The chatter about dialects!

I recently read this article from the Washington Post, and it got me thinking (again) about dialects. Over these past few years, I have been forced to engage is less than entertaining dialogue with other parents about the “right” Spanish. Or, more accurately, that some people speak it “wrong” or “lazy” because the only “real Spanish” is Castilian.

Let’s step back a bit and have a history and geography refresher about the settlement of the Americas.

Christopher Columbus, an Italian but sailing under contract with the Spanish government, purportedly ‘discovered’ America with his ships loaded with Spaniards. Who were these Spaniards? Many if not all were from Andalusia (southern Spain). They worked the ports and were experienced seamen. Most had nothing to lose and a lot of maravadis (their currency at the time) to gain, so they joined Columbus and his crew on their adventures to find a new route to the West Indies.

Why does this matter?

Because Andalusian Spanish is different than Castilian Spanish. Southern Spain pronunciation of words omits the ending “r,” “d,” and “s” sounds, and may even drop the final consonant altogether. Of course, this Spanish is most similar to Caribbean Spanish, because it reflects the language of the original explorers from Europe who elected not to return. Go figure! And let’s not even go into the social and class stereotypes – port workers were lower class and generally less educated than those in Madrid with all the money making decisions. That’s another post entirely.

Are we to tell our fellow Americans in Boston that they are lazy because they drop the “r” sound and pronounce “car” as “cah”? What about our friends who drop “ing” (goin’ fishin’)? A small flowing stream of water is a “creek” in some areas, and pronounced “crick” in others, depending on where you live. Is one more correct than the other?

Fact is, even with different pronunciations, our English variations still have the same spelling and the same written language rules. So yes, dear friends, our Bostonian friends still spell car as c-a-r, not c-a-h! In Montana, you pronounce creek as crick, but you spell it c-r-e-e-k. And yes, children learn that the “ee” is pronounced with a long e sound, not a short i sound. Yet, somehow they know that the stream from which their horses and cattle drink is pronounced “crick” and spelled c-r-e-e-k. Some of our Spanish speaking friends may drop the final “s” sound from “inglés” but it does not make them lazy. Children learn to spell it the same way.

In the end, the story of how words are pronounced across the globe has a full and complicated tale. Our ears can tell us a lot about other people and where they are from. Our spoken language is a tribute to our own personal history. It’s a wonderful blend of culture, geography, and history. Embrace it, dear friends, don’t judge it.

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