My Spanish Is Way Better Than Yours

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose9 Comments

Dora The Explorer and Diego

Dora The Explorer and Diego


Let’s say there are two native Spanish speakers, both of whom don’t come directly from Spain, but have Latino backgrounds, one comes from a South American country and the other from a Carribean-based country. While discussing language, the first comments that their Spanish is “better” than the other. After the second suggests the lack of real difference between the written form of proper Spanish in both countries, the first gets infuriated and storms off. Neither are each other’s parents nor teachers. What would you say?

That’s what I had to ponder as I sat there watching this unfold. My first instinct was, essentially, “Who the fuck are you?” However, seeing as how that’s completely inappropriate for the setting, I simply said “Whatever.” It felt like those Bud Light commercials where I had to choose between too heavy and too light.

Naturally, I mulled it over some more, talked with some online friends, and came to the conclusion that what I witnessed was nothing short of prejudice and possibly even bigotry. Many of us who speak Spanish as natives often differentiate between what we term as proper Spanish and slang, but the bigger distinction throughout the Western hemisphere seems to be between the countries and classes within Latin America. There’s a large perception that those from South America have a “better” Spanish than Central [and particularly Carribean] America.

Unfortunately, in the past, even I’ve fallen into that trap. The intonations of many of those who come from Argentina versus the grit and syncopation of those who come from my native Dominican Republic made me fall into that mentality early and often. Plus, early in my life, my primary connection to South-American based Latinos came in the form of novelas and noticias with predominantly white Central and South Americans. None of them spoke the way I heard my mom and other family members speak, so there was already the complexes laid out for me in plain view.

What becomes more interesting is telling those who hold this belief that their Spanish … sounds less like the Spanish that the Spanish themselves speak.

We reinforce this vision by continuously perpetuating this farce in this many venues. Frankly, the only Spanish I’ve never understood is the Spanish coming from someone who couldn’t speak any language, so if the idea of language is to effectively communicate, then aren’t many of these dialects valid? Furthermore, is there a difference between calling one’s Spanish castellano and calling it proper? I’ve met academics of all varieties who speak Spanish, and their proper Spanish sounds “well-spoken.”

And that leads me to believe that those who perpetuate the nonsense also perpetuate differences in class and schooling (different from education). Even if you don’t speak Spanish, this is akin to the giant pink elephant in the room when it comes to discussing English, except that in this country, speaking Spanish natively can actually work against you.

Am I wrong? What do I say here?

Mr. Vilson, who doesn’t think the Swiper should be swiping …

Comments 9

  1. So here’s the funny part of all this: in English, the Spanish language is called, duh, Spanish but (I was discussing this with my dad who’s a brilliant, highly-educated man and Dominican) in Spanish there is no such thing as Espanol to mean the language. Now we commonly say hablo Espanol but really it is Castellano. Back when Spain wasn’t a unified Spain yet and it was all kingdoms (Aragon, Castille, etc) and they were breaking their heads with the Muslims, forcing them to unify, Castile was the more dominant from the union with Aragon. So when Spain began to romper culo all over the world, Castillians (?) had more pull. Like Columbus’s voyages were apparently full of men from Castille so they spread Castellano. There was no Espanol. Even today, Spaniards will say they speak Castellano or Gallego and they sound very different yet they are both speaking Spanish. So are Castellanos speaking “proper” Spanish as opposed to Galicians? They’re both from the “mother” country, right? Also, if you go even further back, Castellano is a dialect of Latin from when the Romans introduced it to the area, after which it got even more convoluted with a crapton of invaders and especially with the Arabic language the Moors brought. So Castellano is itself a dialect. It’s fascinating stuff (my nerd-ass thought it was interesting when my pops was telling me). You always have to wonder about people under the delusion of being some sort of purists. It’s some sign of insecurity I think. And really what are you insecure about? Who sounds more like the conquistadors that broke everyone’s will to live wherever they went? Yeah, I want that prize. Anyway, I love hearing Dominican Spanish, it’s kind of robust and jolly and then you have the sing-song of Puerto Rican Spanish, Mexican Spanish (which is different depending if you’re from el D.F. -they have some awesome curse words- or if you’re from Puebla or Guerrero). They all have their respective charms. C’mon son. (Had to do it, been itching to, sorry.) -Glendaliz (great topic, by the way)

  2. When you first spoke about this on Twitter, my first instant reaction was like yours — what the fuck?

    But this reminds me of a very common people among my community. The Deaf community. The primary language of use is American Sign Language. There’s this whole camp called “Deafhood” where some radical deaf people believe only those born from deaf parents/went to a deaf school/live in the deaf community/use ASL all the time belong.

    And there are others who believe everyone belongs, no matter what their communication mode is — as long as they have a hearing loss.

    Because of this “label”, things get complicated quickly, and often uneasy.

    I’m going to use the onion as a metaphor here. You have an ordinary yellow onion. You peel away the outside, it’s still an onion. You peel away another layer, it’s still an onion. You keep peeling each layer off until you get to the core. It’s still an onion.

    You do the same with a speaker of Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, English, ASL, Russian, French, anything. They all are the same. There’s no such thing as a “better” way of using a language.

  3. I hear what you’re saying and agree that whether you speak the language with a Puerto Rican or Chilean accent (while using the accompanying slang) one is not better than the other, but I think you also fail to address the use of Spanglish. Slang is one thing (i.e. do you call an orange a naranja or a china) but when someone calls a nurse una nursa or use some other lazily translated English word and try to pass it off as legit, I have a hard time swallowing it. Dialects and slang make our culture beautifully complex and I believe that preserving language is at the heart of preserving that culture. If I had kids I’d want them to learn the language so they can travel Latin America and communicate with ease. Sadly, wider and wider acceptance of spanglish makes that extremely difficult for so many.

  4. I wouldn’t classify it simply as racism and discrimination, though that’s partially what it is. This attitude stems out of ignorance, which is as widespread the people on this planet. Perception of language variations, accents and such is 100% subjective. All people speak their own languages perfectly. That’s an absolute. Most people don’t know it though.

    The tradition, reinforced through history, is that the accents of the rich are preferred and perceived as superior to those of the poor. However, “dialect” is generally a derogatory term. I’d prefer “variation,” which is less judgmental. Language, unless it’s dead, is subject to change, so variations occur. They’re neither good nor bad. They just are.

  5. Post

    I love that this comments section reads like a quicker and more awesome version of what Wikipedia should read like. Awesome. Everyone, thanks for the histories and renditions of Spanish. I read a bit and talked to a Spanish expert right before this, but your comments bring up a lot more good points than I can reply to.

    NYC Ed, a quick note: I hoped that I made some clear distinction between racism and prejudice. I try not to use the word racism unless it’s clear. Prejudice is definitely present in many people who believe in this dichotomy, which I’m glad you alluded to in my use of the word “dialect.”

  6. When I first traveled to Chile, I remember being told by Chilenos in Santiago that I didnt speak “Castellano” and that I wasn’t a real Latina. Then I traveled some more and learned that in South America many people think that Chilenos speak messed up Spanish. Argentines especially believe this.

    What I think is that different nationalities use this line against each other as a way to play out broader culture wars which in no small part has to do with perceptions of Spanish “purity”.

  7. It is interesting to note that the first grammar of Castilian/Spanish was published in 1492. In other words the earliest formal version of this language is hardly any older than the Spanish Empire, and can be said to share the same birth year. Needless to say after the history lesson shared above by Glen, this dialect would be just another regional European curiosity without the empire it grew up alongside…or rather without the empire this dialect was groomed to dominate. This is one instance where claims of being ‘proper’ or ‘original’ cannot honestly be untied from all the -isms touched on in the post and comments above.

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