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About Spanish (Latin American) Language

Spanish (Latin American) How big are the language differences between Spain and Mexico? I've been studying Spanish from a teacher who has lived in Mexico, but now I'm planning a trip to Spain. This question or some variation of it comes up frequently. Many students have heard so much about how the Spanish of Spain (or Argentina or Cuba or fill-in-the-blank) is different that they're worried their months of study won't do them much good.

While the comparison isn't completely accurate, the differences between the Spanish of Spain and the Spanish of Latin America are something like the differences between British English and American English. People from throughout the Spanish-speaking world can communicate with other as easily as people throughout the English-speaking world can. There are differences, more so in the spoken language than in writing, but they aren't so extreme that you can't learn the differences as you need them.

Also, while it's easy to think of Latin American Spanish as one entity, as textbooks and lessons often do, you should note there are differences in the Spanish of various countries in the Western Hemisphere. But again, the differences aren't so extreme that they prevent communication.

If your pronunciation is reasonably good, whether your accent is Castilian or Mexican or Bolivian, you will be understood. Latin Americans watch movies from Spain, and Spaniards watch Latin American telenovelas (soap operas), so you can be assured the differences aren't all that that great. You might want to avoid slang or extreme colloquialisms, but standard educated Spanish is understood anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world.

However, some of the noticeable differences are:

Pronunciation: One of the main differences is that many Spaniards often pronounce the z and the c before i or e like the "th" in "thin," while many Latin Americans pronounce it the same as the s. Also, speakers in some areas (Argentina in particular) often pronounce the ll and y like the "s" in "measure." In some areas, you will hear speakers drop s sounds, so está sounds like etá. In some areas, the j sounds like the "ch" in "loch" (difficult for many native English speakers to master), while in others it sounds like the English "h." In some areas, the l and the r at the end of a word sound alike. If you listen to a variety of spoken Spanish, you'll notice other differences as well, particularly in the rhythm in which it is spoken.

Grammar: Two of the biggest differences, each worth a lesson in itself, are the leísmo of Spain and the use of the pronoun vos in some areas instead of tú. Another major difference is that vosotros is often used as the plural of tú (the singular familiar "you") in Spain, while in Latin American ustedes is usually used. There are also numerous small differences, many involving colloquial usage.

Vocabulary: Other than slang, probably the biggest class of vocabulary differences you'll come across is in the use of suffixes. A lápiz is a pencil or crayon everywhere, but a lapicero is a pencil holder in some areas, a mechanical pencil in others, and a ball-point pen in still others. There are also fair number of blatant differences, such as a computer being an ordenador in Spain but a computadora in Latin America, but they are probably no more common than the British-American differences. Of course, every area also has its quirky words. For example, a Chinese restaurant in Chile or Peru is called a chifa, but you won't run across that word in many other places.

Spanish or Castilian (español or castellano) is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several dialects and languages in the northern fringes of the Iberian Peninsula during the 10th century and gradually spread through the Kingdom of Castile, becoming the foremost language for government and trade in the Spanish Empire.

Latin, the basic foundation of the Spanish language, was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by Romans during the Second Punic War around 210 BC. During the 5th century, Hispania was invaded by Germanic Vandals, Suevi, Alans, and Visigoths, resulting in numerous dialects of Vulgar Latin. After the Moorish Conquest in the 8th century, Arabic became an influence in the evolution of Iberian languages including Castilian.

Modern Spanish developed with the Readjustment of the Consonants (es: Reajuste de las sibilantes del castellano) that began in 15th century. The language continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of other languages, as well as developing new words. Castilian was taken most notably to the Americas as well as to Africa and Asia Pacific with the expansion of the Spanish Empire between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.

As of 2010, 329 to 358 million people speak Spanish as a native language and a total of 417 million people speak it worldwide. It is the second most natively-spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese. Mexico contains the largest population of Spanish speakers. Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

History

Spanish evolved from Vulgar Latin introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by Romans during the Second Punic War around 210 BC, with some loan words from Arabic during the Andalusian period and other surviving influences from Basque and Celtiberian, as well as Germanic languages via the Visigoths.

Castilian is thought to have evolved in the northern fringes of the Iberian Peninsula during the 10th century along the remote crossroad strips among the Alava, Cantabria, Burgos, Soria and La Rioja provinces of Northern Spain (see Glosas Emilianenses), as a strongly innovative and differing variant from its nearest cousin, Leonese, with a higher degree of Basque influence in these regions (see Iberian Romance languages). Modern Spanish developed in Castile with the Readjustment of the Consonants (es:Reajuste de las sibilantes del castellano) during the 15th century. Typical features of Spanish diachronical phonology include lenition (Latin vita, Spanish vida), palatalization (Latin annum, Spanish año, and Latin anellum, Spanish anillo) and diphthongation (stem-changing) of short e and o from Vulgar Latin (Latin terra, Spanish tierra; Latin novus, Spanish nuevo). Similar phenomena can be found in other Romance languages as well.

This northern dialect from Cantabria was carried south during the Reconquista, and remains a minority language in the northern coastal Morocco.

The first Latin-to-Spanish grammar (Gramática de la lengua castellana) was written in Salamanca, Spain, in 1492, by Elio Antonio de Nebrija. When it was presented to Isabel de Castilla, she asked, "¿Para qué querría yo un trabajo como éste, si ya conozco la lengua?" ("What would I want a work like this for, if I already know the language?"), to which he replied, "Su alteza, la lengua es el instrumento del Imperio" ("Your highness, the language is the instrument of the Empire.") In his introduction to the first Spanish grammar, dated August 18, 1492, Nebrija wrote that "... language was always the companion of empire".

From the 16th century onwards, the language was taken to the Americas and the Spanish East Indies via Spanish colonisation. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra influence on the Spanish language from the 17th century has been so great that Spanish is often called la lengua de Cervantes (The language of Cervantes).

In the 20th century, Spanish was introduced to Equatorial Guinea and the Western Sahara, and to areas of the United States that had not been part of the Spanish Empire, such as Spanish Harlem in New York City. For details on borrowed words and other external influences upon Spanish, see Influences on the Spanish language.

Geographic Distribution

Spanish is recognized as one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the African Union, the Union of South American Nations, the Latin Union, and the Caricom and has legal status in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Hispanosphere

It is estimated that the combined total number of Spanish speakers is between 470 and 500 million, making it the third most spoken language by total number of speakers (after Chinese, and English). Spanish is the second most-widely spoken language in terms of native speakers. Global internet usage statistics for 2007 show Spanish as the third most commonly used language on the Internet, after English and Chinese.

Europe

In Europe, Spanish is an official language of Spain, the country after which it is named and from which it originated. It is widely spoken in Gibraltar, though English is the official language. It is the most spoken language in Andorra, though Catalan is the official language. It is also spoken by small communities in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Spanish is an official language of the European Union. In Switzerland, Spanish is the mother tongue of 1.7% of the population, representing the largest minority after the 4 official languages of the country.

Spain

In Spain and in some parts of the Spanish speaking world, but not all, it is rare to use the term español (Spanish) to refer to this language, even when contrasting it with languages such as French and English. Rather, people call it castellano (Castilian), that is, the language of the Castile region, when contrasting it with other languages spoken in Spain such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan. In this manner, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term castellano to define the official language of the whole Spanish State, as opposed to las demás lenguas españolas (lit. the rest of the Spanish languages).

El castellano es la lengua española oficial del Estado. (…) Las demás lenguas españolas serán también oficiales en las respectivas Comunidades Autónomas… Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. (…) The rest of the Spanish languages shall also be official in their respective Autonomous Communities

However, to some in other linguistic regions, this is considered as demeaning to them and they will therefore use the term castellano exclusively.

The name castellano (Castilian), which refers directly to the origins of the language and the sociopolitical context in which it was introduced in the Americas, is preferred particularly in the Spanish regions where other languages are spoken (Catalonia, Basque Country, Valencian Community, Balearic Islands and Galicia) as well as in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, instead of español, which is more commonly used to refer to the language as a whole in the rest of Latin America and Spain.

There is some controversy in Spain about the name of the language, which is a part of a greater controversy about Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalisms.

Africa

In Africa, Spanish is official in Equatorial Guinea (co-official with French and Portuguese), as well as an official language of the African Union. Today, in Western Sahara, an unknown number of Sahrawis are able to read and write in Spanish,and several thousands have received university education in foreign countries as part of aid packages (mainly in Cuba and Spain). In Equatorial Guinea, Spanish is the predominant language when native and non-native speakers (around 500,000 people) are counted, while Fang is the most spoken language by number of native speakers. It is also spoken in the Spanish cities in continental North Africa (Ceuta and Melilla) and in the autonomous community of Canary Islands (143,000 and 1,995,833 people, respectively). Within Northern Morocco, a former Franco-Spanish protectorate that is also geographically close to Spain, approximately 20,000 people speak Spanish as a second language. It is spoken by some communities of Angola, because of the Cuban influence from the Cold War, and in Nigeria by the descendants of Afro-Cuban ex-slaves.

Asia

During Spanish control, it was an official language of the Philippines, until the change of Constitution in 1973. During most of the colonial period it was the language of government, trade and education, and spoken mainly by Spaniards and mestizos as a first language and more significantly as a second language by more than half of the indigenous population . However, by the mid 19th century a free public school system in Spanish was established throughout the islands, which increased the numbers of Spanish speakers. Following the U.S. occupation and administration of the islands, the strong Spanish influence amongst the Philippine population proved to be a major foe against the imposition of English by the American government, especially after the 1920s. The US authorities' conducted a campaign of solidifying English as the medium of instruction in schools, universities, and public spaces and prohibited the use of Spanish in media and educational institutions which gradually reduced the importance of the language generation after generation. After the country became independent in 1946, Spanish remained an official language along with English and Tagalog-based Filipino. However, the language lost its official status in 1973 during the Ferdinand Marcos administration. Under the Corazón Aquino administration which took office in 1986, the mandatory teaching of Spanish in colleges and universities was also stopped, and thus, younger generations of Filipinos have little or no knowledge of Spanish. The Spanish language retains a large influence in local languages, with many words coming from or being derived from European Spanish and Mexican Spanish, due to the control of the islands by Spain through Mexico City.[86] As of the 1990 Philippine census, only 2,660 people were reported to speak Spanish as a first language, with most speakers residing in Manila. Moreover, close to four million people speak Spanish as a second language to date.

Spanish has made significant contributions to various Philippine languages such as Tagalog, Cebuano, and Hiligaynon. One of the 170 languages in the Philippines is a Spanish-based creole called Chavacano, spoken in majority by people (ca. 750 000) from the Zamboanga area. Though the indigenous grammatical structure of the national language was retained, over 5000 Spanish loanwords have found their way into the vocabulary of Filipino. Since 2009 Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a fluent Spanish speaker and current President of the Philippines has ordered the re-establishment of Spanish in the education system plus there is now the daily programme "Filipinas Ahora Mismo" presented by Bon Vivar, produced in Spanish and broadcast on Radio Pilipinas. The Spanish language is to be taught in select public schools in the country starting next school year. Quezon City Science High School is one of the first schools to instruct the language.

Oceania

Among the countries and territories in Oceania, Spanish is also spoken in Easter Island, a territorial possession of Chile. The U.S. Territories of Guam and Northern Marianas, and the independent states of Palau, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia all once had Spanish speakers, since the Marianas and the Caroline Islands were Spanish colonial possessions until the late 19th century (see Spanish-American War), but Spanish has since been forgotten. It now only exists as an influence on the local native languages and is spoken by Hispanic American resident populations.

Latin America

Most Spanish speakers are in Latin America; of all countries with a majority of Spanish speakers, only Spain and Equatorial Guinea are outside the Americas. Mexico has the most native speakers of any country. Nationally, Spanish is the official language—either de facto or de jure—of Argentina, Bolivia (co-official with Quechua and Aymara), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico , Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay (co-official with Guaraní), Peru (co-official with Quechua and, in some regions, Aymara), Uruguay, and Venezuela. Spanish is also the official language (co-official with English) in the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Spanish has no official recognition in the former British colony of Belize; however, per the 2000 census, it is spoken by 43% of the population. Mainly, it is spoken by the descendants of Hispanics who have been in the region since the 17th century; however, English is the official language.

Spain colonized Trinidad and Tobago first in 1498, introducing the Spanish language to the Carib people. Also the Cocoa Panyols, laborers from Venezuela, took their culture and language with them; they are accredited with the music of "Parang" ("Parranda") on the island. Because of Trinidad's location on the South American coast, the country is greatly influenced by its Spanish-speaking neighbors. A recent census shows that more than 1 500 inhabitants speak Spanish. In 2004, the government launched the Spanish as a First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative in March 2005. Government regulations require Spanish to be taught, beginning in primary school, while thirty percent of public employees are to be linguistically competent within five years.

Spanish is important in Brazil because of its proximity to and increased trade with its Spanish-speaking neighbors, and because of its membership in the Mercosur trading bloc. In 2005, the National Congress of Brazil approved a bill, signed into law by the President, making Spanish language teaching mandatory in both public and private secondary schools in Brazil. In many border towns and villages (especially in the Uruguayan-Brazilian and Paraguayan-Brazilian border areas), a mixed language known as Portuñol is spoken.

United States

In the 2006 census, 44.3 million people of the U.S. population were Hispanic or Latino by origin; 34 million people, 12.2 percent, of the population more than five years old speak Spanish at home. Spanish has a long history in the United States because many south-western states and Florida were part of Mexico and Spain, and it recently has been revitalized by Hispanic immigrants. Spanish is the most widely taught language in the country after English. Although the United States has no formally designated "official languages," Spanish is formally recognized at the state level in various states besides English; in the U.S. state of New Mexico for instance, 40% of the population speaks the language. It also has strong influence in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, New York City, and in the last decade, the language has rapidly expanded in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, Richmond, Washington, DC, and other major Sun-Belt cities. Spanish is the dominant spoken language in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. With a total of 33,701,181 Spanish (Castilian) speakers, according to US Census Bureau, the U.S. has the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking population. Spanish ranks second, behind English, as the language spoken most widely at home.

Dialectal variation

While all Spanish dialects use the same written standard, there are important variations spoken among the regions of Spain and throughout Spanish-speaking America. One major phonological difference between Castilian, broadly speaking, the dialects spoken in most of Spain, and the dialects of some parts of southern Spain and all the Latin American dialects of Spanish, is the absence of a voiceless dental fricative (/θ/ as in English thing) in the latter. In Spain, the Castilian dialect is commonly regarded as the standard variety used on radio and television, although attitudes towards southern dialects have changed significantly in the last 50 years. In addition to variations in pronunciation, minor lexical and grammatical differences exist. For example, loísmo is the use of slightly different pronouns and differs from the standard.

The variety with the most speakers is Mexican Spanish. It is spoken by more than the twenty percent of the Spanish speakers (107 millions of the total 494 millions, according to the table above). One of its main features is the reduction or loss of the unstressed vowels, mainly when they are in contact with the sound /s/. It can be the case that the words: pesos, pesas, and peces are pronounced the same ['pesə̥s].

Vocabulary

Some words can be different, even significantly so, in different Hispanophone countries. Most Spanish speakers can recognize other Spanish forms, even in places where they are not commonly used, but Spaniards generally do not recognize specifically American usages. For example, Spanish mantequilla, aguacate and albaricoque (respectively, 'butter', 'avocado', 'apricot') correspond to manteca, palta, and damasco, respectively, in Argentina, Chile (except manteca), Paraguay, Peru (except manteca and damasco), and Uruguay. The everyday Spanish words coger ('to take'), pisar ('to step on') and concha ('seashell') are considered extremely rude in parts of Latin America, where the meaning of coger and pisar is also "to have sex" and concha means "vulva". The Puerto Rican word for "bobby pin" (pinche) is an obscenity in Mexico, but in Nicaragua simply means "stingy", and in Spain refers to a chef's helper. Other examples include taco, which means "swearword" (among other meanings) in Spain and "traffic" in Chile, but is known to the rest of the world as a Mexican dish. Pija in many countries of Latin America and Spain itself is an obscene slang word for "penis", while in Spain the word also signifies "posh girl" or "snobby". Coche, which means "car" in Spain, central Mexico and Argentina, for the vast majority of Spanish-speakers actually means "baby-stroller", while carro means "car" in some Latin American countries and "cart" in others, as well as in Spain. Papaya is the slang term in Cuba for "vagina" therefore in Cuba when referring to the actual fruit Cubans call it fruta bomba instead.

Classification and related languages

Spanish is closely related to the other West Iberian Romance languages: Asturian, Galician, Ladino, Leonese and Portuguese. Catalan, an East Iberian language which exhibits many Gallo-Romance traits, is more similar to Occitan to the east than to Spanish or Portuguese.

Spanish and Portuguese have similar grammars and vocabularies as well as a common history of Arabic influence while a great part of the peninsula was under Islamic rule (both languages expanded over Islamic territories). Their lexical similarity has been estimated as 89%. See Differences between Spanish and Portuguese for further information.

Writing system

Spanish is written in the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the character ‹ñ› (eñe, representing the phoneme /ɲ/, a letter distinct from ‹n›, although typographically composed of an ‹n› with a tilde) and the digraphs ‹ch› (che, representing the phoneme /t͡ʃ/) and ‹ll› (elle, representing the phoneme /ʎ/). However, the digraph ‹rr› (erre fuerte, 'strong r", erre doble, 'double r', or simply erre), which also represents a distinct phoneme /r/, is not similarly regarded as a single letter. Since 1994 ‹ch› and ‹ll› have been treated as letter pairs for collation purposes, though they remain a part of the alphabet. Words with ‹ch› are now alphabetically sorted between those with ‹ce› and ‹ci› , instead of following ‹cz› as they used to.

Thus, the Spanish alphabet has the following 29 letters:

a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.

The letters "k" and "w" are used only in words and names coming from foreign languages (kilo, folklore, whiskey, William, etc.).

With the exclusion of a very small number of regional terms such as México (see Toponymy of Mexico), pronunciation can be entirely determined from spelling. Under the orthographic conventions, a typical Spanish word is stressed on the syllable before the last if it ends with a vowel (not including ‹y›) or with a vowel followed by ‹n› or ‹s›; it is stressed on the last syllable otherwise. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by placing an acute accent on the stressed vowel.

The acute accent is used, in addition, to distinguish between certain homophones, especially when one of them is a stressed word and the other one is a clitic: compare el ('the', masculine singular definite article) with él ('he' or 'it'), or te ('you', object pronoun), de (preposition 'of'), and se (reflexive pronoun) with té ('tea'), dé ('give' [formal imperative/third-person present subjunctive]) and sé ('I know' or imperative 'be').

The interrogative pronouns (qué, cuál, dónde, quién, etc.) also receive accents in direct or indirect questions, and some demonstratives (ése, éste, aquél, etc.) can be accented when used as pronouns. The conjunction o ('or') is written with an accent between numerals so as not to be confused with a zero: e.g., 10 ó 20 should be read as diez o veinte rather than diez mil veinte ('10.020'). Accent marks are frequently omitted in capital letters (a widespread practice in the days of typewriters and the early days of computers when only lowercase vowels were available with accents), although the RAE advises against this.

When ‹u› is written between ‹g› and a front vowel (‹e i›), it indicates a "hard g" pronunciation. A diaeresis (‹ü›) indicates that it is not silent as it normally would be (e.g., cigüeña, 'stork', is pronounced [θiˈɣweɲa]; if it were written ‹cigueña›, it would be pronounced [θiˈɣeɲa].

Interrogative and exclamatory clauses are introduced with Inverted question and exclamation marks (‹¿› and ‹¡›, respectively).

Grammar

Spanish is a relatively inflected language, with a two-gender system and about fifty conjugated forms per verb, but limited inflection of nouns, adjectives, and determiners. (For a detailed overview of verbs, see Spanish verbs and Spanish irregular verbs).

It is right-branching, uses prepositions, and usually, though not always, places adjectives after nouns - as most other Romance languages. Its syntax is generally Subject Verb Object, though variations are common. It is a pro-drop language (or null subject language), that is, it allows the deletion of pronouns which are pragmatically unnecessary, and is verb-framed.

 

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