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Spanish language
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Pronunciation · History · Orthography
Varieties · Names for the language
Determiners · Nouns · Pronouns
Adjectives · Prepositions · Adverbs
Verbs (conjugation · irregular verbs)
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Chilean Spanish (Spanish: Español Chileno or castellano de Chile) is the variety of Spanish spoken in most of Chile. Though still entirely mutually intelligible with standard Spanish, Chilean Spanish has distinctive pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and slang usage. Spanish speakers often say that Chileans speak very quickly. Non-native speakers who are competent in Spanish may find the Chilean variety to be difficult to understand unless they have built up an ear for it. The usual word employed to name the Spanish language in Chile is castellano (Castilian) and very seldom español (Spanish) as in other parts of Latin America.


Variation and accents

See also: Chilote Spanish

In Chile, there are significant differences between the Spanish spoken in the Northern, Central and Southern areas of the country, though overall the speech of the country is remarkably homogeneous, considering its geographical extent.[1]

Phonetics and phonology

There are a number of phonetic features common to most Chilean accents, though none of them individually are unique to Chilean Spanish. Rather, it is the particular combination of features that sets Chilean Spanish apart from other regional Spanish dialects. These features include:[2][3]

  • Yeísmo, the merger of the phonemes /ʎ/, spelled <ll>, with /j/, spelled <y>. Thus, cayó ("fell") and calló ("fell silent") are homophones, both pronounced [kaˈjo]. In dialects which lack yeísmo, the two words would be pronounced respectively [kaˈjo] and [kaˈʎo]. Though yeísmo is common to most of Latin America, it is not the case that this feature should be considered a Latin American one, because both in Spain and Latin America there are regions with and without "yeísmo". Even in Chile, there are some people, mostly elderly speakers in rural zones, that are not "yeístas".
  • Word- and syllable-final /s/ is aspirated to [h] or lost entirely, another feature common to much of Latin America. Whether final /s/ aspirates or is elided depends on a number of social, regional, and phonological factors, but in general aspiration is more common, especially when preceding a consonant. Complete elision is most commonly found word-finally, but is somewhat less common overall in formal or upper-class speech. Thus, los chilenos ("the Chileans") becomes [lɔh t͡ʃiˈleːnɔ].
  • The velar consonants /k/, /ɡ/, and /x/ are fronted or palatalized before front vowels. Thus, queso ("cheese"), guía ("guide"), and jinete ("rider/horseman") become respectively [ˈceːso], [ˈɣ̟ia], and [çiˈn̪eːt̪e].
  • Between vowels and word-finally, /d/ commonly elides or lenites (a process common throughout the Spanish-speaking world), so that contado ("told") and ciudad ("city") become respectively [kon̪ˈt̪aːo] and [sjuˈð̞aː].
  • The voiceless postalveolar affricate /t͡ʃ/ is pronounced as a fricative [ʃ] by many the lower-class speakers (thus, Chile becomes [ˈʃiːle]). Other variants are a fronted alveolar affricate, [t͡s], and an even more fronted dental affricate, [t̪ˢ].
  • The sequences [h]+[β̞] and [h]+[ɣ̞] (where the [h]s are the results of /s/-weakening) are devoiced to, respectively, [f] and [x]. Thus, resbaló ("slid") and rasgó ("tore") become respectively [rɛfaˈloː] and [raˈxoː] in some speakers.
  • The sequence /ɾn/ is sometimes assimilated to [nn]. Thus, jornada ("workday") may become [xonˈn̪aː].
  • In the sequence /bl/, the /b/ may be vocalized to [u]. Thus, inolvidable ("unforgettable") becomes [in̪olˈβ̞jaːule], in lower-class or no formal education speakers.
  • Lipski also mentions as distinctive the devoicing of word-final, unstressed vowels.

Pronouns and verbs

Chileans variably use the voseo and tuteo forms in the second person familiar, as in many Latin American countries.

Pronominal voseo consists of using the pronoun vos (in Chile, [βos], [β̞os], [βoh] or [β̞oh]) in place of for the second person singular familiar/informal.
Verbal voseo is the use of corresponding verb forms (tenís instead of tienes, hablái instead of hablas, etc.).

Voseo is common in Chile, with both Pronominal and Verbal voseo being widely used in the spoken language. However, unlike in neighboring Argentina, neither is deemed acceptable as part of any written document except as reported speech. Voseo of any kind is considered bad linguistic form and generally labels the speaker as unsophisticated, rude or lacking in education.

In Chile there are at least four grades of formality:

1. Pronominal and verbal voseo, that is, the use of the pronoun vos (with the corresponding voseo verbs).
For example: vos sabís, vos venís, vos hablái, etc.
This combination occurs only in very informal situations and should be approached and used with caution by foreigners. It is always considered rude and insulting but is tolerated and enjoyed as part of friendly bonding and banter. However, with even a slight change in intonation it can change from a tone of friendly banter to a form of insult in a heated argument, even among friends. Non-natives should refrain from using vos until sufficient understanding of its use is gained.

2. Verbal voseo, using the pronoun .
For example: tú sabís, tú tenís, tú hablái, tú vivís, etc.
This kind of voseo is the predominant form used in the spoken language.[4]

3. Standard tuteo.
For example: tú sabes, tú hablas, tú tienes, tú vienes, etc.
This is the only acceptable way of writing the informal second person. Because of this more literary facet, its use in spoken language is reserved for slightly more formal situations such as student-teacher or parent-child or peer-to-peer relations among people who aren't familiar with each other.

4. The use of the pronoun usted.
For example: usted viene, usted habla, usted tiene, etc. Used for all business and other formal interactions, as well as upwards in situations where one person is considered to be well respected, older or of an obviously higher social standing. Stricter parents will demand this kind of speech from their children as well.

The Chilean voseo conjugation has only three irregular verbs in the indicative present: ser, ir, and haber.


In Chile there are various ways to say "you are" to one person. From the least to the most formal:

Vos soi
Tú soi
Vos erís
Tú erís
Tú eres
Usted es


A comparison of the conjugation of the Chilean voseo, the general voseo used in Latin American countries except Chile and Venezuela, and the tuteo.

Form Indicative Subjunctive
Present Past Conditional Present Past
Voseo (Chile) caminái,
Voseo (general) caminás,
camines, caminés*
traigas, traigás*
vivas, vivás*
Tuteo caminas,

*Rioplatense Spanish prefers the tuteo forms, whereas in Central America and Colombia the voseo forms are used.


Chilean Spanish has a great deal of distinctive slang and vocabulary. Some examples of distinctive Chilean slang include chaucha (money), gallo/a (guy/gal), fome (boring), pololear (to go out as girlfriend/boyfriend)[5 ], pelambre (gossip), poto (buttocks)[6], quiltro (mutt) and chomba (knitted sweater)[5 ]. In addition, several words in Chilean Spanish are loaned from neighboring Amerindian languages:

Coa and Lunfardo expressions

Lunfardo is an argot of the Spanish language that originated in the late 19th century among lower classes of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Coa is an argot common among criminals in Chile. It has been heavily influenced by Lunfardo. Examples of Lunfardo and Coa words and phrases in Chilean Spanish are:[7]

  • Bacán - "awesome".
  • Echar la foca (lit. throw the seal/breath) - to severely address someone or express disapproval or disappointment.
  • Hacer perro muerto (lit. do a dead dog) - to dine and dash or do something similar.

Mapudungun loanwords

The Mapudungun language has left a relatively small number of words in Chilean Spanish, given its relatively large geographic expanse. Most Mapudungun loans are names for plants and animals for example:[8]

  • Cahuín[9] - a rowdy, usually drunken, gathering, also gossip
  • Pucho - a cigarette or cigarette bud.
  • Copihue - Chile's national flower
  • Coipo, a species of rodent.[10]
  • Culpeo - a fox species.
  • Guata - belly, stomach.[9]
  • Huala
  • Huichicheo - mockery.[7]
  • Huichipirichi - a childish shriek.[7]
  • Maqui
  • Luma - a genus of the Myrtaceae plant family.
  • Pichintún - a small amount or very little.[9]
  • Yeco

Quechua loanwords

The Quechua language is probably the Amerindian language that has given Chilean Spanish the largest number of loan words. For example, the names of many American vegetables in Chilean Spanish are derived from Quechuan names, rather than from Nahuatl or Taíno as in Standard Spanish. Some of the words of Quechuan origin include:[8]

  • Callampa - "mushroom" (seta in Standard Spanish)
  • Cancha - field, pitch, slope (ski), runway (aviation)[9]
  • Chacra - a small farm[9]
  • Chala - "sandal"[9] (sandalia in Standard Spanish)
  • Chasca - "tassle" can also be diminutized to "Chasquilla" which means bangs (of hair)
  • China - a female servant in a hacienda or fundo[9]
  • Choclo - "maize/corn" (maíz in Standard Spanish)
  • Chúcaro - "spirited/wild" used traditionally by Huasos to refer to a horse
  • Chupalla - a type of hat[9]
  • Chupe - "soup/chowder"
  • Cocaví - "snack/lunch" or "picnic"
  • Cochayuyo - a type of algae[9]
  • Guagua - "baby" (bebé in Standard Spanish) pronounced like wahwah
  • Guanaco - a native camelid animal
  • Huacho - an orphan or illegitimate children. also used as an adjective meaning 'lone' or 'without a pair', as in a matchless sock.
  • Huaso - a country bumbkin or horseman[9]
  • Huincha - a strip of wool or cotton or a tape measure
  • Humita - an Andean dish similar to the Mexican Tamale
  • Locro - an Andean stew dish
  • Mate - an infusion made of yerba mate
  • Mote - a type of dried wheat
  • Palta - "avocado" (aguacate in varieties of Spanish that derive the name from Nahuatl)
  • Poroto - "bean" (judía/alubia in Standard Spanish)
  • Yapa - lagniappe
  • Zapallo - "squash/pumpkin" (calabaza in Standard Spanish)


An example of a text in normal, relaxed pronunciation in Chilean Spanish, from [1]:

Text ¡Cómo corrieron los chilenos Salas y Zamorano! Pelearon como leones. Chocaron una y otra vez contra la defensa azul. ¡Qué gentío llenaba el estadio! En verdad fue una jornada inolvidable. Ajustado cabezazo de Salas y ¡gol! Al celebrar [Salas] resbaló y se rasgó la camiseta.
("Standard", careful, Latin American Spanish)
[ˈkomo koˈrjeɾon los tʃiˈlenos ˈsalas i samoˈɾano | peleˈaɾoŋ ˈkomo ˈle‿ones | tʃoˈkaɾon ˈuna j‿ˈot̪ɾa ˈβ̞es ˈkon̪t̪ɾa la ð̞eˈfens aˈsul | ˈke xen̪ˈt̪io ʝeˈnaβ̞a‿el esˈt̪að̞jo | em beɾˈð̞að̞ ˈfwe‿una xoɾˈnað̞a‿inolβ̞iˈð̞aβ̞le | axusˈt̪að̞o kaβ̞eˈsaso ð̞e ˈsalas i ˈɣ̞ol | al seleˈβ̞ɾaɾ rezβ̞aˈlo‿i se razˈɣ̞o la kamiˈset̪a]
(Chilean Spanish)
[ˈkoːmo kɔˈɹjeːɾon̪ lɔh ʃiˈleːn̪o ˈsaːla‿i samoˈɾaːn̪o | peˈljaːɾoŋ komo ˈljoːn̪ɛh | ʃoˈkaːɾon̪ ˈuːn̪a j‿ot͡ɹ̝̥a ˈβ̞eːh kon̪t͡ɹ̝̥a la‿eˈfeːns aˈsuːl | ˈceː çen̪ˈt̪iːo jeˈn̪aː‿el eˈʰt̪aːð̞jo | ʔem bɛɾˈð̞aː ˈfweː‿un̪a xonˈn̪aː‿in̪olˈβ̞iaːule | ʔaxuˈʰt̪aːo kaβeˈsaːso‿e ˈsaːla‿i ˈɣ̞oːl | ʔal seleˈβ̞ɾaː ɹɛfaˈloː‿i se ɹaˈxoː la kamiˈseːt̪a]
Translation "How those Chileans Salas and Zamorano ran! They fought like lions. They beat again and again against azul's defense. What a crowd filled the stadium! In truth it was an unforgettable day. A tight header from Salas and...goal! Celebrating, Salas slid and ripped his shirt."

See also


  1. ^ Lipski (1994: 196)
  2. ^ Lipski (1994: 199-201)
  3. ^ Sáez Godoy, Leopoldo. "El dialecto más austral del español: fonética del español de Chile". Unidad y divesidad del español, Congreso de Valladolid. Centro Virtual Cervantes. Retrieved 2007-08-12.  
  4. ^ Lipski (1994: 201-2)
  5. ^ a b Real Academia Española
  6. ^ Lipski (1994: 203)
  7. ^ a b c Joelson, Daniel. Chilenismos : a dictionary and phrasebook for Chilean Spanish.  
  8. ^ a b Zúñiga, Fernando (2006-06-11). "Tras la huella del Mapudungun" (in sp). El Mercurio. Centro de Estudios Publicos. Retrieved 2007-11-12.  
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Correa Mujica, Miguel (2001). [ "Influencias de las lenguas indígenas en el español de Chile"] (in sp). Espéculo. Revista de estudios literarios.. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Retrieved 2009-05-31.  
  10. ^ "Coypu". Retrieved 2007-11-12.  


  • Lipski, John M. (1994). Latin American Spanish. Essex, England: Longman Group Limited.

External links

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