Latin American Spanish Accents.

This Log post by Mark Liberman presents a wonderful video in which Joanna Hausmann exemplifies a bunch of Spanish accents; I can attest that the Argentine one is both hilarious and spot-on, and I have been told by a knowledgeable source that the same is true for the Mexican. Much of the video is in English, so you’ll be able to enjoy it even if you don’t speak Spanish.

Comments

  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I did enjoy it, but I was disappointed that she didn’t do Chilean, as that’s the one I’d feel most competent for assessing whether she did it right.

    I may have said this before, and if so please bear with me if I say in again. A few years ago my wife and I were in the museum attached to the cathedral in Oviedo, and there was a group of people that my wife said she thought were Argentinian and that we knew them (one of them, anyway). So I went over to listen, and came back to say that they sounded more Chilean than Argentinian to me, to which she replied, yes, but that’s because they’re from Mendoza.

  2. I didn’t hear much brasileiro in her Brazilian (my Portuguese isn’t great, but what it is is Brazilian, and I am well acquainted with Brazilians speaking Spanish and English). This is a bit odd, because I agree with her that Portuguese can sound Slavic. The parish priest in my (native) wee corner of .ie is from that same corner of .ie, had just arrived back from Brazil when he started his ministry, and his English sounded Slavic to my 16-year-old ears at that point, none of his Irish accent left.

    For the education of everyone else on this blog, not the target demographic of Canary Islands tourism, I just spent nine agreeable days on Gran Canaria, and for me, Latin American Spanish starts there, not anywhere further west. No distinción, their own vocabulary items that differ substantially from peninsular Spanish, long historic connections with the New World.

  3. In general, as far as I can judge, great video, by the way!

  4. That was pretty good. I even laughed a few times. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Portuguese described as sounding like Slavs speaking Spanish (although personally, I hadn’t gotten that impression before.)

    The Mexican accent she did was really like a working class accent from Mexico City/the Valley of Mexico but it seems like a lot of people on YouTube think that’s “the” Mexican accent.

  5. Pancho,

    The more sing-songy strereotype Mexican accent—Speedy Gonzales, Ren from Ren and Stimpy, the bandits in Treasure of the Sierra Madre—where does it belong? Is it northern?

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Portuguese described as sounding like Slavs speaking Spanish (although personally, I hadn’t gotten that impression before.)

    A lot of people think that the Portuguese of Portugal sounds like Russian. (At least one Portuguese person has told me that he thinks Russian sounds like Portuguese, and on a working visit to Portugal some years ago there were a couple of Russians in the laboratory I was visiting, who told me that people in Portugal who hear them don’t always realize instantly that they are not Portuguese.) Even when I’m right next to a group of waiters in a London restaurant chatting with one another it takes me a while to feel sure that they are Portuguese and not Russian.

    However, this applies much less strongly to Brazilian, which comes fairly close to being intelligible to a Spanish speaker.[1] When I went to Iguaçu a couple of years ago everyone exept me on the tours was Brazilian, so although the guides gave information in English as well as Portuguese the Portuguese version came first (as one would expect) and was more detailed. One of the guides told me he had the impression that I could understand a lot of the description before he gave it in English, and I said that that was right. It would never have been like that in Portugal.

    [1] When I hear Afrikaans I often have the feeling that if I made a real effort I would understand it, but I don’t manage it. In the case of Brazilian I come much closer to managing it. Of course, written Afrikaans is clearly not English, whereas written Portuguese is almost Spanish with weird spelling.

  7. Yes, Portuguese and Brazilian sound like two completely different languages. I (having lived in Argentina and had Brazilian friends) find Brazilian fairly intelligible, but I often can’t even identify peninsular Portuguese (which does indeed sound Slavic). Cf. this LH post.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    I am surprised that so many people think Portuguese (even Brazilian) sounds Slavic. To me Brazilian sounds like scrambled French! (see my comment on the LH post in question).

  9. When I hear Afrikaans I often have the feeling that if I made a real effort I would understand it, but I don’t manage it.

    I feel this way about Netherlands Dutch.

  10. Trond Engen says:

    So do I.

  11. Y,
    I’m probably not the best judge of which Mexican accent(s) sounds sing-songy, it/they sound “normal” to me but I would guess the working class Mexico City accent (which I will henceforth dub the chilango accent) is sing-songy too. The woman in the video kept her speech more or less on an even pitch and didn’t go as high and low as she could’ve.

    I’m a borrowed mobile device and don’t know how to copy, paste and link but if you go to YouTube and look up clips of the comedian “Resortes” from his movies of the 40’s and 50’s you’ll get an idea of what I’m thinking about.

    Funny you should mention the northern accent, though. I was reading a different blog earlier today and one of the comments did describe the northern accent as being sing-songy. What’s funny to me is that my mother is from Durango which is generally considered a northern state so there’s probably a bit of sing-song to my Spanish at least some of the time 🙂 .

    I also never got the impression that Portuguese sounded Slavic to me. European Portuguese sounds kind of mumbled and whispery to me while Brazilian Portuguese sounds well…. Brazilian: soft and a bit slurry. I did know a Russian man once who spoke (fluent) Spanish with me often. He sounded neither Portuguese nor Brazilian to me but like Bora Milutinovic, the Serbian soccer coach who worked in Mexico for many years.

    I think spoken Portuguese is to a Spanish speaker like Scots or Chaucer’s English is to a speaker of modern standard English: difficult to understand at first but easier with more and more exposure. (Written Portuguese is pretty easy to understand.)

  12. Pancho,
    By “sing-songy” what I meant was extra long duration and higher pitch on stressed syllables. The beginning of this clip, from Treasure of the Sierra Madre is kind of what I am thinking of (with apologies for the ridiculous stereotypes).

  13. Y,
    It does sound a bit northern to me but listen to this clip: http://youtu.be/LJ1dKY8Cp_4 , of northern accents and see what you think.

  14. George Gibbard says:

    My Mexican professor said that people from Spain always seem angry to Mexicans, based on something about their intonation.

  15. A few years ago, I read somewhere (maybe here) that when the King of Spain visited Argentina, many locals laughed at his accent, because he sounded like the local immigrants from Spain, who mostly worked in corner groceries and other not-so-classy jobs.

  16. I can believe it!

  17. Pancho, a few of the BC (including the very first one) and of the Sonora speakers had the quality I had in mind. I note that the people in the video were all under 30 or so. Maybe the accent I have in mind is dying off.
    Since I don’t know Spanish well enough to notice the subtler distinctions, do you notice anything that’s common to all the accents in the video as opposed to say Mexico City? Can you tell the difference between the accents of the speakers from Sinaloa and those from Nuevo León?

  18. gwenllian says:

    I didn’t hear much brasileiro in her Brazilian (my Portuguese isn’t great, but what it is is Brazilian, and I am well acquainted with Brazilians speaking Spanish and English). This is a bit odd, because I agree with her that Portuguese can sound Slavic.

    I think that’s mostly because there wasn’t actually much Slavic in her Vladimir impression. The rest of the video seemed quite good to me, though my opinion’s not really worth much here, since the only two kinds of Latin American Spanish I’m (kind of) familiar with are Mexican and Argentinian. The Argentinian especially seemed spot on. By the way, which parts of Italy did most Italian immigrants to Argentina come from? I’ve always found Rioplatense Spanish fascinating, and my Google skills are failing me here.

    As for European Portuguese, as a Slav, it does sound Slavic to me when it’s just within earshot and I can’t quite hear it clearly. Nothing like Russian, though. Russian has a very soft sound to me, European Portuguese a hard one. I agree with Vanya’s comment from the other post, it sounds Slavic in a kind of Polish way. I also don’t really find it muffled, mumbled or hard to identify when I can hear it clearly enough. It’s definitely less clear than Brazilian, but nothing too dramatic. Maybe it depends on region or some other factor I’m not aware of.

  19. which parts of Italy did most Italian immigrants to Argentina come from?

    Says WP.en: In the early 19C mostly from Piedmont, Veneto and Lombardy, but after Italian unification and in the 20C, mostly from Campania, Calabria and Sicily. “In Argentine slang, tano (from Nnapulitano, “Neapolitan”) is still used for all people of Italian descent where it originally means inhabitant of the former independent state: Regno di Napoli (Kingdom of Naples).” With the important exception of the city of Naples, almost all immigrants were from rural areas; Naples wound up with too many inhabitants for its available jobs after it was no longer a national capital, and there was a lot of emigration.

  20. Is Italian ancestry more common than Spanish in the Buenos Aires area? I kinda get that impression.

  21. Y,
    My impression of the accents in the video is that they tend to stay at a higher pitch than those of other places. My impression of some people from Sinaloa is that their “s” can be a little weaker compared to other Mexicans (but not Caribbean & Central American weak) and they speak a bit faster (maybe it’s not so noticeable in the video.) Honestly I think both the Northern(s) and the Mexico City (working class) accents could be called sing-songy. If I can dig up more examples in the coming week I’ll post ’em here.

    (Apologies for the late reply. I have limited, unreliable, and unpredictable internet access right now.)

  22. For several months now I have been listening at night to the Spanish science discussions and presentations on Cienciaes on my smartphone. These are mostly podcasts, I think, stitched together for 24/7 broadcasting, at any rate podcasts are available too for downloading..

    The weirdness of some Spanish accents/dialects astounds me, even spoken by scientists – although I shouldn’t be surprised, given the equally large number of German dialects out there. I grew up hearing border Spanish in El Paso, and only learned to speak it (more or less) later in Barcelona. This initial continuous exposure to Spanish must explain why I can now gradually tune into the wavelengths of these Cienciaes accents, to understand about 90% of all words. However, it can sometimes take me from 5 to 15 minutes to get there. Of course it helps that scientific terminology is being used.

    The accent(s) that really drive(s) me crazy leave(s) out every possible “s” sound – “ademá” instead of “además”, all plural esses … To make it worse, the Spanish seem to like having background music running. So I’m listening to a discussion of black holes, no esses, dramatically trilled “r”s, and with Tori Amos warbling in the background.

  23. This tuning-in seems to work best when I don’t try too hard to deliberately analyze, but instead exercise patience and “just try to understand”. I can sense that a very complex process of pattern-matching and pattern-rejecting is taking place in my ears and head. Conscious, analytical attention seems to throw a wrench in the works.

  24. I have no idea which of these accents/dialects are Spainish, which are Latin American.

  25. There are relatively few varieties of Spanish in which coda /s/ is completely gone; in most cases it is replaced by /h/. However, /h/ at the end of a syllable doesn’t exist in English, and it’s hard for anglophones to hear it.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    But Stu is familiar with German, which puts [x] at the ends of syllables all the time.

  27. /h/ for /s/ is like good intentions instead of deeds . Accept no substitutes !

  28. David: in my (limited!) experience the problem with Spanish syllable-final /s/ weakening to /h/ is that 1-This /h/ is acoustically weak, and thus differs quite sharply from German syllable-final /x/, 2-This /h/ is indeed so weak that it is often dropped, and can lengthen the vowel, modify its quality (typically through lowering), trigger some strengthening/gemination of a following consonant, or some combination of all three possibilities. Having /los gatos/ realized as /loh gatoh/ isn’t the problem: realizations of the /lo: gato:/ or /lo ggato/ type are the ones that are perceptually difficult.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, I hadn’t encountered the realizations as vowel or consonant lengthening.

    This /h/ is acoustically weak, and thus differs quite sharply from German syllable-final /x/

    Yes, in most environments. I’ve heard a Chilean pronounce usted as [uxˈtɛ], though, just as if it were spelled ujté (and pronounced in the same accent).

  30. gwenllian says:

    Says WP.en: In the early 19C mostly from Piedmont, Veneto and Lombardy…

    Thanks, John. I really should’ve thought to check Wikipedia instead of just googling. The doubled initial consonant got me to read up a bit on Neapolitan again. For a while now I’ve wanted to learn a bit about the languages of Italy, but I always seem to get too distracted and forget.

  31. Alon Lischinsky says:

    Her Argentinian accent doesn’t strike me as too well accomplished. She lacks the characteristic debuccalisation of non-medial /s/ (which is invariably realised as [h]), realises /xe/ as [he] instead of [çe], and there’s something subtly wrong about her vowels. I wouldn’t swear on it, but my impression (as a native speaker who is not a phonetician) is that any speaker who’d have such a strongly marked prosody would also tend to raise quite noticeably their accented /a/ and /e/.

    @gwenllian, John Cowan: I’m not sure how numerous they were, but my feeling is that Ligurian immigrants were important in shaping the typical Rioplatense prosody.

    @David Marjanović: the realisation of /s/ as [x] before occlusive consonants is also characteristic of the southern Castilian and Manchego accents.

    @Lazar: I can’t find my reference for it right now, but someone did an estimation of the prevalence of various ethnic origins in Argentina based on the frequency of surnames on phone listings. IIRC, Spanish and Italian ones were equally common in Buenos Aires, accounting for about 90% of the population.

  32. the characteristic debuccalisation of non-medial /s/ (which is invariably realised as [h])

    Huh, I don’t recall that from my time there in the ’60s.

  33. Stu wrote: “The accent(s) that really drive(s) me crazy leave(s) out every possible “s” sound ”

    Andalusian Spanish does this so that “andaluz” sounds like “andalú”. Sometimes it also drops the “d” between certain vowels. This is why a flamenco dancer is called a “bailaor” or “bailaora” and not a “bailador” or “bailadora”, and why a flamenco singer is called a “cantaor” or “cantaora” and not a “cantador” or “cantadora”.

  34. Andalusia, the Canaries, and large parts of the New World all share these tendencies.

  35. I once read some Chilean publication written in a fairly slangy language. Took me a moment to figure out what ‘curao meao’ meant.

    Alon, Pancho, does anything in Hausmann’s performances strike you as a residue of her native Venezuelan accent?

  36. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @languagehat:

    Huh, I don’t recall that [debuccalisation of non-medial /s/] from my time there in the ’60s.

    I wasn’t around in the 60s, but I’m quite confident that it’s been standard in Rioplatense for a while.

    It’s hard to find good-quality unstaged audio recordings (stage pronunciation is an entirely different kettle of mojarritas), but a couple of examples from a quick search: a 1934 recording of Gardel pronouncing gustoso as [guh.to.so] (around 0:14 of the clip), a 1945 recording of Perón pronouncing desde as [deh.ðe] (around 0:06). Admittedly, high-frequency sounds such as those of sibilants are often lost or reduced in recordings, especially noisy ones such as the latter.

  37. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @Y:

    does anything in Hausmann’s performances strike you as a residue of her native Venezuelan accent?

    I’m not familiar enough with the Caracas accent (or, for that matter, with most of the Central American ones she imitates) to tell, I’m afraid. My overall impression is that she does a great job of capturing prosody and some highly distinctive phonological traits, but misses the subtler ones such as vowel quality. That said, I am not a phonetician.

  38. It’s hard to find good-quality unstaged audio recordings (stage pronunciation is an entirely different kettle of mojarritas), but a couple of examples from a quick search: a 1934 recording of Gardel pronouncing gustoso as [guh.to.so] (around 0:14 of the clip), a 1945 recording of Perón pronouncing desde as [deh.ðe] (around 0:06).

    Ah yes, that does sound familiar, thanks!

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Sometimes it also drops the “d” between certain vowels.

    “En Graná no hay na.”

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