Through a comment on an earlier entry I’ve discovered a blog called Romanika, started in January by “a college student with a passion for the Romance Languages/Linguistics.” He not only has a passion for the languages, he has the kind of eye and ear for detail that is impossible to learn and makes him an invaluable source for all sorts of fascinating stuff that had escaped my notice. In his “first true entry,” he discusses the social implications of the voseo (use of vos as a general second-person singular pronoun) in Central America, contrasting it at the end of the entry with the Argentine use I’m familiar with (where it is used freely at all levels of society as a proud mark of Argentineness). In his next entry he describes the difference between attitudes toward the short forms of the verb estar ‘to be’ in Portuguese and Spanish:

I had noticed that in Brazil syncopated forms of the verb «estar» (to be) are used. This occurs especially in the present and preterit, i.e.:
[present tou for estou, tás for estás, &c; preterit tava for estava, tavas for estavas, &c]

At one time, I thought that these forms were solely found in Brazil. However, they are just as much used in Portugal. In both countries, the syncopated forms are the spoken norm. In the written form, they are non-standard. On writing on the internet, more times than not, one finds the shortened forms. In both sides of the Atlantic, these forms have gotten much social acceptance. They are used by all people, in all levels of society. This is confirmed by Vero, who, in our letters and internet conversations, always uses these forms. She says that even her professors at school do this; that only the language purists use the ‘standard’ forms. That is, in both countries, the spoken standard is already that of the syncopated forms. It is not socially marked, except in highly formal situations. That is, the action of using the ‘standard’ forms in a normal conversation will give one an image of being pedantic…

This is interesting because this is not the case in Spanish. In this language, one finds too the syncopated forms of the verb «estar», in pretty much the same way: with «es-» removed. However, here, it is socially disregarded. One will find people who say «toy, tás, tá» for standard «estoy, estás, está», but will be socially marked. While in Portuguese songs, particularly from Brazil, I find all the time «tô» for «estou», I have never found so in Spanish ones, «toy» for «estoy». In Spanish, these same scheme might be accepted in certain regions, enclaves where it is used. But outside there, it will have a taste of regional and sub-standard, or even, ignorant and rural.

Since then he’s discussed rhotacism in Venezuela (eg «\er negro\» for el negro ‘the black one’), leísmo in Madrid (the use of the indirect pronoun as a direct object), and Occitan/Provençal, among other things. I absolutely love this stuff, and am delighted to have found the site.


  1. Sumeet Agarwal says

    RSS users-
    Since I could not find an RSS feed anywhere on his site, I used BlogStreet‘s RSS Generator to create one.

  2. In El Salvador, a small country with a huge number of its countrymen living here in the States, vos is often used instead of tú as a subject pronoun. Vos is considered familiar, at times lacking in respect where usted (Ud.) is formal, polite and respectful. Children are frequently addressed as usted since vos won’t do. Where tú disappeared to is a question I have.

  3. Once as a group of Spanish-speaking customers left my place of work they said “gracias” and I automatically gave the Spanish equivalent of my usual response: “gracias a vosotros.” As soon as the words had left my mouth I realized that I had used what my long ago Spanish classes told me was the second person INFORMAL plural, instead of the second person FORMAL plural, with Usted, but as they walked away I hoped that it was merely an amusing error by a foreigner. When I finished my other duties they were waiting for me and asked if I was from Spain. Astonishingly, my accent hadn’t given me away, but in their (I have forgotton which Latin American) country vosotros was not used at all, and to them it marked me as Spanish, and not excessively familiar.
    Saved by inexplicable language mutation.

  4. P.S. Romanika is an excellent find: thank you!

  5. My experience (reading) with Spanish-Portuguese-Brazilian-Hispanic-American second-person pronouns has been totally confusing even without this new site. What a mess! As I remember, French is learnable, but I like English best. Just forget thou and thee.

  6. Michael Farris says

    When I was learning Spanish I was taught the vosotros forms and told that they’re only used in Spain and only rarely there. And I was cautioned against using Tu as well, since it’s use was described as extremely limited.
    Imagine my surprise to find that in Spain tu and vosotros are utterly routing Usted and Ustedes in everyday usage.
    I later found out that the expansion of tu and vosotros began shortly after the death of Franco. A Spanish co-worker (20’s univeristy educated, teaches Spanish as a foreign language) told me she doesn’t normally use Ud at all, and would only use it in out of the ordinary formal situations.
    Interestingly, Polish and Hungarian which like Spanish have polite forms that are grammatically third person (as opposed to etymologically plural polite forms) have seen similar explosive growth in use of familiar forms (ty, wy; te, ti) after the collapse of communism.
    I wonder if something similar happens in languages with a t-v distinction when they emerge from under dictatorships.

  7. The subject pronoun Usted is routinely used by Central Americans and has not bitten the dust at all. As for Romanika, it really rocks, its author showing insight and language instinct that can’t be learned only acquired or G-d-given. Gracias, obrigada, spaciba balshoy, merci beaucoup to Hat.

  8. languagehat, thank you so much for your words!
    I appreciate them very much.
    I am glad that my blog has finally been discovered by people like yourself.
    I am also happy that you find it interesting and useful.
    Knowing that my blog interests someone encourages to write more. 🙂
    What you say about my blog, I can say about yours too, because you do a phenomenal job as well.
    Thanks again to you, languagehat, and to the visitors who have found my blog through your site.

  9. I find it interesting that the other languages are dropping the formal “you” (Usted and vosotros) in favor of the infomral, wherteas in English that formal (you) is all we use and the informal (thou) is never used excep tin religious writing, and since it is only used for addressing God, peopel think it is the formal form of “you.”

  10. It’s been a long time since I so enjoyed reading posts in the net. Two thumbs up!

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