The following are some observations of language particularities in various parts of the Spanish speaking world, as we observed this year in moving from country to country. Moving from Spain to Central America, the language is quite different.
- Of course you have to stop using the Castillian “th” sound for “z”.
- When speaking about a car, you have to remember to say “carro” which is a simple wagon in Spain, instead of “coche”. In Latin America, “coche” means pig and “carro” is the word to use.
- When you take a bus, it is usually called a “camioneta”, or little truck.
- Likewise, you must not use the word “coger” in Latin America for catching a bus, a ball or anything else, as is done in Spain. It has a vulgar meaning. Instead you must use “tomar” which Spaniards use for having a cup of coffee.
Guatemalan Spanish is very clear and easily understandable to the student of Spanish. This is one reason that Guatemala is so popular a location for Spanish schools. Even up in the hills, and among those who speak Mayan languages, spoken Spanish is quite clear to the foreign ear. Nevertheless, Guatemalans are proud of their special speech patterns that they share as “Chapinos”, the familiar term for Guatemalans. Here are some of them.
Most common in Guatemala is to hear “Fíjate!”, which generally means “Just imagine!”. In Guatemala, this phrase loses its sense of surprise but instead is used at the beginning of any explanation, no matter how prosaic. For example, when I came home and found my landlady absent, she said later, “Fíjate – I had to go shopping”. The formal form, “Fíjese!” is also used very frequently.
Here are some words and expressions of Chapino Spanish:
Atól – hot corn drink
A puro tubo – out of necessity
Agarrar la onda – to catch on, as in “Agarre la onda” – “I caught on”.
Aguas! – Watch out!
Buena onda – great! or “Mala onda” for bad news or bad vibes, likewise “Que onda?” – “What’s up?”
The answer to this would be “Pues ahí voy”, or “I’m getting by.”
Boquitas – snacks
Dar la regalada gana – to want to very much
Dos que tres – more or less
Dos por tres – in a jiffy (“en un dos por tres”)
Embolarse, bolo – Get drunk, a drunk
Estar chino de – to be tired of
Estar hecho lata – to be in bad shape
Estar para chuparse los dedos – it’s finger-licking good
Estar colgado con alguien – to be in love with someone
Mira pues – used very frequently to mean “see here”, or preceding an explanation
Muchá! - hey you guys! Used frequently.
Pura lata – cruel. For example: “No seas pura lata!”
Pucchicá! – Wow!
Tener un gran clavo – to have a problem
“Hay tres tipos de carne en Guatemala: cerdo, chancho y coche (all pork).”
Bolivian Spanish threw me for a loop. It may be the back-country speech and the fact that for most people here in Sorata, Spanish is their second language and is not without errors. Some frequent speech patterns stand out, however.
The “r” sound is replaced by something that is closer to “z”. For example, when complimenting food, I hear “Muy zico!” That took some time. When I got to church and they were telling us to “ozar”, I caught on. Another speech pattern is to lengthen the past participle, to the point of accenting it. So “He has left” becomes “Se ha idó”. This tense, the past present, is used frequently. Then there is the replacement of “des” by a “ts” sound: “Tu aprents?” instead of “Tu aprendes?”. This “ts” sound appears in many word endings – I haven’t figured them all out yet. In addition, a common phrase is “No ve?” or simply “Ve?” to mean “You see?”
In addition, on the Altiplano in Bolivia it is typical to put the verb last. A common word is “harto”, which loses the pejorative sense it has in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world and instead means simply much or many. So for example: “Harta gente hay” means “There are lots of people”. I suspect that this language pattern comes from the Aymara, where “Hi waki es?” means “Cool, huh?”
Many common food items call for different words in South America. A number of words are of Aymara or Quechua origin.
Api – hot drink made with lemon, corn flour, and sugar
Arvejas – peas
Camote – sweet potato
Chichi – fermented corn beer
Chopp – draft beer
Choclo – corn (no one says “maiz”) (The corn is usually gray with large kernels, typically served on the cob)
Cuñape – yucca/cheese pastry
Humientas – corn, cheese and raisin porridge wrapped in corn husk
Locoto – chili pepper
Salteña – meat and vegetable filled pastry
Tucumana – fried meat and vegetable filled pastry
Palta – avocado (no one understands “aguacate”)
Zapallo – pumpkin
Other strictly Bolivian words:
Collya – indigenous person
Challa – ritual blessing
Chino – a familiar word Bolivians use to refer to each other, whether or not of Asian origin
Huaca – sacred place
Flota – bus
Sorache – altitude sickness
Refrigerio – snack time
Wiphala – indigenous Angean flag
It makes me feel slightly better to hear that Bolivians have trouble being understood by other Spanish speakers when they travel!