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Spanish language in the Americas

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Title: Spanish language in the Americas  
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Subject: Philippine Spanish, Spanish language in the Philippines, Spanish language, Canarian Spanish, Mexican Kickapoo
Collection: Languages of North America, Languages of South America, Spanish Language in the Americas, Spanish Variants
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Spanish language in the Americas

Spanish speakers in the Americas.

Spanish language in the Americas, also known as American Spanish (Spanish: Español americano), refers to the Spanish spoken in the Americas, as opposed to European Spanish. Linguistically, this grouping is somewhat arbitrary, akin to having a term for "overseas English" encompassing variants spoken in the United States, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand and Ireland, but not England. The point is that there is great diversity among the various American dialects, and it would be hard to point to one trait shared by all of them which is not also in existence in one or more of the variants of Spanish used in Spain. Of the more than 469 million people who speak Spanish as their mother tongue, more than 418 million are in Hispanic America and the United States.[1]

There are numerous regional particularities and idiomatic expressions within Spanish. In American Spanish, loanwords directly from English are relatively more frequent, and often foreign spellings are left intact. One notable trend is the higher abundance of loan words taken from English in Hispanic America as well as words derived from English. In Hispanic America they speak of la computadora while in Spain it's el ordenador, and each word sounds foreign in the region where it is not used. Some differences are due to Iberian Spanish having a stronger French influence than Hispanic America, where, for geopolitical reasons, the United States influence has been predominant throughout the twentieth century.


  • Main features 1
  • Accent 2
  • Local variations 3
    • North America 3.1
    • Central America 3.2
    • The Caribbean 3.3
    • South America 3.4
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Main features

Pronunciation varies from country to country and from region to region, just as English pronunciation varies from one place to another. In general terms, the speech of the Americas shows many common features akin to southern Spanish dialects, especially to western Andalusia (Seville, Cádiz) and the Canary Islands. Coastal dialects throughout Hispanic America show particularly strong similarities to Atlantic-Andalusian speech patterns while inland regions in Mexico and Andean countries are not similar to any particular dialect in Spain.

  • Most Spaniards pronounce and before /i/ or /e/ as [θ], which for them is a distinct phoneme, /θ/, while most Hispanic Americans pronounce it as [s], because for them it's just another spelling for the /s/ phoneme. However, the absence of this distinction is also typical of parts of Southern Spain (notably Seville and Cádiz) and of the Canary Islands, and the predominant position of people from these areas in the conquest of and subsequent immigration to Hispanic America from Spain is largely the reason for the absence of this distinction in most Hispanic American dialects. The only exception to seseo in the Americas is the area around Cusco, Peru, where [θ] survives in a few words like the numbers doce, trece and, with some people, in the verb decir.
  • Most of Spain, particularly the regions that have a distinctive [θ] phoneme, realize /s/ with the tip of tongue against the alveolar ridge. Phonetically this is an "apico-alveolar" "grave" sibilant [s̺], with a weak "hushing" sound reminiscent of retroflex fricatives. To a Hispanic American speaker, the /s/ in Spanish dialects from Northern Spain might sound close to [ʃ] like English sh as in she. Albeit, this apico-alveolar realization of /s/ is not uncommon in some Hispanic American Spanish dialects which lack [θ]; some inland Colombian Spanish (particularly Antioquia) and Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia also have an apico-alveolar /s/.
  • As mentioned, Anglicisms are far more common in Hispanic America than in Spain, due to the stronger and more direct U.S. influence.
  • Equally, indigenous languages have left their mark on American Spanish, a fact which is particularly evident in vocabulary to do with flora, fauna and cultural habits. Nevertheless, European Spanish has also absorbed numerous words of Amerindian origin, although for historical reasons, the vast majority of these are taken from Nahuatl and various of the Caribbean languages.
  • Doublets of Arabic-Latinate synonyms with the Arabic form are common in Hispanic American Spanish being influenced by Andalusian Spanish like Andalusian and Hispanic American alcoba. In this sense Hispanic American Spanish is closer to the dialects spoken in the south of Spain. Examples include the previously mentioned alcoba along with standard cuarto, recámara, habitación, dormitorio, aposento or pieza ('bedroom'), or alhaja for standard joya ('jewel').
  • See List of words having different meanings in Spain and Hispanic America.
  • Most American Spanish usually features yeísmo—that is, there is no distinction between and , and both are [ʝ]. However, yeísmo is an expanding and now dominant feature of European Spanish, particularly in urban speech, though there are remnants of [ʎ] in rural use, not only in central and northern Spain, but also in scatter areas of Southern Spain. Speakers of Rioplatense Spanish pronounce both and as [ʒ] or [ʃ]. The traditional pronunciation of the digraph [ʎ] is preserved in America in some dialects along the Andes range, especially in inland Peru and Colombia highlands (Santander), northern Argentina, all Bolivia and Paraguay.
  • Most speakers in coastal dialects may debuccalize syllable-final /s/ to [h], or drop it entirely, so that está ("s/he is") sounds like [ehˈta] or [eˈta], as in southern Spain (Andalusia, Murcia, Castile–La Mancha (except North-East), Madrid, Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla).
  • Letters g (before /e/ or /i/) and j may be a voiceless velar fricative [x] in inland dialects (this sounds like German ch in Bach), and often firmly strong (rough) in Peru. In Caribbean and other coastal dialects, as well as in all Colombia, it is usually aspirated to [h] as in most southwestern Spanish varieties. Very often, especially in Argentina and Chile, [x] becomes fronter [ç] when preceding high vowels /e, i/ (these speakers approach [x] to the realization of German ch in ich).
  • In many Caribbean varieties the phonemes /l/ and /r/ at the end of a syllable sound alike or can be exchanged: caldo > ca[r]do, cardo > ca[l]do, in the situation of /r/ in word-final position, it becomes silent, giving Caribbean dialects of Spanish a partial non-rhoticity. This happens at a reduced level in Ecuador and Chile as well and is a feature brought from Extremadura and westernmost Andalusia.
  • In many Andean regions the alveolar trill of rata and carro is realized as an alveolar approximant [ɹ] or even as a voiced apico-alveolar /z/. The alveolar approximant realization is particularly associated with a native American substrate and it is quite common in Andean regions, especially in inland Ecuador, Peru, most of Bolivia and in parts of northern Argentina and Paraguay.
  • Word-final /n/ is velar [ŋ] in much Spanish American speech; this means a word like pan (bread) is often articulated ['paŋ]. To an English ear, those speakers that have a velar nasal for -n make pan sound like pang. Velarization of word-final /n/ is so spread in the Americas that it is easier to mention those regions that maintain an alveolar /n/: most of Mexico, Colombia (except for coastal dialects) and Argentina (except for some northern regions). Elsewhere, velarization is common, though alveolar /n/ can appear among some educated speakers, especially in the media or in singing. Velar /-n/ is also frequent in Spain, especially in southern Spanish dialects (Andalusia and the Canary Islands) and also in the Northwest: Galicia, Asturias and León.


To understand the concept of the Hispanic American accents in Spanish, one must remember that every country in Hispanic America has different accents in this language, many of which are very similar. This is caused by interaction of different accents.

Spaniards arrived from many regions within Spain and brought with them their own regional dialects/accents. However, the great majority of Spanish immigrants to Hispanic America throughout its history came from the Hispano-Arabic area of Spain known as Andalusia. Another great majority arrived from North Africa, most notably the Canary Islands. Canarian and Hispanic American dialects share a similar intonation which, in general terms, means that stressed vowels are usually quite long. When visiting Tenerife or Las Palmas (Islas Canarias, Spain), Hispanic Americans are usually taken at first hearing for fellow-Canarians from a distant part of the Canary archipelago. It is the accents of these regions which served as the basis of the style of Spanish spoken in Hispanic America. Other Spanish immigrants like Castilians (another native Spanish-speaking people), Catalans, Galicians, and Basques also settled Hispanic America and affected the accents.

Native Americans who were met by Spaniards also affected the accents. Their languages, together with the strong influence of the Canarian dialect, have added to Hispanic American Spanish the softer sing-song speaking tone. Africans were brought to Hispanic America in as slave labor, the majority for work on coastal or lowland sugar plantations. They contributed hundreds of words, colloquialisms, intonations, and rhythm.

In late 19th century, European settlers of non-Spanish origin (including Italians, Germans, Britons, Scandinavians, Poles, and Russians) and Middle Eastern settlers (mostly Arabs from Lebanon and Syria) arrived in Hispanic America and affected various Hispanic American accents.

Local variations

North America

Central America

The Caribbean

South America


  1. ^ Lipski, J. "The role of the city in the formation of Spanish American dialect zones"

External links

  • Hispanic American Dictionary with American Spanish variants for every country
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