Spanish Dialects

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Spanish Dialects
Outside the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish is spoken in virtually all of Central and South America except Brazil (where Portuguese is spoken), as well as in the Canary Islands, parts of Morocco, and the Philippines. Latin American Spanish has a number of regional dialects; all are derived from Castilian but differ in several points of phonology from European Spanish. Typical of Latin American Spanish is the use of the /s/ sound where Castilian has the lisplike /th/ sound (for words spelled with a z or c before e or i) and replacement of the Castilian /ly/ sound (spelled ll) with a /y/ sound or even with the /zh/ sound of the z in English azure or the j in French jour.

In Spanish the case system of Latin has been completely lost except for subject and object forms for pronouns. Nouns are marked for masculine or feminine gender, and plurals are marked by the addition of -s or -es; adjectives change endings to agree with nouns. The verb system is complex but, by and large, regular: it uses indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods; preterite, imperfect, present, future, conditional, and a variety of perfect and progressive tenses; and passive and reflexive constructions.

The dialect spoken by most Spanish speakers is basically Castilian, and indeed Castellano is still the name used for the language in several American countries. The other languages spoken in Spain include Aragonese, Asturian, Basque, Caló, Catalan-Valencian-Balear, Extremaduran, Fala, and Galician. The ascendancy of Castilian among Spanish dialects is the result of the particular circumstances of the Reconquista (the conquest of Moorish Spain by the Christian states of Spain, completed in 1492), with which the language spread to the south. Having established itself in Spain, the Castilian dialect, possibly in its southern, or Andalusian, form, was then exported to the New World during the Age of Discovery from the mid-15th to the mid-16th century.

Standard Castilian is no longer the language of Old Castile, which was regarded as rustic and archaic already in the 15th century, but a modified form developed in Toledo in the 16th and 17th centuries and, more recently, in Madrid. Spanish-language American countries have developed their own standards, differing mainly in phonology (in which they often agree with the southern Spanish dialects) and in vocabulary (in which loanwords from English are more frequent), but differentiation is comparatively slight, and some Americans still regard true Castilian as their model. On the whole, American forms of Spanish are more musical and suave than the Castilian of Madrid, but it is remarkable how little deformation, or creolization, of the language has occurred.

Judeo-Spanish is the continuation of an archaic form of Castilian, reflecting the state of the language before 16th-century standardization. The expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 affected mainly the humbler classes, with the rich preferring “conversion,” but the latter often later chose voluntary exile to settle in England and the Netherlands, where their Sephardic tongue precariously survives as a religious language in a few communities. Earlier refugees fled to the Middle East and, once settled, continued to produce learned works in a literary archaic form of Castilian written in an adapted Hebrew script.

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