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The Language Adapted by Chilean People

The Language Adapted by Chilean People
By Patricia Hernández Febres

(March 26, 2004, Ed. note: In the following essay, former McGill University professor Patricia Hernandez Febres, currently residing in Santiago, takes a humorous glance at Chilean “Castellano.”

Chileans, as anyone who’s spent a bit of time here has undoubtedly noticed, have their own unique way of speaking Spanish.

There’s the slang – something, as Hernandez Febres points out, that can get you into trouble if you’re not careful. Pronunciation can also be a challenge if you’re not used to it. “Gracia,” the way most Chileans pronounce the word “gracias” (thank you), actually means “grace,” according to professor Hernandez Febres.

Finally there are those strange Chilean verb conjugations. What does “como e’tai?” mean anyway?)

The following is an article that I originally wrote in Spanish called “The Language Adapted by the Chilean People.” After reading the article “Gaffs and Laughs with the Spanish Language” by Debora Lin, which I enjoyed very much, I decided to translate some parts of it and include them in my own essay.

I like these subjects because I am obsessed with words, the ways they are used, and the different ways Spanish (or Castellano) is used in Spain and in Latin America. By the way, I am a Spanish Literature teacher (I was a former teacher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada – many years ago – and in The Colegio Nueva Granada in Bogota, Colombia). We have also been traveling around Latin American and other countries for more than 20 years. The first thing I do, something that I also recommend to others, is to consult the “Diccionario de la Academia Española” and see if the words you encounter are colloquial to the region, slang or correct Spanish.

On my list of “chilenismos” (Chileanisms) I am including the ones that Debora Lin mentioned, like “pico.” As she said, “pico” in Chile is “garabato” (swear word). And “garabato” is a “chilenismo” that means, in correct Spanish, “grosería.”

When we came to Santiago we were looking for an apartment, and after seeing many, we moved to the one we are living in now, in Vitacura. Well, at that time I asked the real estate woman who was helping us if in the “pico” of rush-hour, this apartment was far away from down town… She did not answer and when I repeated my question, her face turned red and said that I could not say “pico” in Chile because it was a “garabato.” Then I ask my “nana” (maid) about it and she said laughing and shamelessly, that it was the best part of a man’s body.

Here is a funny anecdote that really happened to a Colombian lady when she went to the gynecologist at Clinica Las Condes, which, by the way, should be Clinica Los Condes, because ‘Condes’ is masculine). The doctor told her “Señora take your “pollera” (falda in Spanish and skirt in English) off and wait for me in the “piso.” The Spanish word “piso” is floor in English. When the gynecologist came back, the woman was seated nude, on the floor. “What are you doing there?” he asked. ” Well, doctor, you told me to be seated on the floor…” The confusion is that in Chile “piso” is “un banquito” or stool in English…

When you hear “Tú cachai poh,” that should be translated as “Tú entiendes, pues” (you understand). So, you understand…The changes Chilean people make to Spanish include the suppression of the “s” and sometimes of the “d.” Then you hear “gracia” (grace in English) instead of “gracias” (thanks). And “doh” instead of “dos” (two).

But the tough part is to understand the way they conjugate verbs. They confuse the second person of the plural, VOSOTROS with the second person of the singular TU in the verbs. For example, Chileans say, “¿Cómo ‘tu tai'” when they are trying to said “¿Cómo estás tú?” (How are you?). However “¿Cómo estais?” is the correct way for the VOSOTROS. They should say “¿Cómo estás?” Besides, as they do not pronounce the s, you just hear ‘tai’ – ¿Cómo tú ‘taí’?……

Another example: “¿Qué ‘vai’ a hacer?” The correct way is “¿Qué vas a hacer?” (What are you going to do?).

Here’s another one: “¿Cómo te ‘punite’?” The correct way is “¿Cómo te pusieron?” (What did they do to you?).

Ok, one more example: “¿Qué ‘queri’?” The correct way is “¿Qué quieres?” (What do you want?).