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Salvadoran Spanish

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and, like the vast majority of countries in the Americas, has Spanish as its official language. However, Salvadoran Spanish as we know it today exhibits significant linguistic influences from the indigenous languages that existed in the area before the Spanish conquerors arrived in the sixteenth century.

At that time, the predominant indigenous group was known as the Pipil, who were believed to have come from Mexico. When the Spanish arrived on Salvadoran soil, as well as finding the Pipil in western and central regions, they also found Pocomame and Chorti people in the northeast, Maya, Toltec and Lenca people in some eastern zones, and Ulua people in the east.

Salvadoran Spanish has clearly evolved into the variety we know today and we will now spell out some of its main distinguishing features:

Phonetic-phonological framework

  • Pronunciation of “z” and “c” as “s”: common to all Salvadoran social classes.
  • Pronunciation o “ll” as “y”: In general, Salvadorans are not even aware of the palatal phoneme “ll”, let alone that its pronunciation can be confused with “y”. For this reason they pronounce “cayo” and “callo” the same way.
  • Neither of these are incorrect forms of speech, rather they are linguistic norms of standard Salvadoran Spanish.
  • Labialization: tendency to confuse the “b” and “v”, that is, the “v” is labialized.
  • Dissolution of the hiatus: “bibija” – “vivía”; “parariba” – “para arriba”; “golpiaban” – “golpeaban”
  • Aspiration:
    • Of the “-s”: Aspirated glottal “h”. It is said that this articulation is similar to that of the “j” but can also be heard between intervocalic sounds such as “o o”, “a o” and “e a”. Although this characteristic is sometimes present in different Spanish-speaking areas, this phenomenon does not exist in a state as advanced as El Salvador in rural areas with low education levels.
    • Of the “-f”: Aspiration of the “f”as “x” before the vowel “u”. This phenomenonis almost unique tothe Panchimal region.
    • Of the “-h”: tendency to aspirate or let out an almost blurred sound.
  • Fusion of words: “puesí”–>“pues sí”
  • Diphthongization: “golpiaban” – “golpeaban”.
  • Nasalization: phoneme becomes“-m”, “-n” or“-ñ”.
  • Velarization: the consonant G – “g” or J – “x”. “Abuja” for “aguja”.

Morphosyntactic framework

  • Use of the “vos” form: although the “tu” form is used at certain times, in certain social groups and depending on where you are, Salvadoran Spanish generally uses the “vos” form.
  • Use of “vos” or “ usted” at the end of a phrase: “Allí iba por un barranco altísimo, ustéd“.
  • Use of the catch phrase “va”: “Eso nos daba como más ánimo, ¿va?…”
  • Positioning the article before proper nouns; “Voy ir a ver a la Mari”.

Lexical framework

  • “Nahuatlisms”: Words that assimilate Nahua words into Spanish.
  • Compound or Hybrid Spanish words – Nahua: words composed of two or words that sound like just one word. They sound very similar to Spanish but the pronunciation also has a Nahua influence.
  • Sailor words: archaic vocabulary of the sailors from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.