A Spaniard, an Argentinian, and a Colombian walk into a bar...

So, a Spaniard, an Argentinian, and a Colombian walk into a bar... aaaand well, there's no punchline. That was just yesterday evening. But it's also what inspired me to write this entry on my mother tongue: *drumroll* Spanish!

More specifically, Colombian Spanish.

-But Juan, isn't all Spanish the same? Except for that lisp all Spaniards seem to have?

Well, no! Spanish is a language with a very rich history, and a huge dialect continuum, so no, not every Spanish speaker sounds like Antonio Banderas (that'd be cool though!) just like not every English speaker sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch

So, where does Spanish come from? 

You guessed it, Spain! Spanish developed as a form of Vulgar Latin in the regions of Castilla and Andalusia during the middle ages. As you might know, the Moors occupied Spain for a long period of time, which resulted in an enormous cultural exchange, today represented by the Spanish language having around 4,000 words with a Mozarabic origin, (Almohada, Ojalá, Azucar, etc). This cultural exchange also left as architectural wonders such as Segovia's Alcazar, or Granada's Alhambra.

And it's just to be expected, that when a language is exposed to another one for such an extended period of time, loan-words start showing up here and there, think of the relationship between French and English, you'd have a hard time speaking English without words with French roots (Read up on Anglish, it's an attempt at representing a French-less English language)


So come the year 1492 a certain Cristopher Colombus takes a Spanish fleet looking for the Indias, and the rest is, well, history. Conquest, evangelisation, colonialism, independence, freedom! Or something like that. But how did this affect the Spanish language?

If you've spoken with someone from Andalusia, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say that they sound like a machine-gun while speaking, if you learn Spanish as a foreign language, don's start with Sevilla unless you like playing Spanish in hard mode. I'll spare you the linguistic and phonetic jargon, but in Andalú, most consonants are basically decoration. People from the city of Granada will say they come from Graná! On some varieties, they don't differentiate between "Z" and "S" (the infamous lisp, or in this case, lack thereof) this is known as seséo. Also there's yeismo, where the sound of "ll" or "y"  in words such as "lluvia" or "yo"; approximate the "J" sound in "Jennifer" as opposed to a soft /i/ vowel. Consonants are softer as well, making the language sound very musical as words seem to be connected. I could go on an on, but these are in my opinion the most important markers.

Andalusian is important because a big part of the fleet that arrived in South America was from Andalusia and the Canary Islands, and therefore our variety of Spanish derives from them.

But then more ingredients came into the mix. Mestizaje happened, Spaniards, Indigenous People and African slaves from French Congo, West Africa and Guinea (which spoke mostly Bantu and Sudanese) shared a place and a time, there were even some Sephardi Jews who had to flee Spain during the inquisition. This led to more and more cultural exchange, which of course expressed itself in the language as well.

The initial result of this can still be observed in the coasts of Colombia; if you're not used to it, the variety of Spanish spoken in the Atlantic coast is honestly hard to understand even for native speakers. A lot of the phonetic characteristics are inherited from Andaluz, but sped up. Also, the heavy African influence gives the spoken language a sound we usually describe as "golpeao" which basically means beaten up. Words are sort of punched, I'll post a couple of examples in the end so you can listen to it. The Pacific coast, which predominantly has a higher black population clearly shows these African roots through their intonation and slang.


It's not over just yet though, the reason Colombia has such a diverse dialect continuum lies on the fact that our geography sorta allows this metamorphosis to happen. The Andes mountain range (The longest in the world, which also splits into three!) clearly separates several regions in Colombia, and this sort of isolation enabled said regions to develop their unique speaking habits.

I could do a couple hundred posts about our various dialects (and maybe I will!), but I don't want this one to drag for too long, I'll briefly talk about my variety; Rolo!

A Rolo is someone native to the capital Bogotá, with parents who come from other regions, (because of the armed conflict started in the 20th century, a lot of people from the countryside or smaller cities ended up in Bogotá), on the other hand, a Cachaco is someone whose entire family is from Bogotá.

I'm not kidding when I say that alone in Bogotá there are different ways of speaking, I could write about Baby Boomer Bogotá Spanish, Millennial Bogotá Spanish, North Bogotá Spanish, South Bogotá Spanish. And so on and so forth. People say however, that Spanish spoken in Bogotá is the clearest, and easiest to understand for non-native speakers. This is due to having a very precise pronounciation (with yeismo and seseo), and an intonation that many people describe as "sing-song-ish".

Something very interesting about Bogotá is the usage of the 2nd person informal and formal pronoun, if you are learning Spanish, you should be familiar with both "tu" (informal) and Usted (formal). In standard Spanish, the former used for friends, family, and people around your age, while the latter is used for older people, the doctor, and work colleagues. In Bogotá however, no one is really sure; here is a pattern I've started to notice:

1. Women call other women "tu" unless they're angry at each other.

2. Men call women "tu" unless it's a work setting.

3. Men call men "usted" regardless of how close you are (family can be an exception). Otherwise people will start thinking that you're gay for some reason. If you're getting mugged and the robber is a guy, he will kindly address you formally while taking your wallet.

4. Family is strange, specially with the older generations. My father and my grandma address me formally, while I say "tu" to them. My mum rarely addresses my grandma with a pronoun, she rather talks to her in the third person or sometimes even opting for the otherwise archaic "Sumercé" which comes from "Su merced" which translates to "your grace" (how cool is that??), she also uses this with her brother.

You can watch a couple of telenovelas, and then you'll get a grasp of it, our slang is also very interesting, but that is a topic for another day.

I'll leave you with a couple of videos for you to hear more varieties of Spanish. If you do decide to learn Spanish, I can guarantee you'll make friends just for trying, hispanic culture is very rich and welcoming. As always, check out our ever-growing bilingual book library here at Glassbow, Happy Friday.

Cómo y cuántos son los acentos de Colombia

 No todos los Colombianos somos iguales...

Juan V.

Juan V.Comment