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
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
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!
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