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Thursday, August 28, 2014 (read 1307 times)

Spanish Superdialects

by Tyson

Research of Twitter Reveals "Remarkable" Spanish Superdialects: Language researchers David Sánchez and Bruno Gonçalves spent two years carefully analyzing millions of Spanish language tweets to study global dialect distribution. Their findings offer a revealing peek at the lexical similarities and differences that characterize Spanish usage in Latin America, Spain, and around the planet. 

The Emergence of Social Media

Social media offers a new glimpse into dialect distribution: Sánchez and Gonçalves’ report for their study, Crowdsourcing Dialect Characterization Through Twitter explains that the emergence of social media and GPS enabled smartphones offers analysts a “surprisingly efficient medium” for seeing how languages are spoken on a global scale. Traditionally, our ability to observe language usage was limited; collecting dialectical data usually involved giving questionnaires and interviews to a few hundred speakers selected for a study. In our newly wired age, suddenly we have recorded examples of language from millions of speakers communicating in relaxed contexts and in natural language. 

One of the World's Most Spoken Languages

The research duo chose to analyze Spanish for the project because it is one of the world’s most spoken languages and because of its extensive spatial distribution which covers several continents.

They put together a database of 50 million geotagged tweets in Spanish, drawing from this exhaustive corpus to create a list of concepts that are described by different words depending on which variety of Spanish is being spoken. Twitter users called popcorn for example a tasty variety of names, from palomitas, to pochocle and poporopo. Eye glasses appeared as anteojos, espejuelos, gafas, and lentesSee the whole list with cool maps pinpointing where these word varieties were found being used (click on the concept to see the map).

Their findings: The report suggests that Spanish can not only be divided into regional and macro-regional varieties, but it can also be split into two main varieties, or “superdialects”. Most surprising was that these superdialects seemed less defined by geographic region as by whether speakers were from rural or urban environments; urbanites around the Spanish speaking world are sharing more and more lexical features (the study named the Spanish they speak “super dialect α”) while rural and small town speakers fall into a different, more linguistically diverse dialect (called superdialect β).

Considering a Study Abroad Destination?

Sanchez and Gonçalves’ conclusions offer particularly valuable dialectic insight for Spanish learners considering a study abroad destination. Many want to know if the variety of Spanish they learn in their chosen host country will be understood in other areas of the Spanish speaking world. American students looking at Spain for example usually want to know if the Castilian skills they acquire in Europe will be easily understood by many members of Spanish speaking communities back home. As Spanish increasingly globalizes, particularly in the case of superdialect α used in urban areas, these findings suggest that students choosing a study destination may have to think about whether they want to learn the urban superdialect (becoming more and more homogenous around the world) or the rural superdialect (which conserves more regional variations).


Keywords: spanish language,most spoken languages,spanish dialects,spanish in spain,world’s most spoken languages,spanish speaking world,tweets in spanish,varieties of spanish

Posted In: Spain, Latin America, Culture, News


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