“Catalanisms” in Spanish

I’ve been here for a good period of time now, at least long enough to notice major differences in the spoken Spanish between the Catalans and the Spanish (or at least the Madrileños). Since Catalonia is a bilingual region, they often mix the two languages. Someone like me might speak Spanglish since I’m a native English-speaker and a learned Spanish-speaker, whereas the Catalan people speak both Spanish and Catalan natively, arguably “catañol.” Another term you may hear is “charnego,” which is an offensive term for someone who has grown up here but has Spanish parents and speaks a very “castizo” (thick) version of Spanish.  As in all countries, Spain has many distinct accents. Particularly here in Catalonia, one who speaks Spanish will immediately notice not just the accent, but the array of words.

Here’s your short-and-sweet phonetics lesson. In Spanish, words that end with the letter “d,” end with the letter “t” in Catalan. A quick example is the word ‘university.’ In Spanish, it’s ‘universidad,’ whereas in Catalan, it’s ‘universitat.’ There are numerous other examples of this. In castizo Spanish, like the way I speak, final “d’s” are pronounced like the English “-th” sound (phonetically written as θ). In Spain-Spanish, that sound is used for the letter ‘c’ when the ‘c’ is not used as a ‘k’ sound in English (example: Gracias. Pronounced: [gɾaθias]). You don’t apply this rule to words like caro (expensive) where the first ‘c’ is pronounced like a ‘k.’

A common mistake that non-native Spanish-speakers make is that they think Spain-Spanish is just a bunch of lisped “s’s” but that’s a rookie mistake. In fact, the “s” is NEVER lisped.  It’s not “E-th-paña,” but rather “E-s-paña.” In fact, the Spanish “s” sound isn’t quite as refined as the English equivalent. It’s halfway between a sharp English “s” and a soft “sh-“ sound (Spanish people who are just learning English tend to have difficulties distinguishing between the two).

Other letters that are “lisped” (it’s actually NOT a lisp, it’s the standard pronunciation) are “z’s” and final “d’s.” In places like Madrid, words ending with “d,” the final consonant becomes lisped, like the word for ‘friendship,’ amistad [amistaθ]. The final “d” is pronounced as a “-th,” represented as θ.

A great example of all these “lisps” is the word for ‘city,’ ciudad. The first ‘c’ and the final ‘d’ are pronounced the exact same: [θiuð̞aθ] (note the same symbol repeated for the first and last letters).

Another good example is to compare the words casa (house) and caza (hunt). In Latin American Spanish, the two words are pronounced the exact same: [kasa]. However, here in Spain, the word caza is pronounced [kaθa] having a lisped “z”, and casa is prounounced [kasa].

Around the capital, you will commonly see the word ‘Madrid’ spelled as “Madriz” since the final “d” in “Madrid” is pronounced the same as the Spanish “z” (expressed [Mað̞ɾiθ]).

However, in Barcelona, the pronunciation is different. The final “d” in Spanish words is changed into a “t” sound because of the Catalan influence. I’ll continue with the same example and use the word “Madrid.” Those from Madrid will say “Madrith.” Those in Catalonia will say “Madrit” because of the final “t” in Catalan words.  The last difference is that the lisped sound doesn’t exist at all in Catalan and this is easily noticed in their Spanish. Although they will still pronounce Spanish words correctly, it’s not as puro y duro (or castizo) as someone from Madrid.  Someone that is considered “charnego” receives this title based on their strong Spanish accent, rather than a Catalan accent in their Spanish, even though the person is Catalan.

Here is my list of Catalanisms in Spanish spoken here:

  • Adeu – or Adios in Spanish.  It is more common to hear “adeu” upon leaving than any other word. In Madrid, everyone says “hasta luego” (see you later), but here it’s always adeu. However, most people don’t pronounce the first “a” in the word, and instead you’ll hear ‘deu, just like in Madrid where “hasta luego” becomes ‘ta logo!
  • Molt bé – or muy bien in Spanish. Very good.
  • Merci – Yes, just like in French. However, you have to say it with a rolled “r,” not a guttural one like in French. Just throw a Spanish accent on that (no lisped “c” in this case since it’s Catalan) and you’ve got it. You’ll hear this just as much, if not more so than “gracias.”
  • Me da palo – This is Spanish, not Catalan. And this expression is frequently argued.  Regionally, there is a discrepancy about its meaning. In the rest of Spain, it means it makes you feel embarrassed (or “te da vergüenza”). In Barcelona, “palo” means “pereza” which is a difficult word to translate into English. It loosely comes out to the feeling of laziness and lack of enthusiasm to do something. A good example of “pereza” is the feeling you get when you wake up in the morning and have to go to work. Uhh, so much pereza to get out of bed!
  • Putting “El” or “La” in front of people’s names – In Catalan, when you refer to someone, male or female respectively, you will refer to them as “el” (male) or “la” (female). El Jordi (male); La Laura (female). It’s like putting the word “the” in front of everyone’s names. In Spanish, you do not do this. However, many Catalans will reflect this in their Spanish by referring to people this way.
  • Bon dia/Bona tarda/Bona nit – In Spanish, buenos días/buenas tardes/buenas noches. In English, good morning/good afternoon/goodnight. Even my Spanish roommates would say these things in Catalan. It’s very frequent that people will greet you with the Catalan version, even if you are speaking with them in Spanish.

15 thoughts on ““Catalanisms” in Spanish

  1. I’m studying at the UAB, as well, and one of my group members is from BCN. She thought it was hilarious that I, with my Andalusian accent, used El and La in front of names, too! I once asked my boyfriend about it, and he assured me (as a non-Andalusian) that it’s very sevillano, as well.


    1. So you say that in Sevilla they put the “el” and “la” in front of people’s names? Weird! The Catalans here are taught in school that’s it’s incorrect to speak like that in Spanish but since they’re so used to speaking Catalan, they’ll say it in Spanish too. I personally really like it. I feel like it puts an emphasis on the person’s name. But that’s just me. Thanks for commenting!


    2. There are a lot of colloquialisms in spanish with hundreds of years of existence: “para >> pa”, “la Caty”, etc. Normative speakers of BCN català try to differentiate of spanish: if you want to say something, there’s a way that sounds similar to spanish and other one that french; in Valencia speakers pick the first, in Catalunya the second (both being correct). I’ve read that urdu (language of Pakistan) has had a similar evolution respect of farsi (language of Iran, islamic country) and hindi (language of India, pagan country).


  2. I’ve heard people do the el/la thing too, but jokingly. It sounds odd in Spanish (to me at least), so it sounds amusing to say “Ahí viene la Pepa”, which is what my Spanish cousin’s 7 year-old daughter said, referring to my suegra.


  3. I feel like I should elaborate a little bit:

    – Even though I, as a Madrilean find their interpretation of “Me da palo” quite surprising, I think it actually makes sense as it is probably related to “No dar palo al agua” (meaning “to do jack”) resulting in theirs meaning “that’s too much, ¡qué pereza!”.

    -Ours, however, might be related to “Qué/Menudo palo” (“That’s a shame”) coming from “Llevarse un palo” (being metaphorically hit with a stick) and “dar palo” probably changed of meaning somewhere along the way. That’s my hypothesis though.

    Using “el” and “la” before nombres propios is actually very spread along the peninsula! But it has different connatations depending on who the utterer is. Catalan speakers will be excused as we all know that’s a common feature on Catalan, BUT people coming fron anywhere else will be frowned upon as it is viewed as very illiterate and cateto use of language.

    I’m pretty sure you’ve heard before choni people talking like “Pojj que me ha dicho la Jenni que la Vane y el Johnny están saliendo”. That’s very choni, and knowing that the choni scene, although being developed in the outskirts of Madrid (if you haven’t seen “Yo soy la Juani” yet you MUST), it’s a urban culture born from the mix of the bakala scene (born in the late 90’s in La ruta del Bakalao, at the Comunidad Valenciana coast) and the spanish gypsy culture, being Sevilla one of the hot spots. So as Sunshine&Siestas said, there it is common as well.

    I myself use them in several occasions: In my family (mother-branch) we tend to name the aunts using the “la”. My mom is “La Mari” xD But this is a result of the ellipsis on “La tía Mari”. So it’s very similar as what Kaley said.

    And it is also widespread when naming TV “celebrities” such as Belén Esteban “la Esteban”, Ana Gª Obregón “la Obregón”, Jorge Javier Vázquez “el Jorge Javier” or María Patiño “la Patiño”; people related to el cotilleo and prensa rosa (gossip journalism) because of the people using those expressions on TV (have you ever watched Sálvame?) and ultimately sticking to your brain like a slug.


  4. This is great Graham! I really knew nothing about about Catalan or its differences from Spanish before reading this. I’m sure I’ll make it to Barcelona when I’m in Spain next year, so this is good to know. Thank you!


  5. Ha I’ve definitely picked up a few of these! I didn’t realize a few were “catañol” until I read this. I have gotten mistaken for Catalan outside of Catalunya when I accidentally use Catalan words though (and I don’t speak that much Catalan).


  6. Love that you used IPA to explain the phonetic differences :) a girl in my program is actually writing her thesis about the use of definite articles in front of names… i don’t remember what speech community she’s researching though…


  7. And in Granada we just substitute our midword ‘s’s, ‘d’s and ‘g’s for long, indistinguishable nasal-like utterances that require acute listening skills. And don’t even get me started on Cadiz.

    Good job on the post. Language-themed stuff is always the most interesting. Catalan is now marginally less of a mystery to me than it was 10 minutes ago. Gràcies el Graham.


  8. I agree that using the “lisp” on “S” words sounds atrocious and is horribly incorrect, but it’s a very common feature here in Malaga. They make it even worse by saying “ustedes sois,” conjugating the 5th and 6th person together. In terms of the article before the name, I have friends from Murcia who always do it (they are monolingual Spanish speakers), y siempre me choca. I think it may come from the Catalan influence of Valencia, since the two provinces border each other. Maybe someone here can tell us.


  9. This was such a cool post! And I have to chime in about the definite articles in front of names. I’m a language assistant working in rural Jaén province (Andalucía), and some of the teachers I work with refer to their colleagues with articles sometimes; e.g., “La Sira” or what have you. That’s not to say they would introduce themselves like “me llamo el Marcos,” but still. I think I’ve read Portuguese does this, too–“O José” and “A María.”


  10. I laughed in recognition at the ‘el’ and ‘la’ in front of people’s names. I used to live in Madrid, and never heard this, but folk here in Barcelona do it constantly. It reminds me of Portuguese, which does the same thing. I’ve even started referring to my puppy now as ‘La Inca’…


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