The Art of Dialect : A Slight Rant

If I may be candid, my instructor can be very frustrating at times. Generally, I think learning a language from a native speaker is a very good idea. It helps with pronunciation, it helps with idiomatic expressions, and it helps one find the rhythm and music of a new language more easily. But native speakers can be sloppy. Really sloppy. For example, often when we are handed vocabulary sheets in class (this teacher refuses to use the course textbook–have I mentioned that?) I find mistakes: missing accents, unnecessary accents (azúl?, séis?, exámen?), wrong genders (la pijama?), and wrong definitions. The worst was a sheet on the present progressive which used as its defining example “Yo estoy lavando los platos.” Now there is nothing wrong with that sentence; it is in the present progressive. But the English translation given was not: “I have washed the dishes.” Now I’m not a grammar nut, but I do know that the present progressive is only used for something that is currently happening. So the correct translation should be “I am washing the dishes.” Not the best mistake to make with year-one students. And I know what you’re thinking. But no, this particular instructor was raised in an English-Spanish bilingual household.

Now in some ways, all that doesn’t bother me much. It’s made me investigate accents, gender, spelling, and even English grammar more. What does bother me are the crazy stories about dialect we’ve been getting in class recently. First, there is the Spanish pronunciation of “z” and “ce/ci”–the infamous “Spanish lisp.” If you didn’t know already, the castellano dialect, which is the predominant dialect in Spain, uses a sort of “th” sound in those three cases. The reason? According to my teacher, it is because a king (can’t even name which one) spoke with a lisp and forced everyone else to speak like him. Now I’ve heard other Latin American Spanish speakers say the same thing, but it’s just not true and it has no place in a college classroom other than to be recognized for what it is…an urban legend!

The second doozy: vosotros isn’t used in Latin America for “you all” because it’s “flowery,” and since Latin Americans “are all uneducated,” they don’t know such flowery language–I should remind you that this comes from a Latin American. As well, “the form is dying.” Conclusion? Pretend that vosotros does not exist. Okay, now I know that a lot of Spanish programs, classes, and teachers don’t teach vosotros on this side of the Atlantic. Yes, it’s almost non-existent over here. But that doesn’t mean it is dying. Been to Spain? Watched Spanish television programs or films? Its disuse in the Americas also doesn’t mean that Latin Americans are too ignorant to use it. If that were the case, then vos, an older form of you, wouldn’t be used either (vos-otros = “you others”). But it is. And just why the heck isn’t that taught in Spanish-language programs here? By the way, who said that vosotros forms are hard to learn anyway?

Links that don’t stink:

Voseo Spanish : a site for people who love or want to learn the vos form.

About.com : origins of the “lisp” in Spain.

Indiana University : vosotros charts.

Voices en español : some reasons to learn vosotros.

Ceceo : wiki history of Spanish pronunciation.

6 responses to “The Art of Dialect : A Slight Rant

  1. thanks for the links–wish i’d had that voseo chart a long time ago. i keep flunking the vos quiz.

  2. My favorite part of the quiz is listening to the Argentine accent. llamar = shamarrr

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  5. I enjoyed your rant about native teachers. I have personally found that native Spanish speakers can be very sloppy, as you put it, with accents. I think it’s half just because of not caring and another half out of not knowing. For example, my husband is a native Spanish speaker from Mexico and I had to teach him the accent marks on the regular verbs in the preterite and it’s very difficult for him to understand. And it’s not just him who has a hard time with accents; many native Spanish speakers just simply don’t know the rules.

    I wanted to know why or how it could be possible that he and other native Spanish speakers didn’t know such basic grammar. Well, one day speaking it came up that the last grammar class he had was in 5th grade at the age of 10! The last grammar class I had was in college when they FORCE us to take two English courses and on top of that two literatures.

    The degrees in Mexico and in many Central and South American countries don’t require “core” classes, you know those classes that have nothing to do with your career but they force you to take them anyway so that you can be well-rounded and so that the school can continue to hire history and art teachers (sorry, it’s sort of a joke.) Anyway, my point is they many native Spanish speakers just aren’t taught the rules and the rules aren’t enforced in their countries (at least not in Mexico).

  6. Wow! That’s really interesting. As a newer learner, I suppose I’m hypersensitive to the accents because I need them to guide my pronunciation.

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