I know the Castillians lisp, but that's about it.
August 27, 2010 7:37 PM   Subscribe

How different are Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican Spanish?

This came up recently in the context of something I was writing. I don't speak any Spanish myself, and I don't know any native speakers well. But I was curious. (A couple of the old AskMe threads discussed how there's really no "standard" or "neutral" Spanish, but none really got into how different they are. Except for actual Spain Spanish, which is quite distinct.)

Is the difference as slight as the difference between the standard American and standard Canadian accents? As distinct as the difference between an American and a Scot? As nearly mutually unintelligible as say, Cockney and Louisiana Creole?

I'm sure region counts for a lot, just as it does in English. And age and education and all that sort of stuff. But if you were to consider the average, literate, TV-watching person, are differences between Spanish as it's spoken in the islands and Spanish in Mexico so big as to make it dicey to understand each other or so slight it's more a few words here and there which ring funny to the ear?
posted by Diablevert to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a semester in Mexico once upon a time. Mexican Spanish is clearer than the Spanish of other countries, to learners of Spanish. Mexicans tend to pronounce all of the letters of the word, making it seem clearer. Cubans and Puerto Ricans tend to speak faster than Mexicans, and not pronounce the "s". That said, the Spanish spoken amoung these countries is not remarkably different, and not hard for a native speaker to understand.
posted by bearette at 7:47 PM on August 27, 2010

I knew a spanish girl who made fun of mexican spanish, a mexican guy who made fun of puerto rican slang, and a puerto rican who made fun of the spanish lisp. All three could tell generally where someone was from (central america, spain, or south america) after a few minutes, sometimes down to the country or territory they were from, like ecuador or puerto rico.
posted by wayland at 7:49 PM on August 27, 2010

yeah, even for a non-native speaker, it's often pretty easy to tell what SPanish-speaking country someone is from by their Spanish accent.
posted by bearette at 7:51 PM on August 27, 2010

I learned Mexican spanish in school. After three years, my (Spanish) grandma still made fun of me. Neither of us could understand my Cuban cousins. Cuban spanish is kinda like that version of English Brad Pitt's character uses in "Snatch".
posted by notsnot at 8:07 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

My Spanish (learned in Florida from Cuban teachers and used usefully all over S. Florida) was harshly criticized by a Puerto Rican friend as being "harsh sounding and unintelligible". I couldn't understand what she was saying either as all of her V's as soft B's and some S's (not all) as a soft Th (I think that's a voiceless dental fricative). My Spanish skills also seems less than useful when trying to speak to any of the Mexican or Guatemalan folks in my neighborhood.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:22 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would say that there very much is a standard, neutral Spanish!

They have been working hard at maintaining it for almost 300 years.

I am a native Spanish speaker from Argentina. I am not a linguist, but to me the most common variety of Mexican Spanish has really clear, hard consonant sounds, and the vowels are relatively weak. In my mind and from my experience I would bunch Cuban and Puerto Rican accents together and say that they swallow many consonants up almost whole, that's a distinguishing feature.

So, the sounds can be different but the rest of the language is mostly the same, at least in it's most neutral form. Of course each "dialect" has its own peculiar words mostly for common everyday things.

In practice there are different "levels" of mutual comprehensibility, in my opinion. For example, without previous exposure one such as I could be listening to two mexicans/cubans/whatever having a slang-laden conversation on the street and my jaw would be on the floor. But regular, neutral Spanish that everybody (ideally) learns in school is (should be) the same everywhere.
posted by Theloupgarou at 8:25 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a native Mexican Spanish speaker, and I can understand Castillian and Puerto Rican Spanish with no difficulty (except for any slang they happen to use). Cuban Spanish, however, is really hard to understand. Even if slowed down, they tend to use insane amounts of slang. I liken it to Cockney English or English with a Cajun accent, both of which I also have trouble with.
posted by cobain_angel at 8:45 PM on August 27, 2010

Upon further reflection I should not have said "standard and neutral" but perhaps something more like "unified and inclusive." I didn't mean to imply that any particular variety of Spanish is in any way superior or preferable to any other. Usages vary by region, limited time offer, some restrictions may apply.
posted by Theloupgarou at 8:59 PM on August 27, 2010

oops, I guess my answer was (partially) incorrect. (apparently, it IS hard for native speakers to understand other SPanish accents!)
posted by bearette at 9:03 PM on August 27, 2010

Second me for cobain_angel. Native Mexican Spanish speaker, whereby Castillian and PR Spanish are rather easy for me to understand. Cuban Spanish is an entirely different beast, but so is Argentine, for entirely different reasons. Maybe because I am biased, but Mexican (and most Central American) Spanish seems really easy to understand - it is spoken with hard and broad consonants and wide open vowels - no linguist here - it is all laid out upon the table for you. Argentines sound like italianos, castellanos swallow up their consonants and Cubans swallow EVERYTHING. Again, I am no linguist, just a humble speaker of good old Central American Spanish. Aleluya.
posted by msali at 9:56 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't forget that, just as in the US, there are different accents in Mexico.

I speak the chilango (Mexico City) version of Mexican Spanish, and I've had problems understanding people with thick Puerto Rican accents.

For me, both Cuban and Puerto Rican Spanish sound tropical. They swallow a lot of consonants, specially the "s", which they pronounce as "h". In Puerto Rico, sometimes they pronounce the "r" as "l" (PueltoLico). Mexican Spanish sounds harder, specially consonants like "j", "y", "ch".

I think all Spanish accents are very musical, and each variety has a different melody or tone.

You could compare for yourself: Tres Patines is a famous Cuban comical show. This is a very old show, so the accent might be kind of outdated. The main character (the guy in bowtie and hat) has a strong –even exaggerated– cuban accent.

Alessandra Rampolla is a famous Puerto Rican sexologist. The guy who's interviewing her is Peruvian.

This is a Mexican cultural TV show. The woman is from Spain. Compare with this video of interviews with people in the streets of Mexico City.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:19 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Re: the Real Academia that Theloupgarou references, that's a supposedly authorative source that in fact nobody but a few teachers, pedants and journalists looks to as any sort of 'standard Spanish'.

As a Chilean, I have trouble with some slangy and/or low class Central American and Caribbean vernaculars, but no problems at all with any 'educated' dialects.

I have a hard time distinguishing between non-Chilean accents. I can only reliably identify Argentina (though I might confuse it with Uruguay), Perú (might confuse with Bolivia) Mexico and Spain. All others are classified into "South America, I think" and "Somewhere between Dallas and Quito".

This might come down to my general lack of interest in other people, though.
posted by signal at 7:02 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Except for actual Spain Spanish

Just noting that there are differences between the Spanish spoken in different regions of Spain as well, and they can be as big as the differences mentioned in the answers above.
posted by keijo at 7:18 AM on August 28, 2010

I learned Spanish in Venezuela, which is heavily influenced by the Caribbean although not an island. Cuban Spanish is a little harder to understand. I'd draw an analogy to a New York accent, in that people talk faster than elsewhere. I have a hard time distinguishing between Puerto Rican and Dominican accents, especially if the speakers aren't well educated, but no trouble understanding either one.

The thing about Venezuela is that a lot of TV content was imported, so while I was speaking on a daily basis with Venezuelans, we would sit down to watch comedy shows from Mexico and soap operas from Argentina, etc., so my ear did get pretty good at identifying origin. It wasn't until I learned Spanish and watched Mexican TV that I understood how much of Speedy Gonzalez' sing-songy accent in American cartoons was a reference to a particular Mexican accent, which is very different from anything you will hear in the Caribbean. (I'm not saying all Mexicans have that sing-song in their speech, just that Cubans, Puerto Ricans et al definitely do not.)

When I lived in Venezuela, for what it's worth, the grudging (very grudging) consensus was that the most correct, arguably "neutral" Spanish spoken in the Western Hemisphere was spoken by the educated classes in Bogotá. I'm sure there are other opinions on this, but it seems to me that a lot of the news presenters on Spanish TV in the US are Colombian, so take that for what you will.
posted by ambrosia at 9:25 AM on August 28, 2010

Mexico has regional accents. My husband's Spanish is heavily Oaxacan, so much so that our Cuban in-laws made fun of his "hillbilly accent". (He's not Mexican, but picked it up from the guys he works with--he's a chef.)

Here's a language forum thread on the subject.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:29 AM on August 28, 2010

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