Corrugated City

Saturday 24 May 2008

Another Quirk Of Chilean Spanish

Re-reading my post from last year about how to speak Chilean Spanish I realised I'd completely forgotten to mention a quirk that I think is unique to Chile (please correct me if I'm wrong) and one that I really like. 

It's common in Chilean Spanish for people to be referred to as nouns. How so? An example:

-Donde esta la fiesta esta noche?
-Donde la Caro. 

-Where's the party tonight?
-It's at the Caro's house.

It's normal to use the definite article (el/la-the) when mentioning people's names and not only when referring to an object or non-human being. In 'proper' Spanish, talking about la Leo or el Pato would probably make you sound the equivalent of a wurzel driving a tractor or some red-neck from the Deep South. In Chilean Spanish it's perfectly fine. I've got so used to it that I don't even notice I'm doing it and I usually get laughed at when I'm back in Argentina with friends from over there. Particularly when referring to Chilean friends, it sounds really weird not using the definite article.

In my experience, it's more common to use the definite article when referring to girls names but it is also often used when referring to boys as well.

Chilean Spanish is harta pega but it's always entertaining.


Anonymous said...

A gringa named Tina:

La Tina Americana

Get it?

While Chileans generally sound like hicks or Scots to the rest of the world, the article preceding proper human names is downright offensive in places like Mexico, where it's fine to say "El Faido" when referring to the dog, but unacceptable when referring to another hyu-MON.

Donde Caro = Caro's house. Fine. But I prefer "Caro's place" which would also work if he had a restaurant called Donde Caro. Yes, it's common to see picadas throughout Santiago called Donde so-and-so, the words usually surrounded by quotation marks on hand-painted signs.

Matt said...

Yes. I get it. Very clever. Ish :)

I debated for about 2 seconds whether to put 'place' or 'house' and eventually decided on 'house' but i agree that 'place' is maybe a little better as a translation.

It's kind of weird but I only use the definite article when talking about Chilean friends. For example, when in Argentina I'll talk to Argentine friends about Chilean friends and use 'el' or 'la'. But when I talk about Argentine friends I won't. It's like it's become an actual part of their names.

Anonymous said...

It's okay, Matt. You're not weird.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! In Italy (particularly in the South I believe) they do this as well, but only when referring to females.

Matt said...

PC-interesting to hear it's also done in Italian and particularly in the south of italy, the area most Italians would probably refer to as Hicksville...!

Cool website by the way. Really interesting.

Lisa B. said...

It's been many. many years since I was in Chile, but while there I was told that using the article before a woman's name was considered fine, but to use it before a man's name was considered a bit vulgar. Perhaps things have changed (I was last there in '90-'91).

Matt said...

Hmmm, i've never been told that, but it is definitely more common to hear it before a girl's name, whether it's her full name or a diminutive. It's really normal with guys if you're using a nickname or diminutive, not so normal when using the full name. For example, it's not common to hear el Francisco, but it is common to hear el Pancho (in my experience).

Unknown said...

Don't forget the phenomenon in Chilean Spanish of vowel reduction in non-tonic positions. That is, the non-stressed E often becomes I, and the O becomes U in faster speech. I have heard this is a remnant from the Quechua language, but I have no evidence.

muchu = mucho
biso = beso
(the A may reduce to "uh" but rarely)

Just listen to Violeta Parra's music - you'll hear it.

Silvia said...

Hi Matt, I'm chilean and I've found your blog to be very funny and entertaining.
About the distinction for men and women:
Normally, you use the el/la for everyone, but sometimes one gets the habit of speaking of a certain guy without the el. (It's very common to talk about characters and famous people like this) This is acceptable.
But for women, we ALWAYS use la, if not, it sounds really weird to us. What we would call "siútico". Even if it's the name of your female dog you use "la ". The only case I can think of when one omits this is when talking about a fictitious character, like "Me gusta Penny de The big bang theory", or a famous person with a non-spanish name, but the last one is not always.