Castillano vs. Espanol
April 29, 2008 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Castillano vs. Espanol? Which is appropriate in the US? In Mexico? Elsewhere?

I just started learning some Spanish via Pimsleur tapes. During the first lesson the narrator says that most Latin Americans call the language Castillano. But this doesn't square with my personal experience with immigrant Latin Americans here in the United States.

Everywhere you go, it's called Espanol. On TV, on advertisements (Se Habla Espanol!, or something), when people in my apartment complex ask me if I speak it, etc. I've never heard or seen printed the word Castillano here.

Even the wikipedia site on the Spanish Language says that most Latin Americans say Castillano. So why is that not the case here in the US?

And finally, what should I use? I'm really tempted to just use Espanol all the time because it just seems to be more appropriate. But I would be interested in learning where the word Castillano would be more appropriate, in terms of situations and geographic regions.
posted by zhivota to Writing & Language (26 answers total)
In Argentina (where I learned my Spanish and lived for several years) it was universally called castellano (note spelling).
posted by languagehat at 9:33 AM on April 29, 2008

Well for starters it's Castellano. This refers to the Spanish that is spoken in Spain, and is generally used by Spaniards who speak other languages (Catalan, Euskera, Gallego etc.) to refer to Spanish. I'm pretty sure that the rest of the Spanish speaking world uses the term in the same way, but as I've never been to a Spanish speaking country outside Spain I can't be 100% positive.
posted by ob at 9:36 AM on April 29, 2008

This refers to the Spanish that is spoken in Spain

No it doesn't, it refers to any form of the Spanish language.

as I've never been to a Spanish speaking country outside Spain... shouldn't be guessing about how they use the term. I wouldn't presume to talk about Peninsular Spanish usage, because I've never been to Spain.
posted by languagehat at 9:40 AM on April 29, 2008

Castellano (not castillano, btw!) is not universally used in Latin America. I say that as a bona-fide Latin American who calls it español, and never says castellano.

I would venture to say that at the very leat in the Spanish Caribbean, where I am from, it is uniformly called español. I am pretty sure the Colombians and Venezuelans I have met are also in that camp, but I could certainly be wrong, as I have not met every single inhabitant of those countries.

I have met people from South America, notably Argentina and Chile, who call it castellano. So I would say it is a regional thing.

I wouldn't stress out about what to call it. People know those 2 words, and know that they mean the same thing. You might identify yourself as "not from these here parts" by using one over the other in certain areas, but you probably will be identified as such anyway ;)
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:40 AM on April 29, 2008

Let me correct my previous post. I am aware that venezuela and Colombia are in South America. I worded that poorly!
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:42 AM on April 29, 2008

Not that you need someone else to correct the spelling, but just for extra emphasis I'll go ahead and second or third that it's castEllano. And I think perceptions of the differences between castellano and español depends not only on the country but also on the region. I have lived extensively in both Spain and Peru, and I have several friends from Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Chile. In the upper Amazon of Peru, people refer to it formally as castellano. I also speak with a Spanish accent, instead of a Peruvian one, so in this region, it seems that castellano is perceived as the formal language of the madre patria, if you catch my drift. Although I have had conversations with friends in Peru discussing the differences, and at least among my college-educated Peruvian friends, the difference seems unclear. The thing is, if español really is the language of Latin America and not of Spain, that's really misleading, because the Spanish of each country and even regionally within each country is markedly different. So I'll go ahead and venture to say that they may be used interchangeably, depending on the country and region, and I would hesitate to give full credence to anyone who would declare that one or the other refers only to one or the other place.

How's that for incredibly unclear and convoluted? Sorry... :)
posted by cachondeo45 at 10:00 AM on April 29, 2008

I have a couple of Mexican friends that always refer to the language as castellano. FYI, when conversing with people in Catalunya, even they make a point of saying castellano rather than español, for what I assume are political and cultural reasons.
posted by idiomatika at 10:14 AM on April 29, 2008

I've traveled extensively in Central America and Mexico, and have never heard it called Castellano outside of textbooks. Always Espanol.
posted by changeling at 10:16 AM on April 29, 2008

Response by poster: Well, firstly, I apologize for the misspelling.

I think that I've gotten a general gist of where each is applicable, and at least some anecdotal evidence to support my idea that Espanol is the more used term in the Central American region, with some exceptions.

I'm guessing that maybe Pimsleur was more focused on Argentina and Chile over the Central American region. It always boggles my mind how little attention is given to Mexico and the rest of Central America, here in the US. I've spoken to many people who learned Spanish in High School or College, who got the Spain version over the Mexico version. Last I checked, you can't drive to Spain, and you don't tend to find nearly as many Spanish people in this country (versus Central American, of course).
posted by zhivota at 10:20 AM on April 29, 2008

In Mexico, its almost universally called Español.
posted by vacapinta at 10:31 AM on April 29, 2008 shouldn't be guessing about how they use the term. I wouldn't presume to talk about Peninsular Spanish usage, because I've never been to Spain.

You're right, I shouldn't be guessing. I wanted to give a Peninsular Spanish background for the term which may or may not be relevant and then I overreached. I should have also added that I have a lot of friends from central and south America and the Caribbean and I've never heard anyone refer to Español as Castellano. Still it's anecdotal evidence but I should have made this clear. I don't normally guess answers here, but my excuse is that I'm recovering from surgery and I'm on strong painkillers.
posted by ob at 10:35 AM on April 29, 2008

It's usually referred to outside of Spain as la lengua española. In Spain they differentiate by calling it castellaña because it isn't the only spanish language and it would be un-PC to say otherwise.
posted by JJ86 at 11:04 AM on April 29, 2008

sry: castellana
posted by JJ86 at 11:05 AM on April 29, 2008

I always understood Castilian (from the kingdom of Castile) to refer to the official (legal) Spanish language (in contrast to other languages that may be in use in a region, e.g., Basque, Catalan, &c.). I've also seen it used as a term, as cachondeo45 above uses it, to refer specifically to the distinctive Spanish accent ('th' sound, &c).
posted by xod at 11:06 AM on April 29, 2008

Rule of thumb: in regions of Latin America where those of Spanish descent (i.e. whites) are the majority (e.g. Argentina), the term castellano will be more commonly used. Where mestizos (mixed) or the indigenous are the majority, you're more likely to hear the word español. And, of course, there will be exceptions.
posted by randomstriker at 11:49 AM on April 29, 2008

I traveled in highland Peru and Bolivia around 2001 for 6 months and had at least two people use the term Castellano. One of these times was a person correcting me when I used 'Español.'
posted by bdc34 at 11:50 AM on April 29, 2008

Oops, I guess whites in Argentina are a pretty diverse mix of Spanish, Italian, German, etc. descent, but you get my drift.
posted by randomstriker at 11:52 AM on April 29, 2008

Like bdc34, I've been corrected by Peruvians who seem to always use castellano.
posted by snoogles at 12:46 PM on April 29, 2008

Among Spanish-speakers in Texas, I have only heard it referred to as "español." In my academic Spanish classes, "castellano." Those words are capitalized in English, but not in Spanish, as they don't capitalize languages or nationalities like we do here. Of course, "español" can also refer to a male from Spain.
posted by fructose at 12:48 PM on April 29, 2008

I work (part of the time) in a TB clinic in North-east US. Common usage is español, as more patients are Central American, less than South American. All the translators use 'español.' All the paperwork says español. No one's ever corrected me and said 'castellano'.

Incidentially, I've also learned that almost no one calls any type of fruit (oranges, bananas) the same thing in any two countries.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:22 PM on April 29, 2008

The Real Academia Española says castellano and español are synonyms. Both are correct.

That Wikipedia link also mentions all the Spanish Language Academies recommend using español, because it's the direct translation of the term used in other languages (Spanish, espanhol, etc).

My perception is that I use castellano when I want to be more clear or there might be some confusion, as español is also an adjective that denotes origin. Also, it sounds more correct, so I'd use it in an academic essay, for example. But normally, I use español. I'm Mexican.

Fructose is right about the capitalization, those terms should always be in lowercase.
posted by clearlydemon at 3:11 PM on April 29, 2008

I dated a Chilean girl, her and her family would say español but some of her extended relatives would sporadically use castellano (often when they thought they were confusing the gringo). For a while I had no idea what they were talking about (lets not even get into the mistakes I made with pero and perro).

In my travels in Ecuador and Colombia however, I never heard anyone use the word castellano, and when I was talking no-one seemed offended by me using the word español e.g. que es esto en español? etc
posted by Admira at 3:25 PM on April 29, 2008

100% Chilean here. I had "Castellano" classes in high school, not "Español". People here use both terms indistinctly. Some people might correct you if you say "Español", the same kind who correct you if you call gringos "americanos".
In Spain, people differentiate between Castellano, Gallego, Catalán, Vasco, etc., the same way the British would differentiate between English, Welsh, Irish, etc., even if the rest of the world called English "British". Calling Castellano "Español" is a reminder of Franco's time, when Castellano was instituted as the only official language of Spain, and the other languages where persecuted.
I've only ever seen the usage of "Castellano" as the Spanish accent among non-Spanish speaking gringos.
As per the original question: you should say "Spanish" or "Español", unless you're in Spain.
posted by signal at 4:06 PM on April 29, 2008

Another datapoint: in Chile, if you want to refer to something's purebred Castellano-ness, you use "Castizo". This is used for words that are 'pure' Spanish, for example.
posted by signal at 4:11 PM on April 29, 2008

I found that in Madrid, people mostly say "español" and saying "castellano" in general is for people who want to emphasize the different "regiones autónomas." My personal (limited) experience seemed to show that "castellano" indicated political sympathy with Basque/Catalan movements in some way. In Argentina, on the other hand, it's always "castellano." But regardless particularly if your accent is not 100% local, people will understand you just fine with either, and won't bother to correct you unless they know you're going for the local vocabulary.

In short, depends on the region, and don't stress it. And certainly español seems to be the default for latinos in the US.

PS: if you speak with a Spanish-from-Spain accent in Buenos Aires, you may be told you talk like a "gallego," which opens you up to a whole other set of weird terminology. But that's certainly slangy.
posted by matematichica at 7:42 PM on April 29, 2008

I live in Texas and am learning Spanish from my friend who is originally from Mexico. She often corrects my "textbook" Spanish by saying that I've used the Castillian word instead of the Mexican word. I can't think of any example off of the top of my head but it happens often.
posted by tamitang at 9:51 PM on April 29, 2008

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