Spanish, also known as Castilian, is spoken, or studied by more than 500 million people around the world; of these, more than 450 million are fully fluent – approximately 50 million are fluent with certain limitations, and nearly 20 million are in the language learning process. This means that 67% of the world’s population speaks Spanish. Yes, I said it right: 67% of the world’s population speaks Spanish!!
It is the second most spoken language after Mandarin, ahead of English, and is the official language of 21 countries. In Europe, it is spoken in Spain; In America, it is the official language of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. and in Africa, it is the official language in Equatorial Guinea. Additionally, there is a significant percentage of native speakers in parts of the United States, Brazil, Canada, Algeria, the Philippines, Australia, and Israel.
Faced with this enormous demographic and geographical extension, there is also massive linguistic diversity, both phonetic (that is, in the accents and pronunciation of words), lexical (forms of writing) and morphosyntactic (ways of structuring a sentence).
Measure your words when talking to your grandfather
Spanish speakers know very well that these peculiarities exist since not everyone uses the same variety of the language. Just as there are linguistic varieties of the same language depending on the cultural or social group to which one belongs, the same language also varies depending on the generations. For example, a grandfather does not use the same expressions or words as his grandchildren; these intergenerational linguistic subtleties probably come to light when interacting.
Being aware of these differences can be complicated, but at the same time exciting and very entertaining when learning a new language. Let’s look at some examples.
Do you know the adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?
Well, it makes perfect sense when talking about language, and even more so about the same language, since geography is an essential factor in the formation and evolution of languages: ¿tú vas hoy? or ¿vos vas hoy? ¿vosotros vais hoy? or ¿ustedes van hoy? How should you ask? Don’t panic, don’t collapse, all those options are fine. The difference is that the “¿vas hoy?” It is used in Spain and much of America, while “¿vos vas hoy?” It is the common expression in Argentina and Uruguay. If you are in Spain, you will hear this same question in the plural as “¿vosotros vais hoy?” in an informal context, while in a formal context, it will be “¿ustedes van hoy?” in the case of American countries, “¿ustedes van hoy?” is used, whether in a formal or informal context. Spaniards will only say “ustedes” when they want to address someone with respect. On the other hand, the formal singular for Spain and for the countries of America is “you”.
If you want to know more about these morphosyntactic differences, you can review the Cervantes Virtual Centre’s article about the linguistic diversity of contemporary Spanish.
Potatoes or tomatoes?
But let’s leave behind the more formal issues of language use and give way to the most fun of the Spanish variants. Where there is the most outstanding number of lexical variations is in the vocabulary related to food, so while in Spain they talk about patatas, in Latin America, they are papas, and while in Mexico, Venezuela and Spain they call the delicious summer fruits fresas, in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are called frutillas.
Since I have lived in Spain and am Chilean, I can tell you more anecdotes. For example, we stress words of Anglo-Saxon origin differently: in Spain, people say vídeo, while in Chile we say video and while Chileans say ícono, Spaniards say icono.
Does the hole in your sock have a name in your country? Well, in Spain, they call it tomate (tomato); that was very funny to me when I learned it because, in Chile, we also use the name of a vegetable, but it’s papa (potato), ha-ha!
I will give you two last pieces of information that have to do with professional translation and, of course with the country for which it is translated. Do you know the children’s movie Chicken Run? (it has been a few years since it was released). In Chile it was translated as “Pollitos en fuga”, while in Spain its commercial name was “Evasión en la granja”, and when “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was released, it arrived in Chile as “Eterno resplandor de una mente sin recuerdos”, while in Spain its translation was “¡Olvídate de mí!”, erasing all poetic traces of the original title ☹.
Finally, I leave you a video that summarises in a very entertaining way what we have been talking about in this article. Don’t despair and laugh at how challenging and diverse Spanish is sometimes! Enjoy it!
Remember that no matter what variant of Spanish you speak or are learning, there is no one Spanish that is better than another, as there are only differences within the same language, and they are all fine. If you travel or share with Spanish speakers of a different variant than yours, you will have fun and be significantly enriched by seeing the differences. In addition, the new iScribo considers a large part of these within its latest version of grammar correction. So, practice, learn and enjoy!