More than 480 million people have Spanish as their mother tongue, according to statistics. And yet, strictly speaking, no one speaks it. At least not in its purest form.
Just make a phone call to check. Some Spanish speakers will answer “hello”, others will say “tell me”, there will be someone who picks up the phone and says “good”, who answers with a brief “yes”, who will reply with a “let’s see” …
We all speak Spanish, yes, but not exactly the same Spanish. We do it with different cadences and rhythms, with different accents and with its own features.
And the same happens with those whose mother tongue is Portuguese, German, Greek, French, English, Icelandic, Basque, Russian, Chinese, Catalan or any other language.
In everyday life they do not speak their language in a regulated way. They use linguistic variants or modalities. Dialects
The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) considers that a language is “a system of verbal communication typical of a human community and that generally has writing”. And of a dialect he says that it is a “variety of a language that does not reach the social category of language.”
This definition has led to dialects being considered by many as an inferior style of speech and without official recognition.
But linguists do not attribute any negative charge to the term dialect. For specialists, a dialect is simply a variety of language shared by a community, the way we speak a language.
Besides the national dialects, dI enter each country there are also linguistic varieties. Even within the same city there may be different modalities from one neighborhood to another. These are geographical dialects or geolects, as experts call them.
“Actually, it could be said that there are as many dialects as there are Spanish-speaking provinces, regions and countries. At present, it is preferred to speak of linguistic areas. The matter is not settled, but specialists admit eight large areas: five in America (the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, the Andes, Río de la Plata and Chile) and three in Spain (north or north, south or south and the Canary Islands) “, points out Enrique Pato, doctor in Spanish Philology from the University Autonomous of Madrid.
“Later, each country and each area has its own varieties. Some recent studies, but from phonetics and pronunciation, they have come to distinguish up to 28 different modalities“, he affirms.” Every Spanish speaker speaks a dialect, or a variety, for the simple fact of being born in a certain place. The problem is that the speakers are not aware of it. ”
Pato and his colleagues Miriam Castillo (also doctor in Spanish Philology) and Miriam Bouzouita, doctor in Linguistics at King’s College, University of London, launched in May 2019 a curious and fun application called “Dialects of Spanish”, which through 26 questions guess what Spanish favorite a person speaks.
“The questions were selected taking into account previous works, that is, ‘classical’ phenomena already studied by traditional dialectology,” Enrique Pato explains to BBC Mundo.
The success rate is usually very high, he says.
“There are some dialects and varieties that have been more studied than others, so we have much more information on Mexican Spanish, for example, than on Central American varieties. The same is true for other countries and areas. In general, the errors are related to some ‘rare’ combination for the prediction model, and when the user does not answer the questions honestly, mixing features and phenomena that are, in principle, incompatible with each other. Fortunately they are the least “.
“One of the fundamental challenges we have now is to achieve as active participation in America as it has been in Spain, since the future of Spanish is played out in America, and we want to know what changes are taking place now,” says Pato.
To the geographical dialects we must add the sociodialects, variants according to the educational level of the person who speaks: technolects, professional dialects. And age: teenagers do not speak the same as the elderly.
The different accents that exist in Spanish are only one part of a dialect, “perhaps the most striking for the common speaker, but the syntactic variations (leísmo, the use of the past tense – I have sung / sang-, the second person forms you or you …) are crucial to define dialects “, indicates Lola Pons, historian of the Language, professor at the University of Seville and author of” The Tree of the Language “, a book in which she defends that linguistic purity It is as dangerous as racial purity and in that it holds that we all actually speak a dialect.
At this point, and given that we all speak a dialect, the question is: who then speaks standardized Spanish, let’s say official Spanish?
“There is a kind of unmarked dialect that all speakers tend to, which is considered prestigious, is taught at school and is used officially: it is the standard variety or dialect. But, although we all know it, that standardized Spanish is not a Nobody’s maternal variety, all Spanish-speakers use dialects, “says the expert.
This standardized Spanish, which we often call neutral Castilian, is the one that is spoken, for example, in the media, with which audiovisual fictions are often dubbed, and the one that many of the teachers speak when they teach Spanish as a foreign language. .
“And yet there are many standards in Spanish: the Spanish newscast doesn’t sound like Mexico’s”, observes the author of “El Árbol de la Lengua”.
It should also be noted that there is nowhere better spoken the Spanish language than in another.
“There are speakers who handle it, well or badly, anywhere on the Spanish-speaking surface. Speaking well or correctly does not have to do with the type of pronunciation we have but with the selection of the appropriate linguistic forms for each situation, the coherence of the syntactic structure, the lexical diversity … “, affirms this professor at the University of Seville.
The Spanish language itself, without going any further, it was a dialect before to become properly a language.
“Clearly it was a dialect when, as the daughter of Latin, it was born as a Romance variety spoken in the county of Castilla to the east of the Kingdom of León. It was consolidated as a language in the 16th century, when it began to standardize and level off, also coinciding with its Atlantic expansion and European “.
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