Differences between Spanish from Spain and that of Latin America

Differences between Spanish from Spain and that of Latin America

Differences between Spanish dialects and accents spoken around the world can vary considerably from country to country or even from town to town, but none more so than between Spain and Latin America. Spain may be the mother of the language, but like most children’s relationship to their parents, Latin America has differentiated itself over the years and emerged with its own linguistic identity.

The differences between Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish are more evident in spoken form than written, although certain differences in vocabulary and verb usage certainly exist there too.

All in all, if you are a fluent Spanish speaker, you will most certainly be understood when speaking to a member of almost any Spanish speaking community. This doesn’t mean that what you say will be particularly clear or correct, and many words have vastly different meanings between regions.

Spanish speakers, for the most part, understand each other in the same way that English speakers from the USA or Australia, for example, are able to have a mutually intelligible conversation without the need for interpreters or translators. That being said, if the conversation goes on long enough, the Australian will surely end up using a word or sentence that draws an inquisitive glance from the American speaker. In both English and Spanish, the more highly “educated” versions of the language will be reasonably similar, and most of the major differences occur in the casual colloquialisms.

In this article we will examine some of differences between these two dialects of Spanish, as well as some of the reasons linguists believe these differences have occurred.

  • Spain vs Latin America: Why such linguistic variation?
  • Spoken Differences: The Spain accent versus Latin American accents
  • Written Differences: Vocabulary and verb conjugation on the Iberian peninsula and Latin America

Spain vs Latin America: Why such Linguistic Variation?

The first question that some may ask is why is there such a strong variation between the two dialects, after all, both regions officially speak the same language. There are several theories on the matter, and at the end of the day, no one can say for sure. This being said, here are some of the most common theories shared by linguists and historians alike.

Firstly, many historians hypothesize that the majority of early conquistadors (Spanish colonists) originated from more rural areas of Spain, where regional dialects spoken at that time period more closely match modern linguistic trends of Latin America.

Secondly, a reason for such linguistic variation between Spanish dialects could be attributed to something called “linguistic lag.” This refers to the colonial speaker’s inability to keep up with language innovations of the mother country, often due to isolation and communication limitations, as this was of course in the days before telephone and internet. This effect is noticeable among other diasporic linguistic communities, and can be seen in the differences between the French language in Quebec, Canada and French from France. It is widely agreed that Quebecois French more closely resembles 17th century French than modern French from France.

Thirdly, Spanish has not been the only linguistic influence in Latin America. Particularly during the time of colonization, many other language groups were active and left their mark on modern Latin American Spanish. These influences can be attributed to pre-colonial indigenous languages as well as other immigrant groups from different parts of the world, Europe in particular.

A final reason could be attributed to politics and the sometimes strained relationship between the “motherland” of Spain and the Latin American region. It is possible that speakers in Latin America deliberately emphasized local differences in order to differentiate themselves and solidify their own identities, particularly when they were attempting to assert their independence.

Spoken Differences: The Spain Accent Vs Latin American Accents

The difference in accent between the two forms of Spanish, that of the Iberian Peninsula and that of South and Central America, is the most immediately noticeable difference. This difference in accent between Spain and Latin America can be compared to the difference in accent between American English and British English. Similarly, there are regional accents within both the UK and the United States, but regardless, those accents can be clearly attributed to either region. The same goes for regional differences in Spain and especially Latin America, which is home to incredibly diverse communities of speakers.

The clearest difference between the accents of these two Spanish dialects is what is linguistically referred to as seseo and distinción. In Latin america, they speak with what is called seseo, which means words containing {s} or {z} sounds are typically both pronounced as {s}, as in the beginning of the word Spanish. In Spain, however they speak with what is called distinción, where {s} and {z} sounds are pronounced as {th}, as in the beginning of the word Thin. Take for example the word gracias, meaning thank you. This would typically be pronounced as graSias in Latin America and graTHias in Spain.

Speakers from Spain will often be described as speaking with a lisp, which while not accurate, is an apt description when describing this difference to an English speaker. This Spanish “lisp” is said to have been derived from sounds that existed in a previous dialect of Spanish commonly spoken in medieval times.

Written Differences: Vocabulary and Verb Conjugation on the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America

In addition to the differences between accents, differences can also be seen in grammar usage, vocabulary and even verb conjugation. Some of these differences are more subtle than others, but no less revealing in terms of what side of the pond that speaker belongs to.An example of a more subtle but nevertheless important difference, is something called leísmo. This refers to the habit of using an indirect object pronoun (le) in place of the masculine direct object pronoun (lo) that is typical of Spaniard speakers. The preferencing of le is why it is caled leísmo. While this is not officially grammatically correct, it is standard enough practice in Spain to be typical of a speaker from that region. An example of this would be saying le veo instead of lo veo for “I saw him”.

Another major difference can be spotted in the way they address others, and the verbs they use to do so. In Spain, the more casual way to address someone would be by using vos or vosotros, and conjugating the verb accordingly. In Latin America, they almost never use vosotros, preferring instead to us for the singular and ustedes for the plural, and their associated conjugations.

Lastly, choosing the appropriate vocabulary can be a minefield, as many words mean something completely different when used on either side of the ocean. For example, in Spain a cell phone is referred to as a telefono movíl, while in Latin America they say celular. This is very similar to the difference between British English (mobile phone) and American English (cell phone).

Other differences can range from something as innocuous as the word zumo, meaning juice in Spain and pulp in Latin America, to something more confusing such as the Spain word coche for car, but meaning baby carriage in much of Latin America. It is also possible to misstep and accidentally say something incredibly vulgar. Take for example the verb coger, an incredibly commonly used verb in Spain that can mean anything from grabbing, fetching, catching or taking. This verb is used for catching a bus, taking a taxi and fetching a takeout order among many other instances. In Latin America, however, its only use is in a vulgar context.

As you can see, it’s small but important linguistic variances such as this that can make all the difference when you are attempting to tailor your message to a particular group of Spanish speakers. Using the correct word or verb conjugation can take your message from offensive at worst, comprehensible at best, to polished and professional. This is why it is particularly important to entrust all translation needs to Spanish translation and copy editing professionals, such as those at Spanish with Style. All of the Spanish language experts at Spanish with Style are highly trained to understand regional differences and will ensure your message is being communicated clearly and effectively, as well as tailoring it to its intended audience.