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+

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