italy, and Monaco)

Mirandese (Spain and Portugal)

Mozarabic (Iberian peninsula., Extinct)

Judezmo (Turkey, Israel, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, and Egypt)

Dalmatian (Croatia and Montenegro., Extinct)

What about English? Does English have close relatives? Of course! Most English speakers know that our language itself is vaguely familiar to German, Dutch, or Danish. But there is an even closer relative that is not very known—Frisian. Spoken by almost half a million people in northern Holland. Here’s a sample sentence that shows the striking similarity: English: “Bread, butter, and green cheese is good English and Fries.” vs. Frisian: “Brae, bûter, en griene tsiis is goed Inglesk en goed Frysk.”

Ok, cool. So does Spanish have a “closer relative” aside from Portuguese or Italian? Absolutely! Well, actually, a few of them. But there’s one I particularly want to pay attention to—Asturian.

If you were to look at a map of Spain in 1000AD, Asturian covered a good swath of current day Northern Spain. During the 15th century, Asturian and Spanish made races as far south of Castille, almost reaching the coast. But the Kingdom of Castille became victorious, and that was when Asturian gradually began being pushed back north into a tiny corner.

Asturian is basically Spanish, but instead of everything ending in O like in Spanish, everything ends in U e.g Uviéu (Oviedo), xurídicu (juridic), ríu (river), momentu (moment), conseyu (council), territoriu (territory). Those same words in Spanish would render Jurídico, río, momento, consejo, and territorio. The obvious conservative feature of Asturian is the retention of F in place of H. For example, the Spanish word for speaker is hablante, but its Asturian cousin would say falante. Asturian also makes more use of Germanisms: blancu (white), estaca (stake), tosquilar (tear), guadañu (back), serón (pannier), espetar (snap out). If you ask me, these words sound identical to Spanish. Be careful, though. Asturian is not a dialect; it possesses its own alphabet, orthographic norms, and verb conjugations.

Asturian was one of the few kingdoms in Spain that was fighting against other kingdoms, including the Muslims for Spain’s soul in the middle ages. I had a Galician-Spanish dictionary handy to help create a poem inspired by the Asturian region with some Asturian mythological elements that the celts brought:

Mujeres Asturianas

Bailaban y cantaban las serranas sobre los cerros de Asturias, que sus mismos cónyuges de rabia se llenaron y decían:

Baxanse agora! Nen sabe que facen.–

Seguían bailando y cantando las serranas sobre las colinas que las mismas flores envidia les daban y decían:

Baxanse muxeres, que pour esso existimos nosotras flores fermosas.–

Seguían bailando, cantando, y ahora carcajeando sobre las barrancas de Asturias que las serpientes aladas silbaban:

Nen llegan a las alturas d’ ninfas xanes, así que nen las protexemos. Así que a cumplir y obedecer.

Seguían cantando, bailando, y riendo las serranas Asturianas y les cantaron un verso a todos los hombres, serpientes, y flores:

–Insolentes hombres • siempre pensando con las piernas. Orgullosas flores • carcomidas de gusanos, ni para adorno sirven. Desgastadas culebras • ¿Quién os obliga? Hermanas, vamos • más allá de vuestros maridos. Ayer levantábamos uvas azules • y hoy se levanta miel.–


Asturian Women (English translation)

The cowgirls sang and danced over the foothills of Asturias, that their husbands were filled with wrath and told them:

“Get down now. You don’t know what you are all doing.”

The cowgirls continued singing and dancing over the mounds of Asturias that the flowers were filled with jealously and told them:

“Get down, woman. That’s That’s why us beautiful flowers exist.”

The continued dancing, singing, and now laughing over the gullies of Asturias that the winged serpents hissed at them:

“You all don’t reach the level of nymphs, therefore we don’t protect you. Now get down and obey.”

The cowgirls continued singing and dancing, and sang a verse for their lovers, snakes, and flowers:

“Insolent men, always thinking with your limbs. Prideful flowers, eaten by worms and not even for decorations are you worthy of. Worn out serpents, who is obliging you? Sisters, let us go more above of husbands. Yesterday we picked blue grapes, but today we pick honey.



Buttery Italian? Rapid? Lyrical? What Spanish sounds to foreigners, and why.

I once asked someone what Spanish sounded to them, and the response I got was that it sounded ‘ghetto.’ I found out later that she comes from a reactionary faction that is intolerant of immigration to the United States. Especially Mexicans. If I had known this before, I definitely wound’t have asked her. But deep down, as a Spanish-speaker, and huge admirer of the language, I know the language doesn’t sound ghetto. I decided to get a deeper insight about what Spanish sounded like. I learned Spanish as a first language, so its really hard for me to describe the physical description of the language. I’ll start off by explaining the first two responses that I thought were hysterical. Of course, most of these responses were a response to different situations in which people had heard Spanish.

I asked a good friend who is from The Philippines and speaks Tagalog as her mother language. Keep in mind that Spanish is relatively alive in The Philippines. She said Spanish sounds ‘common’ or a language that is well-grounded in communicating practical information. An interesting response given that early Spanish is essentially an offshoot from a  common language; the language of commoners that was called Vulgar Latin, that oftentimes was crude and highly metaphorical. The Spanish word for horse caballo, was in Old Spanish, caballvs. The V was pronounced like an English schwa in words like “Uh-oh” or “up”. But that what commoners said. The ruling class of the Roman Empire didn’t refer to a horse by caballvus, but intstead–equus, which is where the word equestrian comes from, a horse riding sport. Caballvs, according to Jean Benoît-Nadeau and Julie Barlow in The Story of Spanish, was the commoner’s way of joking about the animal the nobility mainly utilized; it meant something like “Beast of burden.” But the modern standard word for horse that was once “vulgar” prevailed. Caballvs -> Caballo. Another example is leg. The nobility referred to leg as crus, while commoners called it perna (ham), but leg is now widely understood as pierna.   

I then decided to ask another good friend who was a Portuguese-speaker. I know I was bound to get an interesting response. After all, linguists have found that Portuguese and Spanish have a lexical correspondence of  9 out 10; both tongues are almost identical.  According to this Lusitanian (Portuguese-speaker), Spanish sounds like “kids’ talk.” She added that children–before going through formal education–are born speaking Spanish. The Spanish pronoun for she is ella. It is pronounced ‘eya’. And that’s what Brazilian kids babble until their first teachers “clean up” the Spanish and break the bad news that the Portuguese pronunciation of ‘eya’ is ‘ela’. Jean Benoît and Julie go further and explain that the only historical difference between Spanish and Portuguese–aside from being different languages–is that Spain was conquered by Muslims, Visigoths, Greeks, Celts, and Phoenicians, but all those nations reached present day Portugal only after. These same authors describes Spanish as a “buttery Italian.”

Another major theme I found across asking several others is that rapidness of Spanish. In Lingo Lingo Lingo Lingo Lingo Around Europe in Sixty Languages, Gaston Dorren describes that a conversation in Spanish is similar to hearing a shoot out of machine guns. The Spanish fire more syallables per second than its sorrounding languages; 7.82 syallables per second, compared to 6.17 in English and 5.97 in German. This gives Spanish its percussive sound. But in the great scheme of things, Latin langauges sound more “rapa-da-tat-uh-tat”, whereas English to Spanish-speakers resembles something like “Trarshk-tark-shrark-druhk-rark.”

Gaston adds that the Atlantic Ocean and the distance between the Americas and Spain does create something of a language barrier. Just like Americans sometimes have some difficulty understanding British Cockney, a conversation between Spaniards and Latin Americans can be stressful. Both Spanish’s are mutually intelligible, but it well known in the hispanosphere that Latin Americans speak at a much slower space than their European counterparts.

But that’s just basic phonology of Spanish works. It is a language that synchronizes syllables, meaning that the duration of syllables remain fixes regardless of accent. Perhaps, that’s why English-speakers describe Spanish as being more upbeat and jovial than language. Not to mention that the first two most utilized phonemes (basic sound unit in language) in Spanish are ‘a’ and ‘e’, whereas English they are ‘s’ and ‘t’.

Here is a list of other responses from individuals I asked what Spanish sounded to them. Of course, the people I asked know no Spanish, or were learning it as a second language:

“Jovial and joking-sounding”

“Fast and beautiful.”

“If it isn’t from Spain, it sounds ghetto.”




“Sloppy Italian.”


“So awesome! I love the sound so much!”

“Utilizes the front of mouth more than English. It’s Italian, but with noticeably different inflection patterns.”

“Quick and choppy.”

“More exciting than French, but less exciting Italian.”


“Sounds like ‘car’mel.’”

“Expressed accuratley. Words sound accurate to what is being said. The word for skull in Spanish calavera looks and sounds like a skull.”  

“The Mexican dialect sounds very nasally while the Iberian dialect [from Spain] sounds like a watered-down Italian.”

El E’pañol Chileno: The Language of Snooki, Neruda, and Pinochet

Several years ago, Lonely Planet, a how-to series and survival guide on traveling to various countries worldwide, came up with a Chile & Easter Island edition and described the Chilean spirit in what I believe to be the most accurate:

“Centuries with little outside exposure, accompanied by an especially influential Roman Catholic Church, fostered by a high degree for cultural conformity and conservatism in Chile. If anything, this isolation was compounded during the Pinochet years of repression and censorship. Perhaps for this outsiders often comment on how Chileans appear more restrained than other Latin American nationalities: they seem a less verbal, more heads-down and hardworking people.

But the national psyche is now at its most fluid, as Chile undergoes radical social change. The Catholic Church itself has become more progressive. Society is opening up, introducing liberal laws and challenging conservative values. Nowhere is this trend more evident than with the urban youth…”

Chilean attitudes towards politics are more mercurial than ever before.There exists a noun describing being detained by law enforcement or for something to go wrong, clotear. The reference goes back to syndicalist leader, Clotario Blest, who was arrested several times for instigating several leftist movements during when Chile was experiencing an abuse in human rights. Nowadays, lo clotearón or se cloteó mean they arrested him and it went bad, respectively.

Aside from politics, Chile boasts an interesting linguistic phenomena for Spanish. For one, Chile is the most southernmost Spanish-speaking country on the planet. The formidable Andes mountains act as a border between Chile from Bolivia and Argentina, the latter two already being two distinct dialects: español de las tierras altas (Spanish of the highlands) and español argentino (Argentine Spanish). This has made Chile linguistically isolated. You would expect to see radically different features between the original Spanish of Castille.

In my first post. Every Spanish-speaking country unfairly gains up on Chile for their seemingly sing-song talk and their wild use of intonations. But it shouldn’t always be a subject to frown on. In fact, I befriended a gentleman who traveled to Ecuador. I can’t remember if the main reason was to learn Spanish, but it wasn’t going very well for him until he visited Chile. The intonation may have helped cleared up indiscernible vowels.   

Like other Spanish-speaking countries who adopt terms from indigenous languages, the Mapuche nation is emblematic of Chile and Argentina. It is estimated that there are 1.7 million Mapuches. The Mapuche has not been satisfactorily classified with another language, therefore it is considered a language isolate. Mapuche has crept into Chilean Spanish mainly under semantic fields in foods, animals, plants, and textile works. The most commonly used are: pololo/a (boyfriend or girlfriend), ruca (house) but commonly known as precarious homes, chape (braid), guata (stomach), and laucha (mouse). Of course, the Chilean would most likely have said novio, casa, trenza, estómago, and ratón. Chile has a considerable migration from Europe that is non-Spanish. Chucrut is Alsatian-derived, sükrüt, meaning chocolate. Marraqueta from the French Marraquette, a pastry. Rosbif from the English, roast beef. Parka for a heavy winter jacket, but it is disputed whether the word is derived from English, Russian, or Samoyed.

The animalification of people is another characteristic of Chilean Spanish. Andar pato (being duck) means “being without money”. Caballo (horse) is synonymous with “magnificient”. Chancho (pig) is synonymous of dirty, glutton, or undesirable person. However, when chancho is used by someone to describe their weekend lo pasé chancho (I thoroughly enjoyed it). In English, we usually describe women and men by “ladies and gentlemen”, but colloquial Chilean prefers cabra (doe) for women and cabro (goat) for men. However, if your girlfriend says ando cabreada (I’m doed), it means she’s fed up about something you did. Being gallo (rooster) is good for men who want to be seen as good men es un buen gallo (he is a good rooster). But it is less desirable to be called a pollo (chicken) or pavo (turkey) meaning inexperienced or stupid, respectively.

The use of voseo, the second person singular pronoun (tú, vos, or usted) has been a constant battle among all 21 Hispanic countries trying to convince that their use is “correct.” Chilean Spanish is the only dialect that combines the usage of both voseo and tú; voseo for verb conjugations, but tú for pronouns. It’s the ultimate and most effective compromise!

Take a simple verb such as walk–caminar. The present indicative form of the verb for half of the Spanish-speaking including Spain world would render camináis. The other half including a country like Colombia would say caminás. But Chileans say caminái. Where all Hispanics will say ¿Quieres empanada? (would you like a turnover?), Chileans will drop the final S and substitute the final E with a stressed I–¿Querí empanada?


The political pamphlet below shows very well the originality and fluidity of Chilean Spanish. It is almost a guarantee that anyone who has never traveled to Chile or is familiar with the dialect will not makes sense of the propaganda. The translation in English is “I’m not paying attention. Get it?” Where “pesco” means attention and “cachai” means to understand. Cachai derives from the English verb “to catch.”

Click on the link to hear Chilean Spanish: Infieles (Cheaters) 18+

When Politicians Aren’t Speaking The Same Language

Last June, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and Obama met at The Summit of Leaders of America to discuss the country’s’ goals and problems within the current global context. The leaders have had cordial relations over the years, but this meeting brought about a semantics battle leaving tarnishing the reputation on both–but mainly Nieto’s. Not to mention his current plummeting popularity.  

The three discuss the current struggles each country faces in the new geopolitical climate. But the live broadcast of Obama and Nieto’s discourse hit a dead end on one of those days–and it was populism. Nieto made evident that he was not a populist. Or at least had a different vision of populism. According to Nieto, in Spanish: “Actores políticos, liderazgos políticos que asumen posiciones populistas y demagógicas, pretendiendo eliminar, o destruir lo que se ha construido, lo que ha tomado décadas construir, para revertir problemas del pasado.” (Political actors and political leaders that assume populists and demagogic positions pretend to eliminate or destroy what has been constructed. And has taken decades to construct to reverse the problems of the past). He continued saying that people who conjure populist ideas try to sell the world fast and easy solutions, and it isn’t simple to fix. He went even further: “La solución que algunos proponen, no es destruyendo lo construido; no es optar por otra vía y por una ruta de aislamiento y de destrucción, sino es acelerar el paso en favor del desarrollo. Y ahí yo señalaba que mucho de lo que hoy algunos dicen, se parece a lo que, en el pasado, ya el propio Presidente Obama refirió años más atrás, pero a lo que en el pasado estos liderazgos también dijeron a sus sociedades, Hitler, Mussolini, y el resultado todos lo conocemos. Una devastación y una tragedia en la historia de la humanidad del siglo pasado” (The solution some propose is not destroying what is already constructed but rather accelerating the pace in favor of development. There I signal that much of what others said what it  seemed in the past, and also to Obama years ago also, what past leaders said to their societies: Hitler and Mussolini. And we know the results: a devastating and tragedy in the history of humankind of the last century).

Obama responded in disagreement: “I worry about the poor that work hard and still don’t have the opportunity to advance. And I worry about the workers who are capable of having a collective voice in the work environment. I want to make sure kids are receiving a decent education and I think we need to have a tax system that is fair. I suppose that makes me a populist.”

Mexicans had mixed reactions on both of the leader’s positions. Many said that Obama doesn’t even represent populism, but socialism. Others were quick to say that populism–and its Spanish translation–populismo did not mean the same thing. Milenio’s columnist, Hugo García Michel quickly got to work and demystified the semantics battle. According to Michel, the general English definition is something like this: “Governmental political movement that promotes the interest of common people, and equity among them.” But the official Spanish definition as defined by the Real Academia Española (Royal Academy of Spanish), the governmental institution in charge of making the official grammar rules of Spanish, says that populismo is: “The political tendency that seeks to attract the poor classes.”

The two definitions don’t seem to far if you ask me. Most people were convinced that the two leaders simply weren’t speaking the same language. They literally weren’t. In fact, Enrique Peña Nieto speaks no English, and was relying on live translations. Several months ago, Ecuador’s leading entrepreneur site El Emprendedor (The Entrepreneur) had three tricks to aid people speak more eloquently. One of them was define exactly the terms you are using. Whether this tip could have saved Nieto’s embarrassment in Ottawa raises another question on what populism is, not in terms of semantics, but in historical junctures.

The United States and Mexico didn’t experiment with populism the same way, and that’s maybe where most of the confusion may have started. America has had a long tradition with populism and continues to with the modern rendition of The Tea Party and its populist rhetoric and symbols. Throughout much of America’s history and today, populist ideology is convinced that most of the country’s ills are the fault of elites.

Latin American on the other hand, has historically took populism differently. At least ideologically. Because essentially anything beneath US is developing, populism in Latin America can be best described by a newly organized industrial bourgeoisie and urban working class, in which the latter accepts political reforms for the sake of stability and increased technological advancement. This could only have been achieved by more or less authoritarian governments. And well, Latin American is notoriously known for authoritarian leaders. *Sigh* Third world problems? Peña Nieto was merely reflecting the reality Mexico and many of its Latin American neighbors face in their respective political moods. The destruction Nieto was alluding to were populists in his country who feel left behind from the onset of industrialism. Obama and Nieto may have had the same idea of populism, but not clearly defined.

Nieto wouldn’t have been the first hispanic leader under fire for language use. Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. In 2013, during his speech commemorating a national holiday, Maduro addressed the millions of Venezuelans who are continuing the political tradition of Bolivarianism by the “millones y millonas” (millions and millions). Yes, millions and millions. Millones is the masculine form for million. Millonas would be the hypothetical feminine form, translating to something like “millionse” in English. Maduro was bending gender cases in order to appeal to the Venezuelan women he was addressing in his speech. Although his heart was in the right spirit, the Real Academia Española would consider it blatantly incorrect, if not absurd. There was a sea of memes the following day mocking Maduro’s incorrect use of gender cases. Not only was it redundant, but millones is the ONLY correct way. English has no institution like that. The closest example would be a vague “grammar police.” Anyone can be a grammar police. But in Spanish, the Real Academia Española is the only legitimate grammar police. Even though most people know language changes, Spanish-speakers generally look up to the standards of the RAE.

Maduro is becoming everyday Venezuela’s modern villain. Poverty, crime, hyperinflation, and scarcity of basic goods have become the incessant soundtrack of Venezuela today, and the lack of response is creating a new Venezuelan diaspora.  Henrique Capriles, Maduro’s political enemy mocked him in a Tweet right after the millonas incident: “Millones y millonas te van a sacar de Miraflores Maduro. Nada te salva de que te alquilamos la constitución.” (Millions and millionse will sack you from Miraflores, Maduro. Nothing will save you from us leasing back the constitution).


McGregor, Jaynce “Three Amigos Summit”. 2016. CBC News. Jpg Image.


Is it Tenochtitlán? City of Palaces? Federal District? or Chilangolandia? A Quick and Quirky Overview of Spanish in Mexico City.

Where can you order a bag of dried chapulines (grasshoppers) as a snack, but also order some of the world’s best haute entrees according to Forbes? Mexico City. Where can you see centuries of historical ruins at the same time behind you stands some of modernity’s un dia mexico C9.jpgmost spectacular skyscrapers? Mexico City. Where can you request an Über helicopter in the same place indigents struggle to traverse unpaved terrain by burro (donkey)? Again, the answer is Mexico City. If there exists an award for “most contrasting” city, Mexico City would make a serious candidate. Travel connoisseurs like to boast how Buenos Aires is a slice of Europe in South America, but Mexico is unlike any other city in Latin America. Alexander von Humboldt dubbed it La Ciudad de los Palacios (The City of Palaces) in the turn of the century, which has become the unofficial name of the city. Before the European destruction, the Spanish couldn’t find the words to describe the Aztec grandeur to their kings; it rivaled any major European city at its time. And in many ways, it still does.         

Among other alpha cities: Tokyo, Paris, London, New York City, or Buenos Aires, Mexico City rarely makes its appearance in chic shopping bags or crop tops. It hasn’t received the reputation it deserves. Which can be a good for me, since it can be like my own well kept secret…

Once a cradle of an incredibly organized, complex, and fierce Aztec Civilization starting from the 12th century, the Spanish made the next greatest cultural appearance with a quick interlude from the French. Mexico City exemplifies diversity and dynamism of enormous heights.

As a regional power and highly important global financial center, the city of palaces has become an interesting case study for those understanding the third world. Mexico City’s cultural and financial weight has put Mexico in an awkward position between the developing and developed nations scale; It can be considered “first world”, but it is not developed. Despite the amount of money, glamour, and excitement in Tenochtitlán (the original Aztec name of the city), the increasing wealth divide has created a classist and stratified culture that seems black and white to outsiders. Take that, and add a visible third world poverty in the outskirts. Perhaps those are reasons Mexico City hasn’t gained much attention among travelers. Despite its “misgivings”, and I’m adding quotations on ‘misgivings’ because my upbringing is from those very barrios miserables (hopeless districts). Mexico City is truly a gem worth visiting. Otherwise, you’re just missing out. How is that for some unrestrained bias?   

For the sake of Atticus Lingus, Mexico City contains some compelling directions for the Spanish Language. To begin with, Mexico is the largest Spanish speaking nation in the hispanosphere. Unlike French, that is associated with the France and not Haiti, many North Americans instinctively look towards Mexico instead of  Spain when they think of the Spanish language. Multilingual websites will often represent a foreign language with a national flag. The Mexican flag competes with the Spanish flag for recognition.

Having the most amount of speakers comes with a price–not all Mexicans sound identical. Mexican Spanish is a collection of several other dialects: the noreste (northeastern) dialect spoken in Tijuana, Yucatán en Cancún, Oaxaqueño in the south coasts, and Altiplano (plateau) in Mexico City.  

 Las Hablas Altiplanos (The Plateau Speeches), apart from Mexico City, includes central Mexican states circling Mexico City: Guanajuato, Michoacán, Hidalgo, Estado de México, Querétaro, Zacatecas, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Morelos, Aguascalientes, and San Luis Potosí. Because of Mexico City’s cultural and financial weight, the Altiplano dialect is the dialect most associated with Mexico. Mexican film and television that is distributed throughout the world are dubbed using this specific dialect. This dialect acts as the common denominator throughout Mexico’s linguistic diversity.  

Throughout my in and out travels through Mexico City, I have befriended several people who attended or are currently attending the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), one of Mexico’s leading research institute. Think of it as Mexico’s Harvard. UNAM never is absent on the lists of most recognized universities in Latin America and worldwide. Some statistics have regarded the campus as the leading institute of the Spanish-speaking world. Although such claim remains dubious, the ratio of students to publications is unmatched in any other hispanic university. The 2011-2012 academic year saw 300 thousand students. No other Spanish-speaking university can beat that. 

The Royal Academy of Spanish, the governing body that decides the “official” rules of Spanish has come to terms with incorporating Prehispanic terms, to accept new realities. A few centuries ago, the Spanish crown would have never dreamt of accepting tianguis., tee-yan-geese (an outdoor pre-hispanic market). Now the RAE has a whole body of terms that it recognizes as not truly Spanish.   

Place names throughout the vicinity of Mexico City are a hybrid of indigenous and European names: Lomas de Chapultepec, Iztapalapa, Tepito, Insurgentes, Coyoacán, Condesa, Polanco, Roma, Azcapotzalco, and so forth… Upscale districts names like Hipódromo Condesa (Racetrack Countess) allude Spanish heritage, whereas Huixquilucan., weex-kee-loo-can is classic Nahuátl for (place full of edible thistles). But the official name of the city of Huixquilucan, is Huixquilucan de Degollado. As a non-Mexico native, I still struggle pronouncing these indigenous places. I visited a few friends who live in a satellite city of Mexico City called Los Reyes (The Kings). My bus to there home was to make a stop at a platform called Techachatitla. Any local would see the foreigner in me as I hopelessly butchered the correct pronunciation of the word. Although Nahuatl is still a living language, it isn’t Spanish, but Mexico City residents are trying their best to join the two together to create a colorful and unique Mexico City talk.        

Visitors from other Spanish-speaking areas who come to Mexico City oftentimes complain of the seemingly nonsense of its slang, unknown anywhere else in Mexico. ¿Qué Pachuca por Toluca? (What’s cracking through Pachuca through Toluca), is an exaggerated ‘what’s up’. But why did the creator of the slang have to include the outlying cities of Pachuca and Toluca in such a phrase? Who knows. Gódinez, is an Spanish surname, but has become a classist term for a salary person working a 9 – 5 work week. In Mexico City it is used as a derogatory term for a regular employee with no importance within the company he works for. There exists much more terms like these that make visitors cringe, but the fact of the matter is that it seems to get the point effectively across through chilangos–the demonym for anyone from the City, which comes from the Mayan word Xilaan meaning disheveled. The demonym is used derogatorily.

The use of language in Mexico City has been labeled by visitors as original, colorful, usefull, rustic, rowdy, dirty, or plain street clatter. But whatever one’s social standing is in the city, people use bits of pieces of it. It goes to say that the people of Mexico City utilizes an already existing Mexican Spanish in a way that only they themselves understand. Given the political context of Mexico, Mexico City, in some ways resembles almost a separate country from the rest of Mexico. And what better way to understand a peoples’ culture and mindset than their language.     


*The image above is a Xolocuintle, a Mexican hairless canine. They have no fur. They are an emblematic of mesoamerica. They are one of the most friendly dogs I’ve ever petted.


Clash of Accents, Dialects, and Civilizations. The World According to Español.


You decide to fly to Spain to learn Spanish. You fall in love with the centuries old Gothic architecture. You notice that modern Spain is a dustbin of all the ancient peoples that once inhabited the peninsula: Greeks, Muslims, Phoenicians, Visigoths, Celts, and Carthaginians. Each civilization adding to the tapestry of Spanish culture. You finally master the lisp (emblematic of Iberian Spain). Every day you become better at rapidly spewing out syllables–a Spanish thing. Despite the Spanish economic downturn, you can’t put a price on the fact that small shops and business close midday for a siesta and a glass of Garnacha.

After months, you decide your next adventure will take you towards the opposite end of the Earth, to the port city of Valparaiso, Chile. You finally know Spanish. Heck, you might even quickly backpack the Andes before heading back! You land, and the jargon on traffic signs, billboards, and the newspaper are still recognizable. You order your first empanada at a street car and cry because you can’t understand the vendor. Chileans have an intonation craze unknown anywhere else in the hispanosphere. Chileans tend to drop their final S’s. They also tend not to distinguish between LL’s and Y’s, pronounced ‘zh‘ and ‘y‘, in Madrid, but both pronounced ‘y’ in Chile. All those months of studying Spanish down the drain. You sardonically agree with the Argentines and Bolivians next door and the Peruvians to the north, who all gawk at Chile’s accent. The rest of South America have a hard time understanding them! YouTube an episode of Infieles “Cheaters” (rated 18+) and you’ll know what I mean.

But I say this as someone who adores Chilean Spanish and every other Spanish dialects. But the phenomenon is true! No swaths of accents is heavily understated by English-speakers (Strine, Cockney, Southern, Kiwi, Black Vernacular, Jersey) than Spanish accents. Someone I knew once compared Chile as the the “Canada of Latin America.” The same way Americans joke that their maple neighbors pronounce out, house, and about as ‘oat’, ‘hose’, and ‘uh-boat’, the rest of South America unfairly gangs up on Chile for their seemingly sing-song talk. Nebrija, Ferdinand and Isabella, and Cervantes–purists from the renaissance–would rush back to their time machines if they listened to Neruda, Allende, Pinochet, or Mistral speak. But that’s how dialects and accents work, and there’s nothing the Royal Academy of Spanish or purists can do about it.

All languages compete between a myriad of coexisting accents and dialects. Imagine every Francophone, Hispanic, or Anglo speaking their respective language one uniform way the world around. There’d be no variety, and that’s boring.

Since I made enough fun of poor Chile, the remaining twenty Spanish-speaking countries are not off the hook. I first came across this dilemma in Spanish class when the interactive Muzzy– a language-learning software for kids–referred to a peach as ‘melecotón’ when I always knew it as ‘durazno.’ Another instance was in algebra class, when my Cuban classmate pronounced a stand alone Y “yeh”, while my other non-Caribbean classmates and I called it “I-griega.” She was equally perplexed.     

Castilian is also the only language that has two names. The other being Spanish. Wait, hold on… Am I saying that? Yes, Castilian = Spanish, and Spanish = Castilian. This brings whole new geopolitical mess. Most of the Americas associate the term español to describe the language. Whereas Castilian (castellano ‘casteyano’) reflects the European Spanish heritage speakers. Castellano derives from the Latin Castellum meaning castle. Of course, Spain, especially in its earlier history, is associated with castles. The Americas not so much. The use of español and castellano is not always interchangeable and is relative to the preconceived political biases of who you ask.  

Argentines and Uruguayans are under fire for their excessive whooshing, not existent anywhere else in the Hispanic world with the exception of a tiny enclave in Sonora. They themselves will giggle at the high-pitched and brogue accents of Central Americans thinking they may be suffocating. But they’ll find a way to meet halfway; an Argentine and Panamanian may agree that Caribbeans heavily drawl vowels and seem to have eliminated rhotics (any consonants pronounced like R). Meanwhile, the same Uruguayans, Panamanians, and Cubans will join forces and agree that Ecuadorians, Venezuelans, and Colombians have a thing for slurs. Venezuela, standing prideful, couldn’t care less what her neighbors think. She already rebelliously broke from the rest of South America and takes diminutives on a new direction: replacing the suffix ‘-ita, –ito‘ with ‘-ica, –ico.’ As far as the rest of the Spanish world is concerned, “little rat” is ratita, not ratica. A Costa Rican Mestizo and a Paraguayan Mestizo with phenotypical similarities, will be able to tell each other apart by the way they say “you”: either or vos.

Latin-Americans, whether of Quechua, Nahuatl, Taino, African, or Italian descent will call a truce between their political and social differences and settle on that nobody likes Spain. Let alone understand them due to the geographical distance.

If accents weren’t enough, vocabulary and slang becomes even more localized. Where Peruvians call popcorn cancha at a cinema, Mexicans would be scratching their heads thinking they called for a basketball court. Where Chileans yell at little rascal as guaguas, Dominicans will duck thinking they have shouted buses. A Nicaraguan wouldn’t be excused at a Spanish Tapas if he / she asked for mantequilla (butter), aguacate (avocado), or albaricoque (apricot), which is manteca, palta, and damasco in Spain.

When it comes to slang, Spanish-speakers can easily become confused trying to talk to one another. The standard verb “to hoist” in Europe is coger, but is considered obscenity elsewhere. Puerto Ricans excuse themselves for calling a bobby pin pinche, but is “the damn thing” elsewhere. A dishwasher in Mexico washes dishes (lavar trastes), but his Argentine dishwasher will quickly write up a HR note thinking his / her buttocks may be in jeopardy.  

Among the clash of dialects and accents, there are lesser-known dialects that are largely forgotten. Judaeo-Spanish–also called Ladino or Judezmo–is one of them. As a result from the Expulsion of The Jews by the Spanish Crown in the fifteenth century, Sephardic people have established communities in Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Morocco, Holland, and Egypt. Ladino retains medieval elements. Especially in the voiced / voiceless sibilants. S by itself, and in between vowels would make rose pronounced ‘roza’, while a double SS as in assentarse (to sit down) would be pronounced ‘azentarse’. The F to H shift in the middle ages* is another feature Ladino seemed to not have bandwagoned with the rest of the Spanish world. For example, the standard verb “to do” no matter which country you’re in is hacer. (H is always silent in Spanish by the way). Ironically, this phenomena would later make Ferdinand spin in his grave regretting expelling the Jews from Iberia. Ladino speakers have a speech more aligned to what the medieval kings had. Judeao-Spanish is in grave danger of becoming extinct as it isn’t passed down to succeeding generations, but has recently been experiencing a revival among Musicians.

Not immediately known, but Equatorial Guinea, a tiny nation in West Africa of 1.2 million is the only nation on the African continent Spanish as its official tongue. Spanish, a minor force in Africa, is downplayed by the large and stronger French and Lusitanian (another fancy word for Portuguese-related) African nations. This is partly due to the fact that Spain arrived late or didn’t compete effectively in the colonial quest of Africa. Equatorial Guinea has saved much of its ethnic character unlike its Latin American brethren who are ambivalent between a Spanish and an Amerindian past. 95% of Equatoguineans speak Spanish, but it is estimated that 75% speak it as a second language while 13% don’t know their proficiency in the language. The remaining percentage is a marginal group who have the same proficiency of a native speaker in the Americas. The statistics remain highly dubious. However, if you are one of those that struggles with rolling R’s (rr), then Equatorial Guinea is your best bet. If you sat in Spanish class thinking how tedious it was trivializing between masculine el, los or feminine la, las articles, thank an Equatoguinean, because they seemed to have tossed them out. The lisp you may have mastered in Spain (known as the Seseo) will become useful there too. Before you get to comfortable, it is noteworthy to mention that the phonological structure will depend on the ethnic Guinean. The Fang simplify diphthongs, bueno (good) would become bono. The Ndowé have gotten started on a linguistic phenomena called lenition, in which the sound of a consonant is weakened. The Ndowé pronounce muchacho (man) “mushasho’. An Equatorial speaker would most likely pick a Spaniard and a Dominican anytime over a Salvadoran or Bolivian.

The second colonial experimental in Africa is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a complicated mess of diplomacy. It has partial recognition worldwide; several countries have broken ties with the republic. Today, the SADR has been entrenched in a highly messy land dispute between the Sahwari and Morocco. Although no serious dynamics exist here for the Spanish Language yet, the SADR Constitution recognises the African, Muslim, and Arab heritage of its people, making it the only Arab country with Spanish as its official language. Which makes for a hilarious historical juncture.

The ethnic Berbers and Tuaregs in today’s SADR are more related to the same Muslims that established a flourishing empire in Spain in the Medieval Era. The Arabs contributed highly to the scientific advancement in Spain over time, especially in the fields of chemistry, medicine, and music. Miscegenation took place to a lesser degree. This partly explains why the average Spaniard is olive-skinned  and why people assume I am Middle Eastern. Anyway, back to Spanish! The Muslim influence in Modern Spanish is well alive. The Mexican City of Guadalajara is simply a Hispanicized version of the Arabic wahd-il-al-hara, meaning river of stones. Even tiny things like proper names such as Omar have their origin from Islamic Civilizations. Only an expert would pick up on these things. Salma Hayek, although mainly associated with Mexico, can trace her lineage from Lebanon. Arab can be easily spotted. Most words that start in al have Arab DNA: algodón (cotton) al-qutun, álgebra (Algebra) al-jabr, alcalde (mayor), alma (soul), and alba (dawn). The famous bullfighter cry Olé stems from the Arab cry of “To God” wa allah. All history is connected.

Like other Romance tongues: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalán, Provençal, Sardinian, Aragonese, Lombardian, Romansch, Dalmatian, and etc… descend from Vulgar Latin. It is called vulgar because it was what commoners spoke. It wasn’t the language of Cicero, Nero, Trajan, or the other huge Roman giants. They spoke a more sophisticated (oftentimes erratically different) kind of Latin than the rest. If labeling a language vulgar wasn’t demeaning in itself, imagine what the Filipinos go through everyday. The Creole (sophisticated linguistic term that means hybrid) Chavacano, which translates also to “vulgar speech.” Wait? So am I saying that if Spanish is already crude in and of itself, than the hybrid The Filipinos speak is even more rude? Gross at best? Well, no, not inherently. At least that is what my personal opinion says. Historically the movers and shakers of great empires think the contrary in order to achieve their devious political ends.

The Philippines was Spain’s only success in Asia, but the Spanish tongue took too long to actually fully cement like it did in Latin America because the Filipinos resisted it despite it being the official language of commerce, government, education, and the press. The Filipino Revolution was articulated in Spanish. The First Philippine Republic and its first constitution was also in Spanish. The national hero, José Rizal, wrote his works in Spanish. The demise of Spanish can also be attributed to the United State’s of the islands three centuries later, but by the early 70’s, it seemed like Filipinos resented Spanish rule. In 1973, the Philippine government decreed that Spanish be knocked off as official, but would still recognize documents and legislations that weren’t translated. By 1983, it became an optional language. Filipino Spanish is closely related to Mexican Spanish, as the exploration was done by conquistadores already established in the New World, rather than Spain. This doesn’t mean Mexicans can travel to The Philippines and be comfortable and expect no linguistic barrier. In fact there is an entire inventory of words palabras falsas “false words”, when pronounced, sound identical to Spanish but mean totally different things in Filipino tongues. Baho means low in Spanish, but means “bad smell”. Puto is a rice cake, but a homosexual or womanizer in The Americas. Basta is halt in Spanish, but is actually “In condition of…” in various Filipino tongues. I would be the laughing stock if for whatever reason, I shouted ¡Basta puto! with Filipinos scratching their heads wondering what womanizer is in need of what, under what condition? At this point, a Spaniard, an African, an Arab, a Quechua, and an Italian Gaucho will all agree to not venture off to the Philippines in order to avoid making a mockery of themselves.

Back at the ranch in The United States where the third largest Spanish-speaking community exists after Mexico and Colombia. It is also the first European language ever spoken on the landmass. English arrived roughly a century later from the british settlers. Spanish is well alive, and resilient. The statistics show that Spanish is growing and shows no signs of decline soon. This has created the linguistic phenomena of Spanglish, although a similar version exists in Gibraltar which is a hybrid of British English and Andalusian Spanish called llanito. The Royal Spanish Academies and some Spanish-speakers have denounced Spanglish as a crude tool used by lower classes and the uneducated. But for practical purposes, it works. Driving lessons would be an ordeal for many that are used to the formal rules from Spain. To push the brakes translates as “Pisar el freno” for most, but would translate as “puchale la breca” to a Spanglish speaker.  

Over the years, I have befriended many Anglo Americans that speak only English and many Hispanic friends who don’t share my Mexican heritage, but are Peruvian, Argentine, Uruguayan, Salvador, Iberian, and Dominican. Essentially from all over the Hispanosphere. While also juggling a third language, French. My spoken Spanish definitely doesn’t resemble Mexican Spanish. I have had conversations with Mexicans that assumed I was Peruvian! In another social gathering I was also told that I gave off an Iberian accent (European Spanish). Some say it is neutral or unique. My favorite of all time: I speak in an Italian accent with Mexican overtones. 

I am born and raised Utah, but learned to speak Mexican Spanish simultaneously. As an educated individual, I am proud to say I am highly literate in both tongues; at the same level and caliber of both. I can make use of time in a conversation with a neurosurgeon with an American, or with a Murcian philosopher. This is all part of the bi-cultural experience. And while Anglo nationalists sneer with resentment and hate towards the Latino population, I pity them for not having an extra soul. My trilingual and tri-cultural experience gives me a psychological and mental edge. My brain works faster and in sophisticated ways than theirs.       

The conversation between an increasing Spanish-speaking minority and a majority English-speaking is tumultuous. Several political analysts and commentators have warned that a strong Spanish-speaking threatens the social fabric of the United States. Particularly the Anglo-American tradition. This may be partly due to the broader fact that Anglo-Hispanic relations have been a complicated one, if not messy, that dates back centuries. Anglo and Spanish forces recount famous battles in Florida, Louisiana, and not to mention Texas. As well as other famous maritime battles–The Battle of Jenkin’s Ear. Legend has it that Spanish Oceanic trade routes in the 18th century were restrictive and merciless to those who trespassed. A failed attempt of an English ship to destroy a Spanish ship resulted with the English captain’s ear chopped off by the enemy. Of course, the British Crown used Jenkin’s ear to warrant–and wouldn’t be the first time–war.

The reality is that these clashes of civilizations has created a one of the most diverse peoples on the planet, particularly in the Americas. Sure, the British Empire has experience with diversity in the Caribbean, India, Africa, and the Americas. But after the collapse of the Spanish Empire, the descendents of those Spanish-speaking will tilt the cultural and purists attitude away from Spain and towards The Americas. The same can be said about English, once mainly associated with Britain, is becoming more associated with the USA. But Hispanics can boast an even richer heritage. Rhetoric and discourse in Latin American politics today utilize many myths, symbols, and martyrs of their precolonial past. The US would never dream of incorporating Native-American elements into its political discourse (*ahem* Columbus Day). The next time you greet an American born of Nicaraguan descent, you’re probably looking at a millennium of history in the making: Greeks, Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Visigoths, Arabs, Amerindians, Celtics, Basques–you get the picture.

Despite the socio-political mess created by colonizers, there are many things Spanish can boast about. The Spanish language ranks third in numbers of total speakers worldwide including third in number of internet users. It produced the first complete novel Don Quixote de La Mancha. Chile is nicknamed “The Country of Poets.” Spanish theatre tops some of the best. The grammarian Nebrija is credited for creating the first completed grammar book in the 15th century. Who would have thought that a language spoken by a handful of shepherds in 14th-century Spain–with its first written record being a list of cheeses–make its place on a hastily built WordPress.    


*The F to H shift in Spanish was a linguistic phenomena which occurred in Spanish in the 16th century. Something similar to the Great Vowel Change in English. Almost all words in Spanish that start with an H hacer (to do), hormiga (ant), and hablar (to talk), were voiced in Old Spanish to render facer, formica, and fablar.

*The stuffed animal in the above image is Juan Carlos Bodoque, a red rabbit from the Chilean children series 31 Minutos. Bodoque is a reporter who has an ecological segment “The Green Note” La Nota Verde. Bodoque is one of the most liked characters of the series. He is described as bohemic, sarcastic, daring, and a gambler. Purchase a Bodoque puppet at Joy Islands, a craft store in Mexico City’s Roma district.