El voseo en Chile y porqué no es “mal castellano”

Post originalmente publicado acá. Traducido por el autor.

Debido a varias peticiones, he decidido traducir mi artículo sobre el voseo en Chile, que llama mucho la atención a quiénes aprenden el castellano como también hablantes nativos interesados en Chile.

Muchos de ustedes ya conocen que para la segunda persona singular, el castellano hace la distinción entre la variante formal e informal: usted y tú (nótese que sólo usted lleva mayúscula al inicio cuando es abreviado, es decir Ud. y el resto con minúscula). Sin embargo, muchos variantes y dialectos utilizan el voseo parcialmente o completamente reemplazando a tú. Las dos grandes regiones que han reemplazado al tú por el voseo en casi todas las ocasiones (sino completamente) son la del Río de la Plata (Argentina, Uruguay y Paraguay) y América Central (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador y Honduras). Sin embargo, hay también zonas en donde el voseo convive con el tú debido a diferentes razones. Una de ellas es mi país de origen, Chile.

Pese a que gran parte de la comunicación escrita en Chile utiliza tú (con la excepción de la publicidad apuntada a jóvenes, y solamente hace unos años), mucha gente utiliza oralmente el voseo en casa, con amigos o en muchas interacciones informales. Ya que tú y vos viven juntos, muchas de las conjugaciones también son diferentes a las otras regiones voseantes. No obstante, la conjugación el voseo chileno llega a ser intuitiva y con una lógica fácil de seguir.

La típica conjugación regular es de la siguiente manera:

Voseo 4

Ya que el castellano es una lengua que evita utilizar pronombres personales salvo para énfasis, mucha gente no utiliza la palabra vos. Además, ya que el castellano chileno hace gran uso de las aspiraciones de la s, los verbos en voseo están escritos de diferentes maneras. Y aquí viene la parte triste:

Por muchos años, la sociedad chilena ha tenido una autopercepción negativa de cómo hablan. Muchos lingüistas le han echado la culpa a las políticas educacionales del siglo XIX ya que sostenían que la lengua debía estar estandarizada para crear una identidad nacional única y homogénea (ya que se debía construir un estado-nación). Esto creó una mirada negativa sobre lo que ya existía lingüísticamente: palabras provenientes de las lenguas indígenas, el desarrollo del voseo, aspiraciones y otras características. Pese a que ellas se han mantenido en el tiempo y la gente las utiliza en casa o con amigos, en situaciones públicas o con figuras de autoridad cerca, se cambiaba de inmediato a un registro más estándar. Todo esto fue la percepción hegemónica y fue reforzada en los 70 y 80 (cuando miro programas de televisión chilenos de aquel entonces, siento que la manera de hablar suena “poco natural”). Desde los 90, ha comenzado un lenta, pero constante toma de conciencia sobre el castellano chileno, con una mirada positiva y usándolo en medios de comunicación y en la mayoría de contextos, pero usándolo bien. Gran parte de la publicidad para jóvenes utiliza el voseo y su uso oral (en televisión y radio) es muy común. Lamentablemente, todavía no ha sido estandarizado en escrito debido a esa percepción negativa, pero estoy seguro y espero presenciar que el voseo sea completamente aceptado y estandarizado en su variante escrita.

Las reglas del voseo chileno se pueden resumir en 3 puntos:

Voseo 5

Como ya he dicho, debido a una percepción negativa y el poco uso de los pronombres personales, la gente en Chile evita usar vos, salvo en ciertos contextos, como al estar enojado con alguien o mientras uno bromea con amigos. Tanto el tono como el contexto pueden informarte sobre esto. Para evitar decir vos, mucha gente reemplaza el pronombre vos por tú. Así, mucha gente diría (tú) tenís, (tú) sentís y no (vos) tenís ni (vos) sentís al utilizar voseo, para evitar ofender a alguien.

Para ya terminar esto, les adjunto un dato curioso sobre el voseo. Debido a todo lo anterior, ¿qué opinarían si les digo que el verbo ser puede tener hasta 5 formas de decirlo en la segunda persona singular informal? ¡Probablemente es uno de los pocos verbos que tiene 3 conjugaciones y que al combinarlas te dan 5 formas! En la imagen a continuación, verán cómo se conjuga y usa, desde la manera más estándar al inicio y la manera que quizás quieras evitar en la mayoría de contextos al final.

Voseo

Como diría el lingüista chileno Darío Rojas: “Hablar bien consiste en ser ubicado”.

¿Cuáles son sus percepciones del voseo? ¿Han experimentado percepciones negativas de algunas palabras o variantes en su proceso de aprendizaje de idiomas? ¡Compartan sus impresiones en los comentarios!

Y si les interesa aprender más sobre el castellano, pueden contactarme en italki.

Voseo in Chile and why it isn’t “Wrong Spanish”

As you may have seen, once a month there will be a post about Spanish language and certain pecularities that might call the attention of learners and potential ones. This time I’ll get quite personal and devote this post to my own local variety and one of its more evident features: voseo.

Sure, you might have learned that for the second person singular, Spanish makes the distinction between formal and informal register: Usted and tú (note: only Usted has capital letters). However, several dialects also have voseo partially or completely replacing tú. The two biggest regions that have replaced it in most circumstances and even use it in mainstream advertising are the River Plate one (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay) and Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras). However, there are other regions in which voseo lives along with tú due to different reasons. One of them is my country, Chile.

Despite the fact that most written things are done in tú (with the exception of advertisement targeted to younger audiences, and only recently), most people will use voseo at home, with friends or in several informal settings. Also, due that tú and vos live along, even the conjugations are different to the other voseo regions. However, the conjugation becomes quite intuitive and follows a certain logic that is easy to grasp.

The typical, regular conjugations will be, then:

Voseo (2)

Since Spanish is a pro-drop language, most people would avoid saying pronouns as much as they can. Also, Chilean Spanish is well known for aspiration of most s’s, thus you may see voseo written in many ways. And now, here comes the sad part:

For a long time, Chilean society had had a negative perception of its own variety. Many linguists and academics have blamed 19th century educational policies for this, which held that language had to be standarized at any cost, in order to create a single, national and homogenous identity (since a nation-state had to be constructed). This created a negative perception of what used to be there linguistically: loan words from indigenous languages, the development of voseo, aspiration, among other features. Despite many people would use all of these at home or with friends, in public situations with someone of a higher hierarchy nearby, people would tend to use a more standarized feature of the language. That was the mainstream perception, even when mass media arrived to Chile and it was well fostered during the 70s and 80s (whenever I watch old Chilean shows from that time, I feel the language sounds “not natural”). Since the 90s, there has been a slow, but steady process of accepting these features in media and in mainstream society, but using it well. Many adverts targeted to young people use it and it is quite frequent to use it in oral media (locally produced television or radio). To my and many fellow learners’ disgrace, it has yet to be standarized in written language due to the previous perception I have mentioned, but I am quite determined and hopeful that one day, the negative perception of voseo will be dumped and it’d be accepted and standarized in written form.

The rules of when to use voseo in Chile are summarized in these 3 points:

Voseo (1)

As I’ve said before, both due to pro-drop and a previous negative perception, people in Chile avoid to say vos as much as they can, unless in special situations, such as when they are very angry at someone or when teasing among friends. Again, the tone and context can tell you plenty of this. To avoid that and still use voseo, many people would replace the pronoun vos for tú. Thus, most people will say (tú) tenís, (tú) sentís and not (vos) tenís, (vos) sentís while using voseo, to avoid offending someone or so.

To wrap up things, I will attach a curious thing about voseo. Due to all of the previous things I’ve said, what would be your reaction if I tell you that the verb ser (to be) can have up to 5 forms in the second person singular informal variant? It is probably one of the few verbs I know that has three conjugations in voseo which can be combined up to 5 times! On the following image you’ll see how they can be conjugated and used from the most standard on the top, from the one you might want to avoid using under most circumstances on the bottom.

Voseo (3)

As a renowed Chilean linguist (Darío Rojas) would say, “to speak well means to be aware of the context you are in”.

 

What are your perceptions of voseo? Have you experienced negative perceptions of certain words and varieties in your language learning process? Share it in the comments!
And if you are interested to learn more Spanish, feel free to contact me on Italki.

 

Interview with Kendal Knetemann from LingoHut.com

Today I am featuring an interview with Kendal from LingoHut.com, a site which teaches the very essential phrases and structures from several languages online (with a user-friendly interface, of course) and has been well used in several states in the US to train public servants, police officers, among other people involved in the public administration. Her life history is a good example of how a then-complicated language situation can empower you and lead you to better things in the future.

Kendal

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? How have your life experiences shaped your relationship with languages?

My name is Kendal Knetemann, I live in Colorado, USA.  I have been married for 30 years and we have two children.  Both my husband and I had to learn English when we moved to the USA in the early 80’s.  My husband’s mother tongue is Dutch and my mother tongue is Spanish. The importance of language has been a part of our lives and family since we started our voyage together in the 80’s.

In the 90’s my husband and I had the opportunity to live in Dusseldorf Germany for one year, where I was yet exposed to another language.  I again needed to learn Germany to assimilate to the new culture.  In those days we learned through books, tape cassettes and practice with anyone that was willing to listen to my silly German.  I can’t say I got fluent in German but I do understand it and speak at an elementary level.  After this experience we came back to Colorado. I became a certified teacher and worked in the public schools system in Colorado for many years.  During my career as an educator, I started a before and after school language program at our school, where I managed and supervised the French and German classes and I taught the Spanish classes. I loved running this program. It taught me if you give the love of language to a young child it would inspire them to continue their language learning journey.

After the positive experience teaching both adults and children in my community Spanish. A big change in my life happen in 2003 when my husband and I decided to become entrepreneurs and start our own online language business. The first thing we needed to do was build a platform that could teach Spanish, once completed.  We developed the training material for different Public Safety Communities such as police, 9-1-1 dispatch, corrections, ect.  We could not have done this without the help of professionals in that field, we spend countless hours with each one of them learning their needs. Lastly we needed to get the training recorded by professionals and onto our platform.  With many startup struggles we finally launched SpanishOnPatrol.com, our first website in 2005.  This endeavor has been a ride with many peaks and valleys just like life. The peaks have been fun but the valleys have been very challenging.

In 2008 we decided to start yet another website using the same platform but a different marketing model.  We started the process over again with different professions such as educators, healthcare providers, bankers, relators, and more.  LanguageAuthority.com was born.

Then in 2012 we decided to use the platform again, but this time to help refugees around the world help themselves assimilate into a new culture. So we put our thinking cap on and created an international website for people needing or desiring to learn a new language, which is when LingoHut.com became part of the World Wide Web. This website needed to be completely free to the user so again we tackled yet a new marketing model.

LingoHut’s unique platform focuses on basic conversational skills and word pronunciation.  We do not focus on the fundamentals of language as there are many websites available that concentrate on this area. LingoHut provides short interactive lessons and quick easy games to provide the student the knowledge needed to build a large pool of language wisdom.

It turns out that LingoHut does not only help refugees it also helps tourist, teachers, students, shopkeepers, polyglots wanting to be expose yet to another language, and senior citizens hopping to delay dementia.  This website has exceeded our expectations for sure.

 

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

It was a necessity.  I had to leave at the young age of 14 alone my homeland overnight, being displaced because of a war from everything I knew even the language I spoke.  That is how I got involve with language. Survival motived me. As I mentioned I left Nicaragua overnight by myself. My parents and siblings stayed back to protect our belonging, business and home. All to be lost a year and half later.  These were very difficult scary times for me and my family.
Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

You see the family I was placed with on my arrival to the USA had no experience with Spanish or dealing with a refugee.  I had to learn English quickly, to fit in and understand what was going on around me. Of course once my family joined me we all had to assimilate plus my sibling also needed to learn English.

My big break in life was after a few years in America I found a terrific friend that came from the Netherlands.  We practice English together a lot.  We worked hard on not having an accent and making sure we articulated every word that came out of our mouths.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them?  What are your tricks for that language?

I would like to learn how to speak Dutch fluently.  I practice on LingoHut.com, record myself speaking and practice communicating with my husband. You see that friend I made from the Netherlands early in my journey in America, I married a few years later. I find that recording oneself and being your own critic is the best way to improve your language skills.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?

Of course, I would love to have the time to learn Chinese, Thai and Italian but at this time I have no time to focus on the time it takes to learn them.  Someday maybe!!

Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?

Sure, I was at an international law enforcement conference in San Antonio Texas when I meet a policemen from Albania.  We got talking and he was sharing that he had found a terrific website to learn English from his native language.  I asked him which one, his response LingoHut.com.  I just smiled.  He asked if I had ever heard about it, I said yes.  I told him that LH website was mine.  He was so surprised, all he could do was hug me and say kind words about the site.

Do you want to connect with Kendal and ask her more questions? Feel free to check out her Facebook page or leave a comment.

3 curious things related to language in Poland

About 4 years ago, I traveled for the first time to Poland and ever since I have gone there for two more times (in one instance, I spend two weeks in rather residential neighborhoods and constantly using the language with friends, acquaintances and shopkeepers, ticket sellers, et al). Of course, as a good language lover, I always pay attention to signs in the street or whatever is written on labels or message boards. Sometimes, they are the best way to learn words or grammar constructions people use in order to sound more natural and at a proper context.

However, many of them have called my attention due to their peculiarity; that they tell you about local history or that people use those same structures in other languages, which makes translations sometimes look awkward. Here are 3 things that have always called my attention in Poland regarding language:

  • NIEMIECKA CHEMIA / CHEMIA Z NIEMIEC, or German is better (when it comes to cleaning products)

    If you ever go to a residential area in Poland, you will find these signs all over buildings. Chemia means both chemistry and domestic cleaning products (chemia gospodarcza), yet… why Germany and why when you enter one you can even find German sweets and household items? Let’s go back to the early 90s. Many people were struggling with economical changes and so. For others, it became a business opportunity by setting up shops that sold German cleaning products bought by bulk from supermarkets in Germany and taking advantage of a local belief that German cleaning products were more effective (Remember kombinować). So, an independent network of Chemia z Niemiec shops were set up and they also started bringing German sweets (Haribo or Tschibo coffee) and so. Sure, most of those brands can be found in almost all shops in Poland (with Polish labels) and many times there have been announcements that cleaning products bought in Poland work as well as their German counterparts and are cheaper… yet, some people still get their cleaning products from these shops. Probably, they like their service and how close to them they are.

  • ZAPRASZAMY DO / POLECAM, or Polish politeness

    You are starving in Poland and you are looking for a place to eat so badly that you manage to find a nice-looking place looking at the street. Usually a sign promoting the restaurant will be there along with the words “ZAPRASZAMY DO RESTARAUCJI” as well with today’s menu or specialties. Most of them can be quite mouth-watering, but the sign will be in a very welcoming language. Literally “we invite (you) to the restaurant”. Other similar sounding expression is “POLECAM”, usually found in adverts with celebrities. They personally “recommend” buying or consuming a certain product. Comparing to other adverts I would see in other countries, language in Polish advertisements does seem more inviting, personalized and even polite to potential users and customers.

  • “We know, what You like” or Polish overpoliteness in English
    While going around a shopping center in Gdynia, I found this sign that I thought it was quite weird in its construction.

    I felt somewhat intimidated… they pretended to know what I like, but that wasn’t what I like! What I really like is good grammar and knowing where it is okay to use one form over the other.
    A common problem for many Polish native speakers is this kind of phrasal constructions and a language that may seem too formal for others. From what I have been told, capitalization in pronouns in Polish only happens with the second person, regardless of number and formality (unlike, for example, Spanish or German which only uses it in the second personal formal, or English which uses it in certain formal constructions and always the first person singular pronoun is capitalized). I am quite aware of the good intention, to show appreciation and respect for your fellow speaker, but these kinds of things in a different language do not have the same impact than in Polish. Yes, also the comma to mark subordinate clauses is also a common mistake with Poles, but I mainly wanted to focus myself in the use of You.

All of these things are commonly found in Poland and have called my attention for good and bad reasons. Of course, there are plenty of things that might be different in one place and the other, but the biggest conclusions I can draw from this piece of writing are: know your audience well and when in doubt, ask for someone to proofread things, even in your native language.

Are there more things that have called your attention in Polish or in other languages? Share them in the comments.