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Flavors of Spanish

Since arriving in Colombia I’ve been enjoying discovering the nuances that distinguish Colombian Spanish from the rest rest of the Spanish-speaking world. One of the first things I noticed was that Colombians have a strong fondness for using the diminutive form of words, whether the object in question is small and cute or not. When you visit your friend’s house they may offer you an “aguita” (a glass of water). If you live close to the park you can say you live “cercita del parque”. The taxi driver will tell you your fare is “4000 pesitos”. Or instead of a taxi you can take a “busito”. Little children and small things in general are often called “chiquiticos” or if they’re really small “chiquitiquiticos”.

Colombians are also quite fond of using the verb regalar when asking for things. I never fail to find this amusing since the regalar literally means to give a gift to someone. Even when you are obviously going to be paying for it, you ask the lady on the corner “regálame una arepa”. (Please give me an arepa.) If you’ve just met a new friend they will ask you “Me regalas tu número?” (Will you give me your phone number?) At a restaurant recently the waitress told me “regálame un segundo” (Please give me a second.) as she got a glass of water for me. Perhaps my favorite use of “regalar” is the excessively polite manner of saying excuse me as “regálame un permiso”.

I’m largely just familiar with the manner in which Spanish is spoken in Santander. However, there exist many variations of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar within the different regions of Colombian. I was puzzled one day when I asked my non-Bumangués salsa teacher “¿Cómo estás?” and he replied with, “Bien, y vos?” In Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and certain parts of Colombia vos is used in place of . It has one pleasantly simple rule for conjugation – the “r” in each verb turns into an “s” and the last vowel has an accent. So “you eat” would be “vos comás”. It’s so easy! The one and only exception is the verb ser which becomes sos in the vos form. I was fascinated by the existence of a whole new pronoun and conjugation rules I had never heard of before!

Another interesting variation in Spanish is when common, everyday words in one country take on an extremely explicit meaning in another. A prime example is the verb coger which means “to get/to take”. In Colombia it’s common to hear “¿Dónde puedo coger un bus?” to ask where you can catch a bus. In any other Latin American country though coger is a vulgar term for having sex, and thus this innocuous question would cause heads to turn if asked in a country like Argentina.

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