Nicaraguan Spanish II

I have been a studious linguist, keeping my ears wide open, listening for more of the characteristics of Nicaraguan Spanish for those of you who are interested. I have also done a little reading on commands in Nicaraguan Spanish and I have updated my first post.

Here are a few more things I have noted:

1. Velarization of /n/ This phenomenon does not surprise me at all. We actually talked a lot about this my Introduction to Spanish Linguistics course at SUNY Geneseo this past semester (such a great class!). I will explain it for those of you who are not fellow linguists.

To velarize a sound is to move the place of articulation (the place within your mouth there is some contact which helps to produce the sound) back to the velum. The velum is the soft part of your palate. If you trace your tongue backwards from your teeth you will feel your hard palate and then a softer part before you reach your uvula. That is your velum. A velar sound is produced when you press the back of your tongue up to the velum. To velarize /n/, it means that instead of touching the front of the tongue to the roof of your mouth behind your teeth (the alveolar ridge), you press the back of your tongue up to the velum. This is a sound that you make in English when you say the word sing and we use this symbol [ŋ] to represent it.

Velarization of /n/ in Spanish, when it happens (it does not happen in all dialects), happens when there is an n at the end of the word. I have heard it in words like “pan” or bread, “van” meaning they are going, “son” meaning they are, and “también” or also.

pan /pan/ –> [‘paŋ]

van /ban/ –> [‘baŋ]

son /son/ –> [‘soŋ]

tambien /tambjen/ –> [tam.’βjeŋ]

2. El Voseo I did not learn Spanish in an area that uses voseo, so I don’t really attempt to use it, even though it seems to be the norm. Voseo is the use of the pronoun vos to refer to the singular you (rather than you all) in informal situations. You can take a look at the charts below for the pronouns. Voseo in many cases also includes verb forms that are different from those used with the tú pronoun.

*Note: Dialectology of Spanish (as with any language that is spoken so broadly) is very complicated and it can be hard to generalizations. Here I am doing my best to be as accurate as possible, but there are always exceptions.

“You” Pronouns in Much of Spain
singular plural
informal vosotros(as)
formal usted ustedes
(In some areas in the south of Spain they use only ustedes for plural “you” like the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.)


“You” Pronouns in Latin American Dialects without Voseo
singular plural
informal ustedes
formal usted ustedes


“You” Pronouns in Latin American Dialects with Voseo
singular plural
informal vos ustedes
formal usted ustedes


I will also explain the verbal forms associated with the pronoun vos here in Nicaragua. These verbal forms that are used with vos can vary throughout the Spanish speaking world, so again I cannot make generalizations, but rather explain what I have observed here and what I have confirmed with a local native speaker. I have attempted to figure out the present subjunctive, but I haven’t heard it used enough to be sure exactly what the forms are. So I will stick with the present indicative and the command forms (which I talked about in the last post on Nicaraguan Spanish). Again, I will underline where the stress in the word is so that you can see the changes.

tense/mood subject -ar -er -ir ser estar ir tener dormir
present indicative hablas comes vives eres estás vas tienes duermes
vos hablás comés vivés sos estás vas tenés dormís
imperative (command) habla come vive es ve ten duerme
vos hab co vi es ve/ante te dor

It seems that for both the present indicative and the imperative, for the forms that do change (note that some remain the same), the stress shifts to the last syllable, rather than second to last. There is also no change in the stem for verbs like “dormir” in which o changes to ue normally. As for the imperative, we can see that there are three distinct endings for regular verbs, rather than just two.

I have asked whether it is offensive if I use tú and all of its verb forms with native speakers who generally use vos. I was told by one person that he thought it was rude, but this was on the mainland. And having asked several people on the island, they have told me that it is perfectly fine. It seems like they expect foreigners to use the Spanish that they have learned or grown up with, which is actually quite nice for us. For all you language teachers, this certainly supports the idea of communication over other smaller details on which some teachers insist on focusing.

3. Diminutives This is nothing radically different from other Spanish dialects, but it is something I have noticed is used a lot. A diminutive is a suffix (in the case of Spanish) that adds the meaning little to a word. The most common diminutive in Spanish is -ito which can change in gender and number depending on the word. You can also hear -ita, -itos, and -itas. In Spain I also heard -illo and -ico but these are really not widely used as far as I have seen. Anyway, it seems like everything is -ito here. All of the baby animals (which abound here) are -ito. So, the piglets are “chanchitos”, the chicks are “pollitos”, a baby horse is “caballito” and puppies are “perritos”. I suspect the pervasive use of diminutives may have something to do with the fact that I speak a lot with children who love to talk about animals.

4. More Slang One day a kindergartner arrived before all the others. He burst into tears. Little kids can be harder to understand than adults (although I spend a lot of my day talking to the kids here and I think I’m doing a swell job) and that is especially true when they are crying. I took him into the kitchen to talk to Esther, Alvaro’s wife, and she said it was because “No había otros chavalitos.” meaning there weren’t any other little kids. In Nicaraguan Spanish “chavalo” is a young guy and “chavala” is a young girl. This word exists in other countries and it is in the dictionary, but it is “chaval” for a young guy not “chavalo”. When you add “-ito” or “-ita” (as explained in part 3) it means little so “chavalitos” is kids.

Another thing I have noticed is the use of the word “regalar” which means to give as a gift. The word gift in Spanish is “regalo”. Here I have heard it used a lot instead of the verb “dar” which just means to give. For example I have heard “regaláme un vaso de agua” meaning give me a glass of water. Literally it would be give me the gift of a glass of water. I am thinking that perhaps it is a nicer way of asking for something. But still, if you take the word “regalar” at its literal meaning, it sounds a little bit silly. I can think of better gifts than a glass of water!


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