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.