Answers to the Languages of Spain Post

Map of the languages of Spain.
Map of the languages of Spain.

There are nine languages in the map above.

You folks were not able to answer all nine of them correctly, so I will give you the answers.

Pink – Catalan

Light green – Aranese or Occitan (no one got this one)

Purple – Aragonese (no one got this one)

Aquamarine – Basque

Red – Castillian

Green – Asturian-Leonese

Yellow – Galician

Dark green – Extremaduran (no one got this one)

Brown – Fala (no one got this one)

Aranese is the Aranese dialect of Occitan which is either a separate language or a dialect of Occitan depending on how you look at it. Fala is actually a dialect of Galician but it is considered a language for sociopolitical reasons. There is another part of the dark green Extremaduran language which is typically not recognized. This is Cantabrian, spoken to the east of the green Asturian-Leonese area and to the west of the aquamarine  Basque area.

A Look at the Spanish Language

From here.
This post will look at how difficult it is to learn Spanish for an English speaker.
Spanish is often said to be one of the easiest languages to learn, though this is somewhat controversial. Personally, I’ve been learning it off and on since age six, and I still have problems, though Spanish speakers say my Spanish is good, but Hispanophones, unlike the French, are generous about these things.
It’s quite logical, though the verbs do decline a lot with tense and number, and there are many irregular verbs, similar to French.
Compare English declensions to Spanish declensions of the verb to read.
English
I read
He reads

Spanish
Yo leo
Tu lees
El lee
Nosotros leemos
Vosotros leéis
Ellos leen
leí
leeré
leería
leyese
leyésemos
leyéseis
¿leísteis?
leyéremos
leeréis
pudísteis haber leído
hubiéremos ó hubiésemos leído

Nevertheless, Romance grammar is much more regular than, say, Polish, as Romance has junked most of the irregularity. Spanish has the good grace to lack case, spelling is a piece of cake, and words are spoken just as they are written. However, there is a sort of case left over in the sense that one uses different pronouns when referring to the direct object (accusative) or indirect object (dative). Spanish is probably the most regular of the Romance languages, surely more regular than French or Portuguese, and probably more regular than Italian or Romanian.
The trilled r in Spanish often hard for language learners to make.
One good thing about Spanish is that Spanish speakers are generally grateful if you can speak any of their language at all and are very tolerant of mistakes in L2 Spanish speakers.
Nevertheless, Hispanophones say that few foreigners end up speaking like natives. Part of the reason for this is that Spanish is very idiomatic and the various forms of the subjunctive make for a wide range of nuance in expression. Even native speakers make many mistakes when using the subjunctive in conditional sentences. The dialects do differ quite a bit more than most people say they do. The dialects in Latin America and Spain are quite different, and in Latin America, the Argentine and Dominican dialects are very divergent.
Spanish gets rated 2.5, fairly easy.

A Look at the Portuguese Language

From here.
This post will look at the Portuguese language from the view of how hard it is to learn for the native English speaker. The European and Brazilian versions of Portuguese will both be looked at in this context.
Portuguese, like Spanish, is also very easy to learn, though Portuguese pronunciation is harder due to the unusual vowels such as nasal diphthongs and the strange palatal lateral ʎ, which many English speakers will mistake for an l.
Of the nasal diphthongs, ão is the hardest to make. In addition, Brazilian (Br) Portuguese has an r that sounds like an h, and l that sounds like a w and a d that sounds like a j, but only some of the time! Fortunately, in European (Eu) Portuguese, all of these sounds sound as you would expect them to.
Portuguese has two r sounds, a tapped r (ɾ) that is often misconceived as a trilled r (present in some British and Irish English dialects) and an uvular r (ʁ) which is truly difficult to make. However, this is the typical r sound found in French, German, Danish and Hebrew, so if you have a background in one of those languages, this should be an easy sound.  L2 learners not only have a hard time making them but also mix them up sometimes.
You can run many vowels together in Portuguese and still make a coherent sentence. See here:
É o a ou o b? [Euaoube]
Is it (is your answer) a or b?

That utterance turns an entire sentence into a single verb via run-on vowels, five of them in a row.
Most Portuguese speakers say that Portuguese is harder to learn than Spanish, especially the variety spoken in Portugal. Eu Portuguese elides many vowels and has more sounds per symbol than Br Portuguese does. Portuguese has both nasal and oral vowels, while Spanish has only oral values. In addition, Portuguese has 12 vowel phonemes to Spanish’s 5.
Portuguese has also retained the archaic subjunctive future which has been lost in many Romance languages.
Try this sentence: When I am President, I will change the law.
In Spanish, one uses the future tense as in English:
Cuando yo soy presidente, voy a cambiar la ley.
In Portuguese, you use the subjunctive future, lost in all modern Romance languages and lacking in English:
Quando eu for presidente, vou mudar a lei. – literally, When I may be President, I will possibly change the law.
The future subjunctive causes a lot of problems for Portuguese learners and is one of the main ways that it is harder than Spanish.
There is a form called the personal infinitive in Portuguese that also causes a lot of problems for Portuguese learners.
In addition, when making the present perfect in Spanish, it is fairly easy with the use have + participle as in English.
Compare I have worked.
In Spanish:
Yo he trabajado.
In Portuguese, there is no perfect to have nor is there any participle, instead, present perfect is formed via a conjugation that varies among verbs:
Eu trabalhei – because Eu hei trabalhado makes no sense in Portuguese.
Portuguese still uses the pluperfect tense quite a bit, a tense that gone out or is heading out of most IE languages. The pluperfect is used a lot less now in Br Portuguese, but it is still very widely used in Eu Portuguese. The pluperfect is used to discuss a past action that took place before another past action. An English translation might be
He had already gone by the time she showed up. The italicized part would be the equivalent to the pluperfect in English.
O pássaro voara quando o gato pulou sobre ele para tentar comê-lo.
The bird had (already) flown away when the cat jumped over it trying to eat it.

Even Br Portuguese has its difficulties centering around diglossia. It is written in 1700’s Eu Portuguese, but in speech, the Brazilian vernacular is used. Hence:
I love you
Amo-te or Amo-o [standard, written]
Eu te amo or Eu amo você  [spoken]
We saw them
Vimo-los [standard, written]
A gente viu eles  [spoken]
Even Eu Portuguese native speakers often make mistakes in Portuguese grammar when speaking. Young people writing today in Portuguese are said to be notorious for not writing or speaking it properly. The pronunciation is so complicated and difficult that even foreigners residing in Portugal for a decade never seem to get it quite right. In addition, Portuguese grammar is unimaginably complicated. There are probably more exceptions than there are rules, and even native speakers have issues with Portuguese grammar.
Portuguese gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Check Out Siculo Gallo-Italic

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-K9tkpCUdo]
These are fascinating Romance dialects spoken in Sicily. The are called the Gallo-Italic dialects of Sicily. Some of them are also found in other parts of Italy, mostly in the far south in Basilicata.
Gallo-Italic languages are spoken in far north of Italy and are so called because there is heavy French influence on these Italian varieties. They include Venetian, East and West Lombard, Piedmontese, Ligurian, Emilian and Romagnolo.
In the 1100’s and 1200’s, Sicily was ruled by Norman rulers from the north of France. They had conquered much of Italy, and were in control of parts of the north also. In order perhaps to consolidate their rule in Sicily, which they had just conquered, they sent some Norman soldiers to Sicily to help populate the region and set up Norman outposts there.
These were mostly soldiers from the southern Piedmont (Monferrate)  and Ligurian (Oltregiogo) regions of Italy and from the Provencal area in the south of France. There were also a few from the Lombard region and other parts of northern Italy. They went down there with their families and formed a number of settlements in Sicily and a few other places in Italy.
Over the next 800 years, their Gallo-Italic language came under heavy influence of varieties of Sicilian in Sicily, Basilicatan in Basilicata and other languages in other parts of Italy. Yet the heavy Gallo-Italic nature of their lects remains to this day and Sicilian speakers of surrounding villages find Gallo-Italic speakers impossible to understand.
The dialects have tended to die out somewhat in the past 100 years. Villagers were tired of speaking a language that could not be understood outside the village and increasingly shifted to the Sicilian language. A situation of bilingualism in Gallo-Italic and Sicilian developed. Over time, this became trilingualism as children learned Standard Italian in school. Gallo-Italic was used inside the village itself, and Sicilian was used for communication with outsiders.
Whether or not Gallo-Italic lects in different parts of Sicily can understand each other is not known, but they have all undergone independent paths of development over 800 years or so. The same is also an up in the air question about Basilicatan Gallo-Italic and Gallo-Italic settlements in other parts of the country. This is an interesting question in need of linguistic research.
In this 1 1/2 minute video, I am not sure if I understood a single word he said. The language he is speaking sounds like a mixture of Provencal Piedmontese with a heavy dose of Sicilian. Sicilian itself is so odd that a Sicilian speaker can barely be understood at all outside of Sicily. It has at least 250,000 words, 25% of which have no equivalent in Standard Italian. It underwent heavy French, Spanish and especially Greek and Arabic influences.

Mutual Intelligiblility in the Romance Family (Reading)

Just a personal anecdote. I have been reading a lot of Italian lately (with the help of Google Translate). I already read Spanish fairly well. I have studied French, Portuguese and Italian, and I can read Portuguese and French to some extent, Portuguese better than French.
But I confess that I am quite lost with Italian. This is worse than French and worse than Portuguese. A couple weeks of wading through this stuff hasn’t made me understand it any better.
Portuguese and Galician are said to be so close that they are a single language. I don’t agree with that at all, but they are very close, much closer to Spanish and Portuguese. Intelligibility may be on the order of 80-90%.
Nevertheless, the other day I tried to read a journal article on Galician. It looked like it was written in Portuguese, and who would write in Galician anyway? I copied the whole thing into Google Translate and let it ride. I waded through the whole article, and I must say it was a disaster. I had a very hard time understanding many of the main points of the article.
Then I remembered that Translate works on Galician now, so I decided on an off chance that the guy may have written the piece in Galician for some nutty reason. I ran it through Translate using Galician as target. The article went through perfectly. You could understand the whole thing. It was then that I realized how far apart Portuguese and Galician really are.
You can try some other experiments.
Occitan is said to be nearly intelligible with Spanish or maybe even French, better if you know both. There’s no Google Translate for Occitan yet, but I had to deal with a lot of Occitan texts recently. I couldn’t make heads or tails of them despite by Romance reading background. So I tried using Translate to turn them into Spanish or French. French was a total wreck, and there was no point even bothering with that. Spanish was much better, but even that was a serious mess.
Now we come to the crux. Catalan and Occitan are said to be so close that they are nearly one language. Translate now works in Catalan. So I ran the Occitan texts through Translate using Catalan. The result was a serious mess, but you could at least understand some of what the Occitan texts were about. But no way on Earth were those the same languages.
People keep saying that if you can read Spanish, you can read Portuguese. It’s not true, but you can see why people say it. Try this. Take a Spanish text and run it through Translate using the Portuguese filter. Now take a Portuguese text and run it through Translate using the Spanish filter. See what a mess you end up with!
Despite the fact that I can read Spanish pretty well, I have tried to read texts in Aragonese, Asturian, Extremaduran, Leonese and Mirandese. These are so close that some even say that they are dialects of Spanish. But even if you read Spanish, you can’t really read any of those languages, and they are all separate languages, I assure you. Sure, you get some of it, but not enough, and it’s a very frustrating experience.
There are texts on the Net in something called Churro or Xurro. It’s a Valencian-Aragonese transitional dialect spoken around Teruel in Aragon in Spain. It also has a lot of Old Castillian and a ton of regular Castillian in it. Wikipedia will tell you it’s a Spanish dialect. Running it through both the Spanish and Catalan filters didn’t work and ended up with train wrecks. I doubt if Xurro is a dialect of either Catalan or Spanish. It’s probably a separate language.
There is another odd lect spoken in the same region called Chappurriau. It is spoken in Aguaviva in Teruel in the Franca Strip. The Catalans say these people speak Catalan, but the speakers say that their language is not Catalan. Intelligibility with Catalan is said to be good. So effectively this is a Catalan dialect.
I found some Chappurriau texts on the Net and ran them through Translate using Catalan as the output. The result was an unreadable disaster, and I couldn’t really figure out what they were saying. Then I tried the Spanish filter, and that was even worse. I am starting to think that maybe Chappurriau is a separate language as its speakers say and not a Catalan dialect after all.
I conclude that the ability to cross read across the Romance languages is much exaggerated.
Not only that, but many Romance microlanguages, transitional dialects and lects that are supposedly dialects of larger languages may actually be separate languages.

How To Divide Languages from Dialects – Structure or Intelligibility?

There are many ways of dividing languages from dialects. The three general methods are:

1. Historical

2. Structural

3. Intelligibility

The traditional method has tended to utilize structural and sometimes historical, but intelligibility is also often used. For an example of historical, let us look at some lects in France and Spain.

The various “patois” of French, incorrectly called dialects of French, are more properly called the langues d’oil. It is often said that they are not dialtects of French for historical reasons. Each of the major langues d’oil, instead of breaking off from French Proper (really the Parisien langue d’oil) had a separate genesis.

This is what happened. France was originally Celtic speaking. Around 700-800, the Celtic languages began being replaced by vulgar Latin. People didn’t travel around in those days, so a separate form of vulgar Latin + Celtic evolved in each region of France: Gallo and Angevin in the northwest, Poitevin and Saintongeais in the west, Norman and Picard in the north, Champenois, Franche-Compte and Lorrain in the east, Berrichon, Tourangeau and Orleanais in the center. None of these split off from French (Parisien)!

Each one of them evolved independently straight up from vulgar Latin on top of  a Celtic base in their region from 700-1200 or so. The distance between the langues d’oil and French is almost as deep as between English and Frisian.

After French was made the official language of France in 1539, the langues d’oil came under French influence, but that was just borrowing, not genetics.

In addition, in Spain, there are various languages that are not historically related to Spanish. Aragonese is straight up from vulgar Latin on a Basque base, later influenced by Mozarabic. Catalan started evolving around 700 or so. Murcian evolved from vulgar Latin later influenced by Mozarabic, Catalan and Aragonese. Extremaduran, Leonese and Asturian also broke off very early. None of these are historically Spanish dialects because none of them broke away from Spanish!

Of course it follows that langues d’oil, Catalan and Aragonese, evolving independently of French and Spanish from 700-1200 to present, will have deep structural differences between themselves and French and Spanish.

So you can see that the historical way of splitting languages ties in well with the structural method. Where languages have a deep historical split and a millenia or so of independent development, it follows logically that some deep structural differences would have evolved in a thousand years or so. So these two methods are really wrapping around each other.

Now we get to intelligibility. Intelligibility actually ties in well to structural analyses. Linguists who say we divide on structure and not on intelligibility are being silly. Where you have deep structural differences between Lect A and Lect B, it logically follows that you have intelligibility problems. Profound structural differences between two lects makes it hard for one to understand the other. The differential structure really gets in the way of understanding. So once again, one method is wrapping around the other.

As we can see, historical, structural and intelligibility analyses of splitting languages all tend to be part of the same process, that is, they are all talking about the same thing. And they will tend to reach similar conclusions when it comes to splitting languages.

Does Language Learning Carry Over to New Languages?

Not nearly as much as one might think.

For instance, I am relatively well versed in the Romance languages. I can read Spanish quite well, but not fluently. I can read a bit of French. And I have studied reading Italian and Portuguese for a bit.

So one would think that with all that Romance under my belt, I could just jump right into some new Romance languages and read them just like that, right?

Not so fast now.

Lately I have been going through lots and lots of Occitan texts on the Net. Occitan is approximately between Spanish and French. Honestly, I can’t make heads or tails of Occitan. Sometimes I can pick out a bit of information that I am looking very hard for, but mostly I just throw up my hands. My online translator calls Occitan “Catalan” and tries to translate it into English. Some say that Catalan and Occitan are one language. According to my translator, that is not so. Running the Catalan translator through Occitan fixes it up a bit, but it still leaves a gigantic steaming mess on the page. It’s nearly useless.

With Portuguese, Spanish and French, one would think Catalan would be a breeze, right? Think again. My translator is almost always able to grab it, but sometimes it can’t. When it can’t, I am stuck with Catalan and I am well and truly lost. Once again, I just throw up my hands. Obviously, it looks like some kind of Iberian language, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just don’t want to bother with it.

It’s said that Aragonese is nearly a Spanish dialect. Intelligibility is on the order of 80%. But try reading an Aragonese text sometime. It’s clearly derived from something like Spanish, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just want to run away from it. Try to read it and you are quickly lost and angry. My online translator thinks that Aragonese is Spanish. Run Aragonese through the Spanish translator and it fixes it up a bit, but it still a crazy mess and you can’t make a lot of sense of it.

Galician is a sort of Portuguese-Spanish hybrid that is often intelligible to many Spanish speakers. But don’t bother with trying to read Galician texts. They’re a frustrating mess. I dipped into it a bit, but it’s so screwed up and confusing that I quickly gave up.

One would think that with a bit of French under the belt, one could pick up on the various French patois of the langues d’oil. Forget it. It looks like a chaotic disaster on the page. The translator calls the various patois French. Running them through a French translator in general doesn’t really improve matters all that much. It’s still a messy disaster.

The moral to the story is don’t think that semi-getting a few languages under your belt is going to help you even with reading closely related languages. Things are not so simple.

What Languages Are You Studying?

Please feel free to update us on your current language learning endeavors, if they exist.

As for me:

English: Native speaker, no need to study anything. In fact, it’s unusual that I run across a word that I don’t know. The most recent one was analphabetism. I bet you don’t know what that means.

Spanish: I have been studying Spanish on and off since I was 6 years old. Studying Spanish is more or less of an ongoing thing with me. We have a lot of bilingual signs and prinouts in our area. I often read them with the English translations to bone up on my Spanish.

I could do better. There is a bilingual newspaper that is issued around here for free, but I never bother to pick it up.

Part of the problem is that when you are as good at Spanish as I am, learning more Spanish (such as reading Spanish papers) is really a serious drag. Spanish as written down especially in papers does not translate literally. Not only are there a ton of not commonly used words, but there are also a lot of figures of speech. In addition, there are lots of phrases, that, when looking at the Spanish and then at the English, one wonders how they managed to go from one to the other. The Spanish-English translation is not transparent at all.

As you learn Portuguese, French and Italian, it only helps you with your Spanish, though the assistance is not obvious. After a while, all Romance just starts running together. You might as well just study Latin and get it over with.

I speak Spanish to Spanish speakers around here on a regular basis. It’s a lot of fun, and they really appreciate if you can speak three words of their language, unlike the French.

The Spanish-speakers who are actually born in Mexico appreciate it a lot more than the ones who are born in the US. I am not sure why that is, but in so many ways, Hispanics who were born in Latin America are much better people than Hispanics who were born on the US. It’s popular to dog on Latin America, but Latin American Hispanic culture is much superior to US Hispanic culture.

There are deep elements of respect, pride, kindness, brotherhood, politeness and dignity present in Latin American Hispanic culture that are almost neutered in US Hispanic culture. US Hispanics are pretty much just typical asshole Americans, except that they happen to be Hispanics. And in many ways, such as the lumpenization of their culture, US Hispanics are actually worse than the rest of Americans.

I’m not sure what it is with US Hispanics, but something has gone terribly wrong. They’ve lost most of what’s grand about Latin American culture, and they’ve replaced it with what’s worst about US culture, in addition to concocting up various cultural poisons of their own. It’s cultural mongrelization of the worst sort, all of the bad, none of the good and a bunch of new innovations, almost all bad.

Portuguese: Past. I studied it a bit in the past when I was hanging around with this Brazilian woman. Now I’ve given it up. I am already studying Spanish and French, and after a while, you are just studying too many Romance languages. The words are so similar that you start getting them all tangled up in your head. You go to say a Spanish word and you say the Portuguese, Italian or French word instead. If you have some Spanish (especially), French and Italian, you get lots of help with Portuguese.

Italian: I study this language a little bit, but not too much. I am not very good at it, but it’s interesting. If you know some French, Spanish and Portuguese, you can go a long way with Italian.

French: My latest fetish is French. I am not very good at it, so I am at the point where learning the language is fun because you’re always learning new stuff. I have blown off verbs and just concentrate on vocabulary. Verbal conjugations in Romance languages suck anyway. Even in Spanish, they can be quite complex.

German: Past. Mostly I just picked up some basic vocabulary. Attempts to run beyond that, I am afraid, run into Hell. I understand that they still have case, and that the nouns are pretty crazy. There are supposedly other difficult aspects of this language, but I am not sure what they are. Learning basic vocabulary is pretty fun though.

That’s about it. For the most part, as a language learner, I concentrate on the Romance languages. They are difficult enough, believe me! Going beyond Romance seems like a gigantic PITA to me. You’re pretty much traveling to whole new planets. Why bother when Romance is hard enough as it is?

Catalan TV

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WwWTWFRMzw]

This is the first video I have uploaded that shows the Catalan language.

I could only make out a few words here and there, and I was helped by the visuals about what they were describing. If this was on the radio, I would have done a lot worse. Keep in mind I can understand Spanish pretty well. If you understand Spanish, you most definitely cannot understand Catalan very well! It is for sure a completely different language. Also note that there are many complaints that Catalan TV uses a heavily Castillianized version of Catalan. If this is what the Castillianized version sounds like, I’d hate to hear the pure Catalan.

If any of you speak French, it might be interesting to play this video and see if you can pick up any more of this language than I can coming from Spanish. The best way to listen to it is to not watch the video, just listen to it like it’s on the radio.

On the other hand, I heard a guy speaking a short video about Catalan in which he spoke very slowly and carefully, and I could actually figure out a good part of it.

A Look at Some Spanish Dialects

One thing that is interesting once you learn to speak Spanish fairly well is that you can start to pick up the differences in various Spanish dialects. I am told that people who don’t know Spanish well can’t pick up the differences at all. Hearing a divergent Spanish dialect is a very strange experience. You hear Spanish words, but the accent is so off and weird that you think that they can’t possibly be speaking Spanish. A frequent mistake it to think that they are thinking some closely related Romance language like Catalan, French, Portuguese or Italian.

I’ve written about this before, but now that we have more Hispanics and even Mexican nationals reading the blog, maybe we can get some good feedback.

Mexican Spanish is fairly uniform at least around these parts. However, there are some differences.

Oaxacan Spanish: I have heard older Oaxacan Indians speaking a very strange and harsh form of Spanish. I assume it was some Oaxacan Indian Spanish.

Morelos Spanish: Spoken in the state of Morelos near just south of Mexico City. I heard a woman speaking this to her kid. She looked very White, and for some reason I thought she was Iranian. I listened to her for several minutes and I was sure she must have been speaking Farsi. However, she told me she was speaking Morelos Spanish. I looked it up on the Net and it is a distinctive dialect.

Jalisco Spanish: Spoken in the coastal state of Jalisco. This does seem different from the other varieties of Mexican Spanish. I heard a White looking guy speaking it in the store and I asked him what language he was speaking. He was speaking Jalisco Spanish. It had a very European sound to it – like Castillian or Catalan.

Veracruz Spanish: I was in a store and there was a guy on the phone speaking some strange language. There were Spanish words but the accent was insane. After a bit, I said, “No way are you speaking Spanish.” The guy practically fell over himself laughing and he said he was indeed. He looked sort of South Indian, so I thought he was speaking some Indian language like Hindi.

He said he spoke regular Spanish, but he came from the Caribbean coast of Mexico, and he was talking to someone from there, and he was speaking Mexican Caribbean Spanish. This is the most whacked version of Mexican Spanish I have ever heard.

Guatemalan Spanish: A neighbor speaks this. It’s Spanish all right, but it’s not Mexican Spanish at all. Has an odd but recognizable accent. And she speaks incredibly fast and slurs her words together in the worst way.

Salvadoran Spanish: Different from Mexican Spanish, but not dramatically so. It’s immediately identifiable as Spanish.

Puerto Rican Spanish: Caribbean Spanish in general is just nuts. I heard a group of mixed race folks speaking it at a store. I listened for a while, very confused. Then I walked over to them and asked if they were speaking Portuguese, because that was what it sounded like. They said they were speaking Puerto Rican Spanish. The mixed race group had not a trace of racism, and among them were some of the most dignified looking Blacks or mulattoes I have ever seen. A quiet dignity you rarely see in US Blacks.

Colombian Spanish: One of the strangest Spanishes of them all. I knew an upper class Colombian woman from the Zona Rosa in the north of Bogota. She spent about half her time in Spain. She had the sexiest, most breathiest Spanish I have ever heard, almost like a super sexy French accent. It was also very European sounding. It had a very Castillian and almost French flavor to it. I heard her sister talk too, and she talked exactly the same way.

She used to write me emails, and I couldn’t make heads or toes of the Spanish because it was so full of figures of speech, slangs and colloquialisms. Running it through a translator was useless. For all intents and purposes, she wasn’t even writing in Spanish.

I was at a store and a group of Colombians was in line, all young adults. I heard Spanish words, but the accent was so whacked that I thought it had to be something else. I approached them and asked if they were speaking Italian, because that is what it sounded like. They laughed and said they were speaking Colombian Spanish.

Once again, this was a very sensual language. The 30-something beauty talking to me seemed like she was openly flirting with me, but finally I thought that was just how she talked. They were all talking like they were either heading to an orgy or just got back from one, but once again, I think that was the way they talked all the time. These people live in their bodies, fully sensual, and the language pumps right out of their emotional heart. The words seem to sway and move with their bodies. One sexy language!

I recently heard another woman speaking Colombian Spanish, this time from the Caribbean coast. A fruity, delightful language with words that sway in the sun on the golden sands. A sound as juicy as papayas, mangoes and bananas. You want to reach out and grab the words as they fly through the air and take a bite of them.

Peruvian Spanish: I knew some Peruvian women and used to talk to them a lot. The Spanish is not too crazy accentwise, but it has a ton of slangs in it. They didn’t really speak English, so they couldn’t explain what the slangs meant. One thing was that they spoke very, very fast! I kept telling them to slow down, but they could not seem to slow it down no matter how many times you asked. Peruvian has only one speed – very fast.

Chilean Spanish: Sounds very Castillian, but it’s immediately recognizable as Spanish. One problem is the mountain of slang in this dialect. I don’t think there is any Spanish that has as much slang as Chilean. It’s literally chock full of all kinds of weird slangs. They are also the pickiest Spanish speakers I have ever met. Almost like the French, almost correcting your Spanish. Most Spanish speakers are very gracious, but Chileans want you to speak it right!

Argentine Spanish: This is one weird Spanish. You hear it spoken and you hear Spanish words, but the people speaking it look like Europeans and the accent sounds Italian! Or sometimes it sounds like some other European language – Catalan, French or Castillian. This is one insanely whacked out Spanish!

Catalonian Spanish: I heard a group speaking this, and I thought no way is that Spanish. I asked them what they were speaking, and they said Spanish. They said they were from Catalonia. Their Spanish sounded like Catalan! It didn’t sound like Spanish at all. This was one of the bizarrest Spanishes I have ever heard.

How Learning One Language Well Helps You Learn Others

Repost from the old site.
In the comments, the ever-perceptive dano notes:

dano: The thing is, I’ve found that once you learn to speak a European language, and particularly a Latin-based one, you see similarities in many words across the board and a rough kind of pattern emerges, making it easier to learn more languages.

Dano is correct – once you learn one Romance language, you can learn others. Also, the better you know English, the more easily you can learn a Romance language because so many English words have Latin roots. I also have knowledge of Proto Indo-European, so I can see roots that go back even farther back than Latin.
It helps to learn Greek and Latin roots in English. That way you can pick up more English words that you don’t know just by figuring out roots. Also it helps a lot with Romance languages.
Let’s try a little experiment. I know English very well, including many obscure terms, and I am familiar with many Latin roots. I know Spanish pretty well. I know a tiny bit of French and know a few words in Indo-European. With that knowledge, let us see how far that will get me in Venetian, a language I had never heard of before, and Italian, a language I have never been able to make heads or tails of.
Comparison of Venetian and Italian with English, Spanish, French and Indo-European
Venetian grasa, Spanish “grasa”, English “gross” fat, corpulent
Venetian can, Indo-European “kuon”, French “chien”, English “canine”, “hound”, dog
Venetian çena, Spanish “cena”, dinner
Venetian scóła, Spanish “escuela”, English “school”
Venetian bała, Spanish “bala”, English “ball”
Venetian pena, English “pen”
Venetian bìsi, English “peas”
Venetian diałeto, Spanish “dialecto “, English “dialect”
Venetian sgnape, English “schnapps”
Venetian scóndar, Spanish “esconder”, English, “abscond”, to hide, to depart rapidly to avoid persecution
Venetian baxar, Spanish “besar”, English “buss”, to kiss, kiss
Venetian dormir, Spanish “dormir”, English “dormitory”, to sleep
Venetian pàre, Spanish “padre”, English “patrilineal”, father, in the father’s family line
Venetian parlar, French “parler”, English “parlance”, to speak, way of speaking
Venetian scusàr, Spanish “excusar”, English “to excuse”, to forgive
Venetian aver, Spanish “haber”, English “to have,” to possess
Venetian essar, Spanish “estar”, to be, English “essence,” essential quality of a thing
Venetian sentir, Spanish “sentir”, English, “sentiments”, to feel, feelings
Venetian venir, Spanish “venir”, to come
Venetian cantar, Spanish “cantar”, English “cantata”, to sing, song, “canto,” a type of lyric poetry,
Venetian vaca, Spanish “vaca”, cow
Venetian vardar, Spanish “guardar”, English “to guard”, to look, to guard
Venetian sghiràt, English “squirrel”
Venetian récia, Spanish “orecha,” English “ear”
Venetian plàstega, Spanish “plastica”, English “plastic”
Italian forchetta, English “fork”
Italian ratto, Spanish “raton”, English “rat”
Italian pipistrello, English “pipistrelle”, bat, a type of bat
Italian asino, English “ass”, donkey
Venetian mustaci, English “mustache”
Italian io, Spanish “yo”, English “I”
Venetian mare, Spanish “madre”, mother, English “matriarchal”, rule by women
Italian uscita, English, “exit”
Venetian fiól, English “filial”, son, relating to a son or daughter
Italian quando, Spanish “cuando”, when
Venetian cascàr, English “cascade”, to fall, waterfall
Venetian trón, English “throne,” chair, king’s chair
Venetian bèver, Spanish “beber”, English “to imbibe”, to drink
Venetian trincàr, English “to drink”
Venetian òcio, Spanish “ojo”, English “ocular”, eye, of the eye
Venetian morsegàr, English “morsel”, to bite, a bite
Venetian nome, Spanish “nombre”, English “name”
Venetian solo, Spanish “solo”, English “solo”, only, alone
Venetian grande, Spanish “grande”, English “grand” big, great
Italian piccante, Spanish “picante”, English “piquant”, spicy hot
Venetian cale, Spanish “calle,” street
Venetian łéngua, Spanish “lengua”, English “language”
Venetian senpre, Spanish “siempre”, always
Venetian mar, Spanish “mar”, English “maritime”, sea, of the sea
Venetian nostre, Spanish “nuestro”, our
Venetian vite, Spanish “vida”, English, “vital”, life, living
Venetian virtuosi, Spanish “virtuoso”, English “virtuous”
Venetian serae, Spanish “seria”, would be
Venetian spirito, Spanish “espiritu”, English “spirit”, ghost, spirit
Venetian segura, Spanish “seguro”, English “secure”, safety, safe
Venetian robar, Spanish “robar”, English “to rob”, to loot, to steal
Venetian mal, Spanish “mal”, English “malevolent”, bad, evil-minded
As we can see, there is a huge amount of similarity between Venetian, an obscure language I had never heard of, and Spanish and English. Even the frightening Italian has quite a few Spanish and English cognates. Learning one foreign language, or even learning your own language very well, really does help you to learn even more languages so much more easily. Go ahead and give it a shot!

Colorism in Mexico

Color is a taboo subject in Mexican society, but the elite is mostly White or at least light skinned. There is more colorism as in lighter vs. darker. A lot Mexican Whites refuse to identify as White because that means gringo. They will just identify as Mexican. But others will identify as White, or more usually, as Spaniard, Frenchman, etc.

I know a guy whose family comes from Mexico who tells me he’s “French.” But he refuses to identify as White. That’s gringo, racist, etc. He also identifies as “Hispanic.” It’s like they would rather be Hispanic or Latino than White.

But a lot of them, I tell them, “You’re a Mexican? You’re as White as I am!” And they break into these huge grins and say that their families came from Spain. They clearly think they are better than the others.

One guy was insulted when I asked him if he was a Mexican. The guy was born in Mexico! He was a Spaniard, 100% pure. His people came from Spain, and he went back there all the time. He looked down on the mestizos and especially their crappy Mexican Spanish. In fact, he said all Latin American Spanish was shit. The only good Spanish was from Spain, and he spoke it! He especially hated that Mexican Spanish now has lots of English words in it. As he was saying this, some mestizos in the background were glaring at us.

But others get a little upset when I tell them they are White, even though they are as White as I am. To say that they are White is calling them a gringo, and Mexican nationalists don’t dig imperialist gringos. They will deny being White and say that they prefer to identify as Mexican.

Also, the word “White” is sort of racist in Mexican society. Mexican society is seriously racist, but it’s also European Spaniard with regard to manners. There is a color line, sure, but officially, all Mexicans are “mestizos,” that is, there are no Indians or Whites. Everyone is mixed.

Also Mexicans are in denial about their Black heritage. Your average Mexican is as Black as a Sicilian – 4% Black, and it’s pretty evenly distributed across the land. As in Argentina, the Mexican myth is that the Blacks simply vanished into thin air. If you suggest the obvious, that the Blacks were bred into the Mexican genepool and that’s how they vanished, Mexicans get upset.

My Mom took a trip to Mexico once and got into a funny conversation with the Mexican guide about that subject.

Also the guide kept referring to the miltars. My Mom calmly told her that the English word was soldiers, not militars, which is not a word in English. The female guide got really mad, insisted that militars was the right word, and kept saying militars for the rest of the tour.

Proud people.

Linguistic Map of Latin America

Map of the major languages of Latin America

This is an interesting map, though on first thought it seems unnecessary.

First of all, it makes quite clear how Brazil stands out as the Portuguese speaking state in Latin America. One could argue that this makes them odd man out, but if we look in terms of population, Latin America has a population of 570 million. 192 million of those are Brazilians. So 34%, or fully 1/3, of Latin Americans speak Portuguese. So what at first looks like Brazil’s linguistic isolation may not be so isolating as it appears.

All the Spanish-speaking countries can communicate well with each other, and there is a “neutral Spanish” that any educated person can use when conversing with any other educated person from Hispanophone Latin America. As long as you are doing this, you will both be understood.

Getting down to regional dialects, things do get complicated. I understand that Chilean soap operas, spoken in the rich dialect of the Chilean street, are dubbed in the rest of South America because other South Americans can’t understand Chilean street Spanish. But they are  probably well understood in Argentina. There does seem to be a “Southern Cone Street Spanish” that is harder to pick up as the latitudes move northward.

Bolivian Spanish sounds strange, but it’s probably intelligible in South America. It heavily inflected with Indian languages.

There is a general Caribbean Spanish that can be hard to understand.

The language of the Colombian Caribbean coast can be hard for even other Colombians to understand.

Dominican Spanish is notorious for being hard to understand. First of all, it seems to be based on Canarian Spanish of the Canary Islands, which is a very strange form of Spanish. Into this base went a ton of African words, much more than in the rest of Latin America. Further, it is spoken very fast. Dominican Spanish is pretty baffling to other Spanish speakers, at least for a while. Nevertheless, there is a more neutral form of Dominican Spanish that is widely intelligible to other Hispanophones.

On the streets of Mexico City, a very hardcore slang has emerged, sort of a Mexico City Street Spanish, that is pretty hard to figure out outside of Mexico.

Latin America is interesting in that the rest of the world seems to be learning “English as the universal language,” while Latin America is lagging behind.

I know quite a few educated Latin Americans who barely speak a lick of English. Latin Americans live not so much  in the society of the Western Hemisphere, but more particularly in the society of Latin America. And Latin America is extremely Hispanophone. Everywhere you go, most everyone speaks Spanish. Spanish is a very highly developed modern language with words for everything. Why bother to learn English? What for? To talk to gringos?

However, at advanced university levels, such as Master’s Degree and particularly doctorate level, increasingly there are requirements to learn English.

One would think that Mexicans at least would be required to take some English in school, right? Forget it. First of all, Mexican schools are crap, and they are broke. The elite and upper middle class steal all the money in the country, and the Libertarian/Republican dream minimal state/free market economy hosts horribly defunded and decrepit schools. It’s not uncommon to meet 20 year old Mexicans who dropped out in the 2nd grade.

English is typically not offered in Mexican public schools. It’s only offered in private schools, which is of course where the moneyed class above sends their kids, which is why they won’t pay for public schools (They don’t use ’em), which is why the public schools are crap. I’m sure many more non-Hispanic Americans in the US are taking Spanish than Latin Americans are studying English.

Hispanophones also often do not bother to learn Portuguese. Some of the educated ones claim they can understand it without studying it, but I doubt it.

A lot of Brazilians say they can understand Spanish pretty well (I think they study Spanish more than Hispanophone Latins study Portuguese), but when you start talking to them in Spanish (which I do on a regular basis) it doesn’t seem to work very well. Want to talk to a Brazilian? Learn Portuguese!

As we can see on the map, both French Guyana and Haiti speak French.

I was talking about Haiti with my liberal Democrat Mom once. The general conversation was along the lines that Haiti was all screwed up. She said, “Well, they’re all Black, they’re dirt poor, and worst of all, they’re in the Western Hemisphere, but they all speak French!” Indeed. What do these funny Frencophones think they’re doing in our Anglophone, Hispanophone and Lusophone Hemisphere anyway?

Further, the language of Haiti is not really intelligible to French speakers. It makes about as much sense as hardcore Jamaican English does to us. However, the Haitian elite often speaks good French. They also say they understand Spanish, but I’ve tried to talk to them in Spanish, and it didn’t go anywhere. Often they don’t understand much English either. Want to talk a member of the Haitian upper class? Learn French!

So the Haitians are rather isolated in this Hemisphere, but I’m not sure if your average dirt poor Haitian cares. I suppose they could always talk to the Quebecois, but no one understands Quebecois either.

French Guyana is also a French speaking country. It’s still a colony, and it has a very nice standard of living. Nowadays, colonies don’t even want to go free anymore, as it means a standard of living crash.

As you can see, British Honduras speaks English. There are some other English speaking islands in the Caribbean and some French speaking islands too, but none are marked on the map.

Dutch has pretty much died out in the Western Hemisphere, but it used to be spoken widely in Suriname and the Dutch Caribbean.

The main language of Guyana is probably some English creole, but it’s not shown on the map.

Indian languages are still very widely spoken in Peru (Quechua), Bolivia (Aymara) and Paraguay (Guarani).

Map of the Romance Speaking World

Here is a very nice map of the parts of the world that speak a Romance language, in whole or in part. The main languages covered here are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian.

Nice map of the Romance languages of the world. Click to enlarge.

The heavy Spanish speaking zone is Spain, Rio Muni, New Mexico and Latin America except for Brazil, the Guyanas, Haiti and some Caribbean islands that speak French. To a lesser extent, it is spoken Spanish Sahara and Belize. To a much lesser extent, it is spoken in  parts of the US and in the Philippines where it is a dying colonial language.

The heavy Portuguese speaking zone is Brazil, Portugal, Angola, Mozambique, other parts of Africa and East Timor. In the latter countries, it is a lingua franca.

French is heavily spoken in France, Quebec, French Guyana, French Polynesia, Belgium and Switzerland, less heavily in much of Africa, especially Congo, the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, Togo, Cote d’Ivorie, Burkino Faso, Senegal, West Africa, Central Africa, Djibouti and Madagascar, less in the rest of Canada, and even less in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Louisiana, where it is a dying colonial language overtaken by national languages in Southeast Asia, Arabic in Northwest Africa and English in Louisiana

Italian is spoken heavily in Italy and less so in Libya and Albania.

Romanian is spoken heavily in Romania, Moldova and Serbia.

Yet More Romance Intelligibility Figures

From here.

I happen to agree with these figures. The figures involve the intelligibility of various Romance languages, spoken and written, for speakers of Spanish.

Intelligibility for Spanish speakers, oral: 77% of Galician, 55% of Catalan, 54% of Portuguese, 25% of Italian, 1-5% of French and many Italian dialects.

Written: 93% of Galician, 90% of Catalan, 85% of Portuguese, 50% of Italian, 16% of French.

As you can see, the figures are much higher for written than spoken language. This makes a lot of sense. With my fluent Spanish and some knowledge of Portuguese, French and Italian, I can pick up a fair amount of the written text of any Romance language.

Orally though, I’m typically pretty lost. The best ones are those that are closest to Spanish, such as Andalucian dialect, Aragonese, Asturian and Galician. Leonese is a lot different, heading towards Portuguese. You get to Catalan and Occitan and I start having lots of problems. Portuguese is way harder than you might think, even with my rudimentary Portuguese. Standard Italian as spoken slowly by say a documentary narrator is a bit better.  Street Italian is nearly useless to me, as is Spoken French, Romansch, Romanian, Italian dialects and hard Andalucian.

It’s very interesting that Spanish speakers can understand Galician better than they can Portuguese, but it makes sense. After all, Galicia split off from Portugal long ago and came under the influence of Castillian. I am not sure which Galician they are referring to here. There is a soft Galician that is used on Galician TV which has very heavy Castillian influence. Even I can pick it up pretty well. But there is a hard Galician of the street and the rural areas that is much harder to understand.

The figure for Catalan is much lower than for Galician because Catalan has so much French influence. Look at the dismal figure for spoken French and you can see why Spanish speakers have a hard time with it.

25% intelligibility of Italian sounds about right to me. Spanish speakers can understand Italian much worse than they can understand Portuguese. The figure for French is shockingly low, but it makes sense, as previous studies have shown that nobody can understand the French.

I would agree that Standard Italian, especially spoken slowly by a professional speaker, is much easier to understand than many Italian dialects, which are actually spoken languages. I’ve seen them on Youtube and I can’t make out a single word.

With my Spanish, my figures for written intelligibility of Romance are not as high as those above, but I’m not really fluent as far as reading Spanish goes. I’m a lot better at speaking it and hearing it. Others have given much lower figures than the one above for Spanish speakers reading Galician, but it probably improves very quickly in a short period of time.

Check Out Galician

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UzwWh91UVc]
Galician is a language similar to Portuguese that is spoken in Spain by about 3.5 million speakers. Speakers are located in the far northwest of Spain in the region of Galicia. Galicia is one of four languages other than Castilian that are recognized by Spain. The other three are Basque, Catalan and Aranese (Occitan). Galician is having problems lately, as a lot of speakers in urban areas are not speaking it anymore, and much of the speaker base is located in rural areas.
Nevertheless, it is still widely spoken outside of large cities, even by young people. There have been some problems setting up Galician-medium schools, as the Spanish state doesn’t seem to want to pay for it. The state of Galicia has not done a very good job of preserving the language. For instance, most of the Galician TV stations are in Castillian.
Despite all of this, Galician is still doing pretty well and should be secure for the remainder of the 21st Century.
Galician is related to Portuguese, but Portuguese speakers are very ethnocentric and crazy about their language, and they have adopted the notion that all dialects of Portuguese can understand each other. This is not the case, as there are several languages under the Portuguese rubric, and even saying that Brazilian and European Portuguese are the same language is getting harder and harder of a case to make.
A group called “Reintegrationists” insists that Galician is a dialect of Portuguese, but this does not seem to be the case. For one thing, Portuguese and Galician are not really fully intelligible. So it looks like the best case is to split Galician off as a separate language closely related to Portuguese.
As long as we are talking about dialects, it really ought to be the other way around – Portuguese as a dialect of Galician. Galician is actually the original language of the area and it preserves the old form of Portuguese-Galician best of all. Portuguese is best seen as a Galician dialect that drifted further and further away from the original Galician language. Galicia has been a part of Spain for a good 600 years or so, and in this period, Galician and Portuguese have drifted further apart.
Galician is now properly seen as a language closely related to Portuguese that has been heavily influenced by Castillian. If you will, a language partway between Portuguese and Castillian. So if you speak Spanish, Galician should be more accessible to you than Portuguese. What is interesting is that Galician and Portuguese have drifted so far apart that Spanish speakers say that they understand Galician better than Portuguese speakers do. This is doubtless due to the heavy Spanish influence on Galician.
In recent times, the Castillian influence has only increased. A Galician group based in Spain has formed to oppose the influence of the Reintegrationists, who are proposing a common writing system for both Galician and Portuguese. The Galician purists propose a purified Galician written language that emphasizes Galician’s differences with Portuguese. They have their work cut out for them.
The video above is from Galician TV. On Galician TV a new form of Galician has emerged that is closer to Castillian than the form typically spoken on the Galician street. Many Castillian speakers say they can understand Galician TV pretty well, but even they have a hard time understanding street Galician. In the video, the female broadcaster in particular is speaking a heavily Castillianized form of Galician. The male broadcaster’s dialect is less so.
They are interviewing a man who represents the Reintegrationist group in Galicia. He is speaking a much more “street” form of Galician and was harder for me to understand. I understood the woman best of all, then the male broadcaster and last the man being interviewed. I understand Spanish pretty well.
If you understand Spanish, you should be able to understand some of the video above, but you probably won’t fully understand it.

Check Out Andalucian

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJgr_mwcR1g]
Contrary to popular belief, Andalucian is not a dialect of Spanish, but his is very confusing. There is something called Andalusian Spanish. This is what the announcer in this video is speaking.
I can understand Spanish pretty well, but this guy is almost incomprehensible, and this is just a mere dialect. I showed it to two friends who have some Spanish comprehension as most White native Californians do. One thought it was Romanian and the other thought it was Italian. If you understand Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese or any Romance language, see how much of this Andalucian you can get.
However, there is more to the story. In the vignettes in this video, you will see people speaking something altogether different, not a dialect of Spanish, but a full-blown separate language altogether, Andalucian. True, it is not recognized by Ethnologue yet, but it ought to be. Part of the problem is Spanish fascist nationalism that will not tolerate any more languages in Spain.
So far, Catalan, Basque, Occitan and Galician are recognized, but many others, such as Extremaduran, Asturian, Asturian, Fala, Portuguese, Aragonese and Leonese are not. Andalucian is another one, in this case not even recognized as a language by the ISO yet.
Andalucian has a heavy Arabic influence and in particular an influence for Mozarabic, which is an extinct form of heavily Arabized Spanish.