Idiolects, sociolects and other animals

This is a guest post from James P in Chile:

Two things have made me think about “vocabulary worlds” recently: reading past papers for the DELE exam and picking up a José Donoso novel (Coronación) from the library.

The vocab section of the DELE exam is going to be rather a matter of chance as significant proportions of the vocab that is used on a daily basis in Latin America – at least in Chile and on Colombian radio which are my two main sources of spoken LA Spanish – are bound to be different from the vocab used in Spain. That is certainly true of British and US English (“I like your bangs”, “Do you have any spackle?). This, rather than my joking references before, is the more substantial problem with the DELE vocab test, at least for those of us who take it as speakers of LA Spanish: even when the words might be understood by a cultured Chilean or Guatemalan, they are not used much over here as compared to Spain and so we are much less likely to have heard them, even if our total vocabulary is larger than a learner in Madrid or Seville.

José Donoso, in common with a number of other Chilean writers of the second half of the 20th Century, spent a number of years living outside of Chile (in his case in Mexico, Spain and the USA). His diction (choice of vocab) is very unusual (one of my Chilean friends says that he makes up words!). Every author has a range of words they use commonly, but for me it seems that Donoso overlaps much less with my vocab than for example García Márquez, or Roberto Ampuero. Before I get round to Coronacíon I’m reading Pérez-Reverte’s El pintor de Batallas, which also has a different vocab world, one that is new enough for me to learn new words (such as estrambótico and un chasquido), but not so alien I want to give up (which is what happened last time with Donoso when I tried to read Casa de campo about a year ago).

Can others give examples of this phenomena of different “vocab worlds”, either with specific authors or with national forms of a language which is spoken in different countries?

This entry was posted in Language, Spanish.

9 Responses to Idiolects, sociolects and other animals

  1. Ramses says:

    Are you planning on reading some books from Spanish authors to make the vocab section of the DELE easier for you?

    About the different “vocab worlds”; when I look to Dutch I see that in Flanders they have quite some different words and expressions they use on a daily basis.

  2. James P says:

    (1) Reading spanish writers won´t necessarily help: the particular diction of Ramón del Valle Inclán or García Lorca won´t help any more than reading Donoso or Allende would help you understand chilean spanish. I have started reading El Mundo on line which is more likely to help and I listen to Radio nacional de españa. They told me at the exam center that it´s always a matter of luck.

    (2) national lexis, there are two phenomena: words which are simply not used at all in the other society (“spackle”) and words that are used but with a different meaning or connotation (“pants”).

  3. Ramses says:

    If you want some more resources: has some streaming videos in high definition of their most popular shows. RTVE also has free online broadcasts at

    Hope this helps.

  4. Phil says:

    I like the idea of an author that makes up words. Doesn’t Spenser create his own ‘vocab world’ with The Faerie Queen? There is also a modern scottish poet that writes in Scots and who has listed his hobbies as “Anglophobia”. He apparently doesn’t write in a particular variant but one that he’s made up magpie style from a range of dialect poets.

  5. Phil says:

    I think It was Hugh McDiarmid, but I’m not sure.

  6. Helena says:

    There is a writer called Mia Couto, he’s from Mozambique, and of caurse, writes in Portuguese, but he “coins” many of his own words, which aren’t used by speakers in any of the varieties of the Portuguese language.
    For example the word “imaginaútica”.

  7. I would also recommend Spanish media: RTVE, El Pais, El Mundo, and websites like (which is a lot like —

  8. James P says:

    Back on topic (thanks for the info, I´ve been listing to Spanish radio etc for the last month)

    Some chilenismos (normal words which are used a great deal here)

    Digamos and No cierto (both used as crutches to fill in speech)
    Buena onda
    Compadre, loco, weón (all words for “mate” or “dude”, the last one is very chilean)

    In Guatemala people said “no tenga pena”, here we say “no importa”.

    Here maiz is choclo
    Chiles are ajís
    Aguacates are paltas
    Melocotones are duraznos
    Patatas are papas (along with the rest of Latin America)
    Hasta luego is chau (along with Argentina, and I´ve heard it in other places, but it´s almost ALWAYS chau here).

    ¿Other lists?

  9. alexandra k says:

    When I was living in Spain, Chau was also really common. Mostly among younger people though but I think I heard it just as often as Hasta Luego or Que te vaya bien.

    I’d like to take the DELE in November 09 and I suppose I’m fortunate to have learned Spanish in Spain but I’m having a difficult time finding a DELE prep book. Any one have recommendations?

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