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There are many varieties of English: American English, Canadian English, Australian English, Hiberno-English, Scottish English, etc, etc. With these varieties contrasting in terms of dialects, spelling, pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary (wee/small, ye/yous/you, amn’t/ain't, trunk/boot), idioms etc.

I'm wondering how diverse the various varieties of Spanish are, with differences in English varieties used as a benchmark. For example, would Spanish in the Basque Country differ from Spanish in Andalusia to the same extent as Hiberno-English would differ from Cockney English? or are the differences greater or fewer. Would someone from Spain struggle to understand someone from Costa Rica?, in the same way that an American might struggle to understand a Glaswegian. Which two dialects are most similar: Castilian, Argentinian or Mexican?

Is there a dialect in Spain which is more similar to those spoken in Latin America?

Does Latin America have an upperclass Spanish dialect more similar to that spoken in Madrid?

What broad dialect families would you divide Spanish into? If so, is it very similar?

I do not speak Spanish, so don't go into the nitty gritty in your answer as I'm only trying to get a general picture. I am also only interested in spoken Spanish.

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Spanish varies a lot. Definitely moreso than any of the main English dialects, although perhaps Indian English vs other Englishes might show the level to which people's native dialects can differ.

That said, there also exists what is known as Standard Spanish. It's a sort of neutral Spanish that — as its name suggests — standardizes certain aspects of grammar, and to a lesser extent vocabulary, that differ across the Spanish-speaking world. Virtually anyone with a decent high school education can almost effortlessly swap between their native dialect and the Standard one. Few, if any, natively speak Standard Spanish (not even in places like Salamanca or Valladolid, traditionally said to have the "purest" Spanish, thanks to their strong leísmo).

The differences in grammar are pretty evident: syntax can vary (subject position in questions), tense/aspect usage (present perfect especially), possession marking, placement of object pronouns, irregularities of verbs (trajo vs trujo, haya vs haiga), pronouns themselves (tú vs vos, vosotros vs ustedes, que/quien), and levels of formality.

Pronunciation differs mainly in the consonants (s/z, ll/y, rr, -d), but there are some dialects that have reduced the vowel system from a system of five to a system of three (aiu).

Vocabulary differences are most evident in food, pleasantries, and technology, although the latter one (thankfully) seems to be neutralizing bit by bit. Most Spanish-speakers actually find it quite interesting figuring out the different terms used for random things when meeting people from other counrties, and for some of the words that can cause genuine confusion or offense, moderately educated speakers tend to already be aware of the differences (similar to English: most of us know that bloody is vulgar in British English but not American, or that rooting is something you do for your team in American English but something you do to a person in Australian/Kiwi).

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  • I may update this post later with more detailed examples, but that won't be done until next week. Sep 4 '15 at 11:09
  • I'm from East-Andalucía and we have 10 vocal sounds for example, as we don't pronunciate the "s" for plurals, we just "open" the vocals at the end of the words. The "j" of words like "jamon" is not so strong like in standard spanish, actually I would say that is the "common" thing in all the "dialects" from the south of Spain. I can help with that area if you want. The spanish base vocabulary is nearly the same in the whole world, but even on each city differs a big chunk of words, depending on area, town, district, etc...
    – Jose Palma
    Sep 4 '15 at 18:01
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Yo, que soy del Norte de España, cada vez que he ido a Andalucía, en el Sur, me he sorprendido con términos de cosas, de comida por ejemplo, de tapas o de pescado, que yo nunca había oído decir en Bilbao, en Santander, en Burgos o en San Sebastián.

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    Qué bueno que estés respondiendo a distintas preguntas. Ten en cuenta que es bueno que tus respuestas tengan algún tipo de referencia, explicación, para que salga a cuenta enviarlas. De lo contrario, para pequeños comentarios a veces es mejor dejar un comentario bajo la pregunta. Oct 5 '15 at 13:14

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