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Spanish Language Varieties in Spain and in Mexico

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1734 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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Spanish language varieties in Spain and in Mexico.

George Bernard Shaw regarded Great Britain and America as ‘two countries divided by a common language’. This viewpoint can be also applied to Spain and Mexico, the Spanish-speaking countries with different language varieties and dialects that have been formed under the influence of specific historical, cultural, political and social events. Despite the fact that Spanish is spoken in many countries, the major varieties of Spanish can be observed in Latin America and Spain, where the language, according to Clare Mar-Molinero (2000), “is buoyant and secure” (p.18).

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Spanish belongs to the Indo-European language family and comes from Vulgar Latin language, although Spanish vocabulary consists of Italian, French and Arabic words. Spanish language in Latin America has five major varieties: the Caribbean, the South American Pacific, the Argentinian-Uruguyan-Paraguayan, the Central American, and the Highland (or Standard) Latin American. However, this classification is too generalised, as it is based only on the differences in pronunciation. Due to “the immensity of the territory where Latin American Spanish is spoken” (Lipski, 1994 p.3), linguists analyse language varieties “along geographical, political, ethnic, musicological and social lines” (Lipski, 1994 p.3). The residents of Mexico mainly use the Caribbean and Highland Latin American dialects that emerged after the formation of Peruvian Spanish. Nahuatl dialect that belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language group (Andrews, 1975) and has “the greatest influence in central Mexico” (Lipski, 1994 p.6) is an ancient Spanish dialect. About one million Mexican people speak Nahuatl dialect nowadays. In Spain there are also two principal language varieties – the Castilian and the Andalusian dialects that were formed in the middle ages, although some regions of Northern and Southern Spain create other specific dialects. As Spanish language descends from Castile, the Spanish region that became a centre of political significance since the thirteenth century, the Castilian dialect is one of the most widespread varieties and is accepted as a national criterion in Spain. Mar-Molinero (2000) considers that the phenomenon of ‘Castilianisation’ was initiated by the Visigoths; however, it was only in the eighteenth century when the Castilian dialect displaced other language varieties as a result of Charles’ III 1768 declaration, demonstrating a profound impact of political prevalence on linguistic prevalence. Mar-Molinero (2000) also states that the Andalusian dialect considerably influenced the formation of the Standard Latin American (pp.36-37), although this viewpoint is strongly opposed by sociolinguists. Other crucial language varieties in Spain are Euskara, Galician and Catalan; these dialects have some parallels with Portuguese and French languages, although they do not belong to the Indo-European language family. The emergence of these three Spanish varieties is closely connected with the spread of nationalism. The Levantine varieties also constitute an important group of dialects utilised in such Spanish regions as Alicante, Valencia and Castellón. People in these areas currently use Catalan/Valencian, Murcian, Andalusian, Aragon, and La Manche/Castile dialects.

The differences in all these Spanish language varieties attribute to pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar (Penny, 2000). In particular, pronunciation of the Standard Latin American differs from the Castilian, similar to the dissimilarities between British English and American English. In the Castilian dialect the sounds ‘ce’ or ‘ci’ are changed into ‘th’: ‘gracias’ (thanks) appears as ‘gratheas’; however, in the Standard Latin American the word ‘gracias’ is pronounced as ‘gras-see-as”. Such separate pronunciation of the word ‘grasseeas’ is a characteristic feature of the Standard Latin American dialect. In the Castilian dialect some words are ended in a vocable vowel, losing their last consonants, while two Mexican dialects are characterised by the pronunciation of final consonants. Overall, the speech in Mexico is slow in comparison with the speech in the majority of Spanish regions (Hill & Hill, 1986); however, the Caribbean, or Lowland dialect is defined as a rather prompt and informal variety of Spanish language.

In addition to the differences in pronunciation, there are some differences in grammar. In Mexican Spanish ‘ustedes’ (you) is utilised both for formal and informal address, while in Castilian Spanish there are two words for formal and informal address – ‘ustedes’ and ‘vosotros’, respectively. Some verbs in the Caribbean and Highland Latin American dialects have changed their initial forms, acquiring certain Anglicisms and Americanisms. In particular, Mexican residents say, “Apliqué a la Universidad” (I applied to the university), while Spanish people utilise a more precise form – ‘Postulé a la universidad’. Similarly, Spaniards in Spain prefer to utilise pasado perfecto (the compound tense that is similar to English Present Perfect tense): ‘Yo he viajado a los Estados Unidos’ (I have travelled to the USA). Mexican people use a more simplified tense – pretérito indefinido (English Past Indefinite), for example, “Viajé a Estados Unidos” (I travelled to the USA). According to Julia Kristeva (1989), “Language is so intimately linked to man and society that they are inseparable” (p.3); thus, the utilisation of Anglicisms and Americanisms in Mexican Spanish reflects historical and social differences between Spain and Mexico. Duncan Green (1997) points at the impact of the United States on language and identity of Mexican population; in particular, the author states that “The mass media has become a battleground in the struggle to define Latin American’s identity” (pp.98-99). The simplification of Spanish language in Mexico reveals that various social changes modify language, and language shapes the identity of Mexican people. As Mar-Molinero (2000) states, “Not only does language have an instrumental role as a means of communication, it also has an extremely important symbolic role as marker of identity” (p.3). Due to the fact that social identities of Mexican and Spanish people differ, Spanish language of Mexico and Spain is characterised by a rather diverse vocabulary. For instance, the word ‘Okay’ is translated as ‘Sale’ in Mexico, and as ‘Chungo’ – in Madrid; similarly, the word ‘work’ is rendered as ‘chambear’ in Mexico and as ‘currar’ – in Spain.

Another difference that distinguishes Mexican Spanish from Spanish in Spain is the preservation of archaisms in the Caribbean and Highland Latin American dialects. Such words and expressions as ‘Órale’ (All right), ‘Ya mero’ (almost) or ‘Qué pedo?” (What is going on?) are normal for Mexican Spanish, but they are not utilised in Spain. John Lipski (1994) considers that these language varieties emerged as a result of cultural and social interactions of Spain and Mexico with other countries. The Standard Latin American dialect was considerably influenced by Italian and African immigrants who arrived in Latin America at the end of the nineteenth – the beginning of the twentieth centuries (Lipski, 1994 pp.11-12). Skidmore and Smith (2000) reveal the similar viewpoint, claiming that in Latin America “languages, food, sports, and music all show profound and continuing African influence” (p.356). Simultaneously, the Standard Latin American and the Caribbean dialects reflect native roots, especially Indian roots that are rather distinct in Mexican Spanish. For instance, the language of the Mayans serves as the basis for more than thirty dialects in Mexico, let alone the language of the Aztecs. In particular, many modern Mexican dialects preserve initial and final sounds tl- in certain words, like ‘Nahuatl’, ‘Quetzalcoatl’, the god of Aztecs, or ‘Tlaxcala’, Mexican state. As Skidmore and Smith (2000) point out, “Aside from the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas, there were many other Indian cultures. In the area of modern-day Mexico alone there were over 200 different linguistic groups” (p.14). However, the impact of the Castilian language on the formation of Mexican Spanish is the greatest, as the Castilian was the only language taught in Mexican schools with the arrival of Spanish settlers. Thus, three major aspects aggravated the differences between Spanish spoken in Spain and Spanish spoken in Mexico: Spanish settlements in Mexico, immigration of English, Italian and African people, and finally, linguistic drift.

Analysing Spanish language varieties in Mexico and Spain, the essay demonstrates that the differences mainly exist in spoken language, influencing such linguistic aspects as vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. The Caribbean and Highland Latin American dialects in Mexico and the Castilian and the Andalusian dialects in Spain are characterised by diverse accent, idioms and unique words, but these variants are integral parts of Spanish language. As a result of various social and political changes, modern Mexican Spanish has been exposed to the process of Americanisation, which considerably simplifies vocabulary and grammar of Spanish dialects in Mexico and intensifies the differences between Mexican Spanish and Spanish spoken in Spain. The spread of travels and mass media changes Spanish language in both Mexico and various areas of Spain, revealing unique cultural identities of different Spanish-speaking groups.    


Andrews, J. R. (1975) Introduction to Classical Nahuatl. Austin, University of Texas.

Green, D. (1997) Faces of Latin America. Nottingham, Russell Press, Latin American Bureau.

Hill, J. H. and Hill, K.C. (1986) Speaking Mexicano. Tucson, University of Arizona Press. 

Kristeva, J. (1989) Language: The Unknown An Initiation Into Linguistics. London, Harvest Wheatsheaf.

Lipski, J.M. (1994) Latin American Spanish. London, New York, Longman.

Mar-Molinero, C. (2000) The Politics of Language in the Spanish-Speaking World from Colonization to Globalization. London, New York, Routledge.

Penny, R. (2000) Variation and Change in Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Skidmore, T. E. and Smith, P.H. (2000) Modern Latin America. 5th edition. Oxford, Oxford University Press.


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