The Spanish Language and You

BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Spanish is a romantic language, proceeding from "vulgar latin" (vulgar referring to the live side of latin, not uneducated or improper) it is the second most spoken language in the world; there are over 21 countries where Spanish is the mother tongue. More than 559 million people speak it,  varying accents from country to country, even more so, from province to province, town to town and region to region. Let's set things straight though, there is only one kind of Spanish, whoever, many people say Castellano (from Spain) is the proper way to call the language. 

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "MEXICAN SPANISH" please, at all costs avoid saying there is if you don't want Mexicans to think you're a complete uneducated … donkey. Canadians don't speak Canadian, right? Sure, Mexico has its own accent, and it varies from north to south, central, coast to coast. However, there may be a "formal classification", Mendez-Otero in 2007 declared eight: Castillian, Andalusian, Canary (from regions in Spain), Mexican-Centroamerican, Andean, Chilean, and River Plat (from regions in America) There are even some words that mean a completely different thing in different places; for example, "Panocha" is a slang and ugly word for the woman's reproductive organ, while in Sonora is the way they call piloncillo (traditional cone shape in which the sugar is produced). How do we know if we're not being insulted? Well, from the moment you hear a different accent you expect some kind of Spanish distinctness. 

Geographical varieties in Spanish, called dialects or geolects, differ in many ways. Phonetically the most common one is the pronunciation of the c and z sound. In Mexico, we pronounce the s the same way; passing air through the clenched teeth, in pretty much everything, in Spain, some s sounds involve a little more tongue and teeth action. Then, there are grammatical differences, like using "vos" instead of "tu" when saying "you". Finally, there are vocabulary variations, especially when it comes to semantics, the names of fruits and vegetables, dress items, and daily use objects, the biggest difference lies in slang and swear words.  

The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE, Real Academia Española) is an institution created in Madrid in 1713, with the goal to make the most copious dictionary in the Spanish language. It is dedicated to the promotion of linguistic unity between or within the various territories that make up the so-called Spanish-speaking world, guaranteeing that even though the changes in the language, it will never break the original unity of the Spanish language. 

After the independence of the Hispanic-American countries, the Royal Spanish Academy promoted the birth of other academies, motivated by the fact that all these new countries had the same language and literal heritage. It is organized in 46 chairs, one for each letter of the Spanish alphabet; upper and lower case, plus eight chairs from different regions of Spain, which was suppressed in 1930 after the original 8 province members passed. The entrance of a new member is a communal decision of the whole council and a new member may only occupy the chair when the six months of respect are passed after the passing of the previous member. 

The Academy gets together once a week to elaborate proposals, which will be revised by the higher-ranked members, which get together on Thursday afternoons and go over the Academy's proposals. If no agreement can be reached, the proposal is submitted to vote. 

As a foreigner in Mexico, it must be tough to speak the language, even if you are carrying a dictionary, it might give you the "castillian" word. Of course, we will understand, but we will know you're a Gringo if we can't tell by your tan, tourist shorts or sandals. Here are some pointers:

Wey (goo-ay): only used with buddies, means dude but it's a little bit of a swear word. It came from the word "buey", bull, making a reference to how bulls are kind of dumb. 

Qué pedo? (khe pay-doh): also a tiny swear word, very informal way to say "what's up?" Pedo literally means fart, there is no explanation of how it came to be what it is now. 

Qué onda? (khe onda): a nicer way of saying what's up. Onda is a wave, but also an idea. 

Guapa (goo-apa): to beautiful women, kind of "hottie" same goes for men, substitute a for o. Guapa has been a word to call beautiful women on a regular basis, not really a slang. 

Pinche (peen-chai): a swear word similar to "freaking" can be used for pretty much anything. Pinche can be a person who helps in the kitchen or it can refer to "pinching" literally, pinching between the fingers. There is also no record of how it became such a wide swear word. 

All of these have been verified and accepted by the RAE, most of them accepted in many countries but not in the connotation we give them in Mexico. To learn this kind of "street Spanish," particularly from Mexico, befriend a local.