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I am learning Spanish for use in Mexico, and not Castilian (European Spanish). I frequently run into Spanish instruction books and other texts that I would like to purchase.

My question is, what are the best indicators, words, etc., that I can look for that will indicate the dialect orientation of a particular text?

I have looked up some of the differences myself, "vosotros," but am curious how those that know both key in on a text's dialect. I.e. other than "vosotros" what else is a good indicator?

  • I think we'll need some clarification to get you the best advice. You basically have two requests here, how to identify something as Peninsular Spanish and how to identify something as Mexican Spanish. Those aren't the only two options, though, as they have many shared characteristics that aren't shared by, e.g., Rioplatense or Caribbean Spanish. – user0721090601 Oct 4 '14 at 2:16
  • Actually only one request: What are the main indicators in a text that identify it as Peninsular Spanish or Latin Spanish? "Vosotros" is one. What others? – Raw_Input Oct 4 '14 at 2:24
  • I don't think the tag system is broken and worthless. You can use any tag you need, but you need a certain reputation value before you can create new tags. – Gorpik Oct 6 '14 at 14:39
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    Calling European Spanish "Castillian" and Latin-American Spanish "Spanish" is incorrect. In fact, the main place where the name "Castilian" is standard, and "Spanish" is effectively rejected, is in certain South-American countries. In Spain, the terms are fairly interchangeable. See here. – Flimzy Jul 12 '15 at 17:05
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First thing, there is not such thing as Latin American Spanish as a single variety. In fact, the quality you mention, vosotros is pretty much the only thing that is done in Spain and Africa that's not done anywhere in Latin America. For instruction manuals, this will never be an issue, as they will either use impersonal infinitival commands, or they will use singular commands with tú/vos/Vd.

The only other potential exclusively-Spain grammatical indicator I can think of would be usage of synthetic pluperfect (Yo ya limpiara la casa cuando volvió mi esposa) or of postpositioned object pronouns in declarative sentences (Voyme en seguida, Enviételo ayer). But these are quite exclusive to the northwest of Spain and accordingly won't ever show up in anything modern destined to a wide audience.

There are a few vocabulary words that are particular to Spain, but even then, they aren't perfect. Probably ordenador would be your best bet.

Everything else I can think of will identify something as being from some part of Latin America, but they don't apply at all to the entirety of the continent.

In parts of Central America, based on hearing my friends from there talk, there is a strong preference for true passive voice (ser + part.) over the fake passive (se + 3rd pers). But at what level it becomes indicative, that's hard to say. Many manuals are translated, and so tend to be heavier on true passive due to less-than-perfect translations.

In Argentina, Uruguay, and a few other pocketed areas, you'll see the pronoun vos used instead of vosotros. In Argentina, vos has the same sociolinguistic status as elsewhere, and will be used in an instruction manual. This will sound as weird to a Mexican as vosotros (in other words, they'll understand, but they don't use it).

Vocabulary wise, it's hard to pin down specific words that you might see in a more formal document like an instruction manual as many of the words that seem characteristic of parts of Latin American are used in some (if a small) part of Spain depending on migration patterns.

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    The use of pretérito perfecto compuesto in Spain vs pretérito perfecto simple in most of Latin America is another indicator. – rsanchez Oct 4 '14 at 5:12
  • @rsanchez very true, but I don't think that distinction will be very visible in instruction manuals, no? I figure in LA they'd still say Una vez que haya(s) hecho una cosa, haga/haz esta otra cosa. – user0721090601 Oct 4 '14 at 5:33
  • By "Spanish instruction books" I think the OP means Spanish learning textbooks. – rsanchez Oct 4 '14 at 5:41
  • @rsanchez hmm... I can see that now. That'll definitely change my answer substantially. In the US, at least, most texts teach a mishmash, signaling where some of the differences are, and just providing vos(otros) conjugations. Major rewrite of my answer tomorrow :) – user0721090601 Oct 4 '14 at 5:50
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    @Raw_Input in spoken or very informal written Spanish, it's quite easy to tell the difference between the different dialects, for example, I use currar for to work, sobar for to go to bed, and queli for house. But anything formal and written becomes much more difficult to distinguish and rarely could be done with certainty. I would instantly switch to using trabajar, acostarse, and casa in anything remotely formal which are words that are quite universal (hence the idea of Standard Spanish — no one speaks it natively, but anyone educated understands/can produce it). – user0721090601 Oct 5 '14 at 16:09
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Really good insight. From the many English teachers I have had, only one explained to me that center and centre are the same word, none is misspelled, there is just regional variations (as with the meaning of smart). He explained us to pay attention about what influences you have in the English you are studying, reading and hearing while learning English. Some of his advice was:

Look for the editorial information of the books. It will tell you a lot. They usually include the address for the publisher, so you could get an idea about on which side of the pond that book was either translated or published.

If you are purchasing a novel in Spanish from a Spanish author, do some research about their nationality and where they have lived. Pick authors whose Spanish might be closest to the regional variation you want to learn.

If you try to learn from reading newspapers, articles, etc. pick those you are sure were written by Mexican Spanish speakers.

When watching movies (DVDs), pay attention to see if subtitles/languages include any indications about variations.

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For written spanish is really hard to determine, even for a native speaker like me.

Some regional variants are easier to identify than others. For example, the spanish from Argentina is specially notorious because of its peculiar verbal forms.

For all the other cases, there's no quick way. You'll need to read until some regional word of phrase appears.

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The vocabulary, that's the main difference between books written in spanish. If the book doesn't have dialogues it is hard to tell the origin, but as I said, the vocabulary tells a lot of information but you have to know where those words are used.

In Spain computer is "Ordenador" and in America is "Computadora" or "Computador" depending on the country.

This is an example, but you can't easy tell from what country is.

I was once reading a book, and when I was reaching the end, I said "Jeez, this book is from Argentina", I had completly forgotten that, I realized it because the character said "I was drinking mate", mate is a popular drink in Argentina in a similar way as tea in England. You have to learn a lot of vocabulary and the country culture to catch the differences.

The speaking parts are easier to identify, a quick look to the internet can help you. But even like that it could be kinda hard for you as a non native Spanish speaker. But the more books you read [and from different countries], the easier it is for you to see differences.

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If the book uses the verb coger, then it's very likely in European Spanish (unless the texts are of, ahem, a rather specific nature). American Spanish would use tomar or agarrar.

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  • It would be good if you could expand the answer. Not everybody knows that "coger" means "have sex", so giving more context would help. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Aug 29 '15 at 21:50
  • Also note that in a place like Cuba, coger is used with similar frequency to Spain and with no sexual messaging. – user0721090601 Aug 29 '15 at 23:01

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