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The Spanish spoken in Spain is not, in fact, identical to the Spanish spoken in south and Latin America.

The most serious difference is that vosotros, the plural second person, doesn't exist in the Americas. Neither the pronoun vosotros (essentially a grammatically correct "y'all") nor vosotros' verb form (-éis, etc) are used. Instead, ustedes is always used when addressing groups ("ustedes" is plural "usted". "usted" is the honorary form of "you", and is treated by verbs as third person.)

While constant use of ustedes probably causes some ambiguity where vosotros (and its dedicated verb form) wouldn't, it causes no real incompatibility between dialects, since all it does is make anyone speaking American Spanish to appear unnecessarily polite when addressing groups.

enter subtle prompt here for anyone who can give other differences to post.

While vosotros is the most obvious grammatical difference, there's also another form that's used only in Argentina - the vos form. It conjugates much like the tu form, and for non-native speakers, it is much easier to understand than to reproduce. Sometimes it and the tu form will both be used in the same sentence, confusing things even more.

Example of usage: "¡Vos sos loco!"
   Valentín to Molina in El Beso de la mujer araña

Another difference is visible in pronunciation - Spaniards pronounce "s" sounds that do not come at the end of words as "th" sounds.

The vos form that elfbabe describes is actually not only found in Argentina, but also in the neighboring countries of Paraguay, Uruguay, and in Central America with the exception of Panama. It also is sometimes used colloquially in various parts of Latin America. It is very surprising to me that this form is usually not taught in Spanish courses. I have taken Spanish for eight years, and didn't hear about vos until about a year ago. While I can recognize and comprehend the form, I would not be able to reproduce it. Note the similarity with the Portuguese pronoun você.

The regions that use the vos form, as far as I can divine from my readings, appears to only replace the nominative/subject-form: te remains the object form, tu the posessive.

Some sample conjugations using vos:

quedar to stay
vos te quedás

tener to have
vos tenés

ser to be
vos sos

saber to know
vos sabés

You will notice that stem-changing verbs do not appear to undergo a stem-change in the vos form. Also notice that they are generally accented on the final syllable.

In my humble oppinion, the most important differences between Spanish dialects (at least because it can be very embarassing if you forget about them), is on swear words. Curiously, there are some common verbs which are totally neutral in some places and offensive in others.

For example, in Spain we say coger for the English take. So, I took the bus would become Cogí el autobús. Problem is that in most of South America, coger means fuck. And well, it is not something you can do with such happiness!

That's the reason that most satellite TV channels who broadcast to Spanish regions have interesting style manuals with lists of words which change meaning dangerously. Christian prayers were also recently (ten years or so, I seem to remember) unified so that they were perfectly correct and the same everywhere.

Vosotros - Ustedes

I can speak only about Puerto Rican Spanish, but there are enough differences to keep one busy. Yes, the absence of vosotros ( = you plural familiar) does appears to be serious on the face of it, but no one seems to miss it much. Speakers merely switch gears from familar to polite and use ustedes ( = you plural polite). I have been assured on more than one occasion that usted ( = you polite singular) is used only when addressing the governor or president. Still, the kids I taught used usted with me and I have no political aspirations.

Dropped Letters

The most striking lack is the pronunciation of the letter s, which habit, they tell me, comes from the Canary Islands. In fact, I was told that careful observance of all the s sounds might prompt the comment quiere tirarse un pe'o más alto que su culo ( = he wants to fart higher than his ass hole), which is one colorful way a Puerto Rican can say that the guy is putting on airs. If you listen quite carefully, it seems to me that the letter s isn't dropped, but converted to a glottal stop so that estos ( = Eng. these) becomes e:to: . This peculiarity is very useful to gringos who are never sure whether the familiar or polite form of the verb should be used. The only difference between the polite dónde vive? and the familiar dónde vives? ( = Eng. Where do you live?) is that pesky letter s. If you swallow it, who knows whether you have been unduly familiar or overly polite or a master of Spanish nuance in Puerto Rico.

The letter d also seems to get short shrift in Puerto Rican Spanish. Take the word pe'o ( = Eng. fart), mentioned above. The first time I heard it I ran to my trusty dictionary and couldn't find it, even though my informant assured me it was a real Spanish word. When he gave the meaning, I looked up "fart" and found pedo. Poor d had been dropped, as it is in most past participles. Thus llamado ( = Eng. called) becomes llama'o

An example will demonstrate how a gringo can easily become confused. We were walking through the Botanical Gardens in Río Piedras, when a little girl ran past us, yelling what I thought to be, "Mami, kaka." Now, kakar is kiddy talk for " to defecate." Providing the missing d, I had the past participle kakada which I thought meant that the little girl needed to have her diaper changed. However, we moved a bit further and saw a small waterfall, which in Spanish would be a cascada. I provided the d, but it also needed an s to make perfect sense.

Of course, I've been guilty of going in the other direction. A kind of stew with rice is called asopao. If there were the verb asopar ( = to be soupy) and there isn't, the past participle would be asopado. Naturally I ordered an asopado and received quite a bit of ribbing.

Vocabulary

There must be 1,000s of words that have other meanings and significations in Puerto Rico. The first word that comes to mind is chulo, which is most places is a "pimp." On the island a baby can also be chulo, meaning "cute." If the baby is exceptionally chulo the women will exclaim, "ay, que nice." The context in which I first heard m'ijo ( = my son) was a shocker. I overheard a woman use it when speaking with her husband. I honestly thought she was having an incestuous relationship with her son.

As I mentioned elsewhere, the word bicho in the Spanish speaking world means "insect", except in Puerto Rico where it is a rude word for penis. One of the students at the school where I taught brought back from Mexico a can of insect spray which had the word matabicho prominently displayed. To a Mexican the word meant "bug killer," but to a Puerto Rican it read "dick destroyer." By the end of the day all the boys had wet crotches that smelled of insect spray.

In the same vein, but in reverse, we have one innocent word, concha, which means "conch shell". It is the name of a large hotel in the tourist area of San Juan. Often large numbers of Cuban men from Miami have their pictures in front of the sign. Why? The word in Cuban Spanish is considered extremely vulgar and means "vagina." You rarely win in Spanish.

The Puerto Rican loves his language and finds great amusement in playing with it. I've often said to visitors, "scratch a Puerto Rican and you'll find a poet... and a comedian." We had a noted female entertainer with an prominent backside (well, enormous female backsides are very popular). She was selected to advertise a automoble coolant on TV. Why? Because one word for any kind rump is culo and everytime she used the word "coolant" she'd wiggle her ass. It was kind of a double whammy.

The differences between European and Puerto Rican Spanish are considerable and are a source of continual amusement. During the time I lived there, I wondered what mainlanders talked about in the States. The language was one of the gringo's favorite topics of conversation.
One of the major pronunciation differences found between Peninsular Spanish and Latin American Spanish is the lisping of "ce", "ci", and "z" sounds. In the Americas, these sounds have become one (partly because the Andalusians who settled the New World didn't use the lisp to begin with).

Interestingly (for language nerd), Spanish used to be pronounced with even more consonant sounds that disappeared over time. Here some examples and how they would have been pronounced in Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries:

  • A letter that is still used in French and Portuguese also used to be found in Spanish: ç, as in the word coraçón (now spelled corazón, "heart"). The ç is pronounced "ts" as in "coratsón".
  • The letter z was pronounced dz. E.g. the word fazer (now spelled hacer, "to do") was pronounced fadzer. Besides the z to c change, many older Spanish words used the letter f where we now use the letter h ("fazaña," "fermosura," "fablar").
  • The letter x, which now denotes either a "ks" or "s" sound ("taxi," "excusa") or an aspiration when describing areas around Mexico (e.g. "México"), used to denote an "sh" sound. E.g. the word dixo (now spelled dijo, "he said"). This would have been pronounced "disho". (I have seen maps in American History classes of the Mexican state Oaxaca, which in English used to be called Washaca. X's are still today pronounced as "sh" when they are found in Spanish transliterations of Nahuatl words, the language of the Aztecs).
  • The letter "j" and the letter combinations "ge" and "gi", which are now aspirations, used to denote the "zh" sound (like the same letter combinations in French today). So the word oio or ojo (now always spelled ojo, "eye"), was pronounced "ozho".
  • Although in most cases the letter s was pronounced the same way it is today, between two vowels it denoted a z sound (the same way we pronounce z in English, a buzzing sound). So the word mesurado ("discreet") was pronounced mezurado. To denote an s sound between two vowels, a double-s was used: apriessa (quickly), pronounced "apriesa".

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