When there is a Y and when there isn't

Campbell, R. Joe campbel at indiana.edu
Mon Feb 11 20:08:08 UTC 2013


   All languages have dialects.  "Dialect" (or "dialect") refers to the 
variant of a language shared by one group of people as opposed to 
another group.

   In a language where everyone spoke in exactly the same way (or 
nearly so), there would be no dialects.  There have been many books and 
articles devoted to the study of the Spanish dialects, discussing, 
among other things, whether the final /n/ is velarized, the "palatal l" 
(i.e., orthographic 'll') is pronounced as a [y] or 'zh', 
syllable-final /s/ is aspirated, the aspiration of syllable-final /s/ 
before a voiced consonant like /b d g/ results in devoicing of the 
consonant cluster (e.g., "los gatos" --> [lojjatoh]), 'rr' is 
pronounced as a fricative rather than a vibrant, etc.).  These are 
geographical DIALECTS.

   There are also variants referred to as "social dialects" -- e.g., 
the variation of /rr/ in Mexico City between men and women according to 

   But the undeniable fact is that speakers of a language tend to have 
variation in groups and we call those groups "dialects".  Universities 
devote class time to courses called "Spanish Dialectology".  I have 
taught graduate courses in Spanish Dialectology. Spanish speakers from 
Mexico City easily recognize Mexicans from the Gulf Coast by their 
speech -- "Ah! Es Jarocho".

   In Mexico, it is common to refer to indigenous languages as 
"dialectos".  Then, in the minds of people who think that economic 
stratification is directly  correlated with a scale of superiority, 
Spanish is a "lengua" and Nahuatl is a "dialecto".  Therefore, how 
could Spanish ever have a "dialecto"?

   About fifty years ago I was accosted on the beach at Acapulco by a 
woman who proceeded to engage my friend and me in conversation.  When 
she asked what we did, my friend (still a student) told her that I 
worked on languages -- like the local one (Nahuatl).  She replied, "Ah! 
No es una lengua!  Hablan puro dialecto!  I asked her, "En que se 
reconoce la diferencia entre 'lengua' y 'dialecto'?"   "Ah!"  she 
shouted.  "Los dialectos no tienen ni gramatica ni diccionario!!"

I still enjoy remembering those few moments on the beach....


> P.S. Joe, when you talk about "silla" you mention "in most other
> dialects".... but as far as I know, there are no "dialects" deriving
> from the Spanish language!

Nahuatl mailing list
Nahuatl at lists.famsi.org

More information about the Nahuat-l mailing list