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Separated by the Same Language

May 8, 2009 1 Comment »

George Bernard Shaw once said that “England and the United States are two languages separated by a common language,” and in the Canterville Ghost Oscar Wilde stated, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” I don’t know who was first, but it’s the same idea. And what should we say about the Spanish spoken by Mexicans, Uruguayans, U.S. Spanish-speakers, Spaniards, and so many others “separated” by this wonderful language? The variations in each region can shock visitors that thought they knew “Spanish.” And even native Spanish-speakers can be surprised to find that they don’t know exactly what’s being said or sometimes find themselves in a very awkward predicament when the word means one thing in their home country and something completely different in another…
In addition to the glossaries we’ve assembled and those that I recently wrote about, there are resources that can help translators, travelers and anyone who wants to learn about the differences between the different flavors of Spanish. First, we have one that I’ve mentioned before, the Diccionario de jergas de habla hispana, where you can search for all of a word’s variants or how it is said in a certain country (21 countries are listed). Its authors welcome contributions and say that it includes “those special expressions that are so typical of the Spanish spoken in each country and turn duller neutral Spanish into something vivid and animated…”
Another site, a bit more specialized, is the Diccionario argentino-español (para españoles,)” which according to its author, aims to “restore virtual lexicographical order to the linguistic disarray existing between Argentina and Spain.” It is an interesting compilation of “problem words” that are used differently in different countries.
There are also glossaries of terms from Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, the Canary Islands, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. And there are certainly more to come.

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