Colombian Spanish

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Colombian Spanish (Spanish: español colombiano) is a grouping of the varieties of Spanish spoken in Colombia. The term is of more geographical than linguistic relevance, since the dialects spoken in the various regions of Colombia are quite diverse. The speech of coastal areas tends to exhibit phonological innovations typical of Caribbean Spanish, while highland varieties have been historically more conservative. The Caro and Cuervo Institute in Bogotá is the main institution in Colombia promoting the scholarly study of the language and literature of both Colombia and Spanish America generally. The educated speech of Bogotá, a generally conservative variety of Spanish, holds high popular prestige among Spanish-speakers throughout the Americas.[1]

Spanish Dialects in Colombia.


  • The phoneme /x/ is realized as glottal [h] "in all regions [of Colombia]",[2] in common with the pronunciation of southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Caribbean coast of Venezuela, the Spanish-speaking islands of the Caribbean, the Canary Islands, and southern Spain, as well as occasionally in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina.
  • As in most American dialects, also, Colombian Spanish has yeísmo (a merger of /ʎ/ into /ʝ/). The exception to yeísmo is the traditional speech of Santander and around Pasto (inland Nariño), where [ʎ] can still be heard. Until the twentieth century, most Andean Colombian dialects maintained /ʎ/, including Bogotá (nowadays only some older speakers retain the traditional distinction).
  • Common to all of Hispanic America, the Canary Islands and most of Andalusia, Colombia has seseo (the lack of distinction between /θ/ and /s/), making cocer/coser or abrazar/abrasar homophonous. Though seseo is general in Colombia and /s/ is usually lamino-alveolar [s̻], an apico-alveolar, Castilian-style /s/, [s̺], made with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, is current in many Andean regions, especially in Antioquia Department (Medellín). This phonetic trait (unique in the Americas) is to be associated with a large number of northern Spanish settlers in Andean Colombia.
  • The voiced consonants /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/ are pronounced as stop consonants after and sometimes before any consonant (rather than the fricative or approximant that is characteristic of most other dialects). Thus pardo [ˈpardo], barba [ˈbarba], algo [ˈalɡo], peligro [peˈliɡɾo], desde [ˈdezde] (dialectally [ˈdeɦde] or [ˈdedːe])—rather than the [ˈparðo], [ˈbarβa], [ˈalɣo], [peˈliɣɾo], [ˈdezðe] (dial. [ˈdeɦðe], [ˈdɛɦðe] or [ˈdɛðːe]) of Spain and the rest of Spanish America. A notable exception is Nariño Department[3] and most Costeño speech (Atlantic coastal dialects) which feature the soft, fricative realizations common to all other Hispanic American and European dialects.


Like most Spanish dialects, standard Colombian Spanish has five vowels: two high vowels (/i, u/), two mid vowels (/e, o/) and one open vowel (/a/). However, vowel shifts, reductions, and breaking have taken place in many of Colombia's populous regions, particularly in Bogotá and the Paisa region.[4] This means that in Colombian Spanish there may also be an additional number of vowels, making it one of the most phonologically rich varieties of the Spanish language.

English Standard Spanish Standard Spanish IPA Bogotá Dialect* Paisa Dialect
house casa ˈkasa ˈkäsɐ ˈkäs̺a̠
slow lento ˈlento ˈlen̪t̪ʊ / ˈlen̪t̪ ˈlẽ̞n̪t̪o
leopard leopardo leoˈparðo lɪoˈpärðʊ leoˈpärðo
danger peligro peˈliɣɾo peˈliɣro peˈliɡro
department store almacén almaˈθen almɐˈsɛn almaˈs̺en
stable estable esˈtaβle esˈt̪äβlɪ / esˈt̪äβl esˈt̪äβle
Bogotá Bogotá boɣoˈta boɣoˈt̪a / boɣʊˈt̪ä boɡoˈt̪ä

Personal pronouns

  • The Spanish of a large part of the population in Colombia, especially in Bogota, is known for the use of "usted" (the second-person singular pronoun considered "formal" in most varieties of Spanish) between friends, family members, and others whose relationship would indicate the use of "tú" or "vos" in most other dialects.[5][6]
  • Characteristic regional usages of pronouns include voseo (use of vos, the familiar singular "you", rather than the of other dialects) in the Paisa Region and the Valle del Cauca Department, and the use of su merced (literally "your grace") in Cundinamarca and Boyacá Departments. Voseo is nonstandard and is prohibited in school teaching, and is nowadays in decreasing usage only in informal conversations. In the Eastern Highland where Bogotá is located, voseo was current until the 19th century, after which it began to decline.[7]
  • The second person plural pronoun vosotros and its corresponding verb forms (-áis/-éis), which are common in Spain, are, in Colombia—as in all other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America—considered archaic and are restricted to ecclesiastical language.[8]
  • There are marked differences in the use of subject personal pronouns (overt vs. null subjects) between the highland and coastal varieties. The highland varieties have overall pronominal rates of approximately 22-26%. The coastal varieties have higher pronominal rates. For instance the overall pronominal rate in Barranquilla is 34.2%.[9]


  • In Colombian Spanish, the diminutive forms -ico, -ica (rather than the more conventional -ito, -ita) are often used in words whose stem ends with "t": gato ("cat") → gatico ("kitty"). This is often seen in Cuban, Venezuelan, and Costa Rican Spanish as well.[10]
  • The diminutive form can be applied not only to nouns, as above, but also to adjectives, to verbs—in their gerundive form, for example corriendo ("running") → corriendito ("scurrying"); to adverbs—e.g. ahora ("now") → ahorita ("right now"); and even to prepositions: junto a ("next to") → juntico a ("right next to").
  • Redundant diminutives: The diminutive ending can be applied to both the noun and the adjective in the same phrase: el chocolate caliente ("the hot cocoa") → el chocolatico calientico ("the nice little cup of hot chocolate").
  • The emphatic diminutives: When two diminutive endings are applied to the same word, it gives more emphasis to the sentence. For example, with ahora ("now"): Váyase ahora mismo ("Get out right now") → Váyase ahoritica mismo ("Get the heck out right now!"). For another example, with bueno ("good"): El carro está bueno ("The car is in good condition") → El carro está buenecitico ("The car is in tip-top condition").

Common expressions

  • Paradoxically, in intra-family speech, it is common for husband and wife to address each other as mijo and mija (from mi hijo "my son" and mi hija "my daughter"). And sons and daughters are lovingly called papito ("daddy") and mamita ("mommy").
  • A common greeting in Colombia is ¿Quiubo? (sometimes written as qui'iubo or kiubo), a contraction of the older but still somewhat common greeting ¿Que Hubo?. This phrase uses the which among younger generations is usually contracted to ¿Qu'iubo? (sometimes written as ¿Kiubo?). The phrase uses the preterite form of the verb haber, whose present-tense form, hay, means "there is" or "there are." Thus, ¿Que Hubo translates literally to "what was there?" or "what has there been?" It is used in the same way as phrases like "what's up?" are used in English. It originated in the Paisa dialect but has spread throughout Colombia, and is considered throughout Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world to be a very stereotypically Colombian thing to say.

Slang words

Slang speech is frequent in popular culture. In the Paisa Region and Medellín, the local slang is named "Parlache".[11] Many slang expressions have spread outside of their original areas to become commonly understood throughout the country.[12]

Many of these words have been popularized by the Colombian media, such as Alonso Salazar's book, No nacimos pa' semilla,[13] Victor Gaviria's movie Rodrigo D: No Future, or Andrés López Forero's monologue La pelota de letras ("The Lettered Ball"), as well as many other cultural expressions, including telenovelas, magazines, news coverage, jokes, etc..

Some slang terms, with their literal translations and meanings, include:

  • abrirse ("to split up"): to leave.
  • aporrear: to accidentally fall.
  • bacán, bacano, bacana: Relative to parties god Bacchus, someone or something cool, kind, friendly.
  • barra ("[gold] bar"): one thousand Colombian pesos.
  • berraco ("boar"): (1) difficult; (2) an exceptionally capable person; (3) to be angry.
  • brutal: extremely cool, really awesome (only for things). ¡Esa película fue brutal!—That movie was so cool!
  • caliente ("hot"): dangerous.
  • camello ("camel"): a job. Hard work. ¡Eso fue un camello! - That was hard work.
  • cantaleta: a telling off or nagging.
  • catorce ("fourteen"): a favor.
  • charlar: to chat, sometimes to gossip or joke.
  • charro: funny in an amusing manner. ¡Esa pelicula fue muy charra! - That movie was very funny.
  • chévere: cool, admirable.
  • chicanear: to boast, to show off.
  • chino: (from the Chibcha word for child"): child.
  • cojo ("lame, wobbly"): weak or lacking sense.
  • comerse a alguien ("to eat somebody"): to have sex.
  • dar papaya ("to give papaya"): to expose yourself to unnecessary risk.
  • farra: Party.
  • filo ("sharp"): hunger.
  • fresco ("fresh"): "Be cool!"
  • golfa: a promiscuous woman.
  • gonorriento: worst of the worst person (considered low-class).
  • guayabo: a hangover (resaca in other parts of Latin America). Ay, estoy enguayabado. Dame un cafecito, porfa. - "Oh, I'm hungover. Give me some coffee please."
  • grilla: ("cricket") A prostitute or escort, so called for the way the call out to men on the street (in Antioquia), in Valle del Cauca: a low-class person
  • jeta: mouth, in a vulgar term.
  • levantar: (1) to pick up a woman or a man (example: Me levanté una vieja anoche — "I picked up a girl last night"); (2) to beat someone up.
  • ligar ("to tie"): to give money, to bribe (in Antioquia), in Valle del Cauca: to woo someone
  • llave ("key"): friend (considered low-class).
  • lucas: with same usage of the word barra (considered low-class).
  • mamar: to suck off. Also, to annoy, irritate. Estoy mamado de esto. "I'm tired of this situation."
  • mañe: trashy, lacking class.
  • mariconadas: joking around (Deje las mariconadas - "Stop joking around").
  • marica ("faggot"): a term of endearment used among friends. Depending on the tone of voice, it can be understood as an insult. Maricón is a harsher, less-friendly variant.
  • mierda ("shit"): fecal matter.
  • mono(a) ("monkey"): a person with blonde hair or/and light skin or/and light eyes.
  • mostro: friend (considered low-class).
  • onces ("elevenses"): merienda, similar to British Elevenses.
  • paquete ("package"): one million Colombian pesos, also used as an insult.
  • parar bolas ("to stop balls"): to pay attention.
  • parce or parcero: comrade (derived from parcelo, slang for owner of a plot of land (parcela)). Originally used as "cell mate" (sharing the same plot of land); its usage devolved into "partner in crime". Used only in criminal circles from late the 1970s, it is now used openly in almost every urban center. Especially common the in Paisa dialect. Colombian singer and Medellín-native Juanes named his album P.A.R.C.E. after this local phrase.
  • perder el año ("lose the year"): (1) to flunk (fail to be promoted to the next grade) in school; (2) to die.
  • pilas ("batteries"): a word used for warning.
  • plata ("silver"): money.
  • plomo ("lead"): bullets.
  • porfa (from por favor): please.
  • quicas (slang for "fat girls"): breasts
  • ratero (from rata "rat"): robber.
  • rumbear ("to rumble"): to make out; to go clubbing (leading to making out).
  • sapo ("toad"): informant, snitch, tattletale.
  • sardino, sardina ("sardine"): a young person.
  • sereno (also chiflón): a mild disease or indisposition; associated with cold breezes (example: Me entró el sereno — "I think I got sick").
  • sisas: yes (considered low-class).
  • soroche: fainting (example: Me dió soroche — "I passed out").
  • taladro ("drill"): a man who has sex with boys.
  • teso: (1) expert, "hardcore" (someone who is very good at doing something); (2) difficult or tricky.
  • tombo: police officer (considered low-class).
  • tragado ("swallowed"): having a crush on someone.
  • trillar ("to thresh"): to make out; it is also used to indicate that something has been overused (example: Ya esta trillado eso - "That is overused")
  • tirar ("to throw, to shoot"): to have sex.
  • vaina ("case"): a loose term for "things", refers to an object or to a complicated situation.
  • video: (1) a lie, (2) an overreaction, (3) a problem.
  • vieja ("old woman"): woman, female friend, mom.
  • viejo or viejito ("old man"): dude, male friend, dad.

Colombian Spanish dialects

John M. Lipski groups Colombian dialects phonologically into four major zones;[14] Canfield refers to five major linguistic regions;[3] Flórez proposes seven dialectal zones, based on phonetic and lexical criteria;[15] and still others recognize eleven dialect areas, as listed below.

Paisa dialect

The Paisa dialect is spoken in the Colombian coffee production areas, such as Antioquia, Quindío, Risaralda and Caldas. Paisa people speak Spanish with an apicoalveolar [s̺], a sound transitional between [s] and [ʃ], like that of northern and central Spain.[3] Paisa Spanish is a "voseante" dialect, meaning it often uses vos rather than for the familiar singular "you" pronoun. The role of this voseo usage in forming the distinct Paisa linguistic identity was reinforced by its use in the works of several Paisa writers, including Tomás Carrasquilla,[7] Fernando González Ochoa, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Fernando Vallejo, and Gonzalo Arango.

Rolo or Bogotá dialect

"Rolo" (a name for the dialect of Bogotá) is also called cachaco, Celador . It is an area of strong "ustedeo"—that is, the familiar use of the pronoun usted. This dialect follows many patterns similar to those of the Cundiboyacense dialect[16] (preservation of syllable-final [s], preservation of /d/ in the -ado ending, preservation of the ll/y contrast,[17] etc.),[18] but with only marginal use of the formal second-person pronoun sumercé.

Cundiboyacense dialect

The Cundiboyacense dialect is spoken mainly in the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá (Cundiboyacense High Plateau). This dialect makes frequent use of the expression sumercé or su merced (literally "your grace") as a formal second-person singular pronoun. In this dialect the pronoun usted is used when two men speak in an informal situation. "Tuteo" (the use of the pronoun ) is usual in conversation between a man and woman of similar ages. Occasionally the pronoun usted may be used briefly in extremely intimate speech between couples or family members, or to reprehend someone, depending on the tone of voice.

Caribbean dialect

The Caribbean or Coastal (costeño) dialect is spoken in the Caribbean Region of Colombia. It shares many of the features typical of Caribbean Spanish generally, and is phonologically similar to Andalusian and Canarian Spanish. Word-final /n/ is realized as velar [ŋ]. Syllable-final /s/ is typically pronounced [h]; thus costa ("coast") is pronounced [ˈkohta] and rosales ("roses") becomes [roˈsaleh]. The most notable and distinguishable varieties of Atlantic-coast Colombian accents are: Barranquilla (Considered the most articulated Spanish in America and mostly rhotic in upper-class speakers), Cartagena (Mostly non-rhotic and fast-spoken) and Montería (Sinú Valley Accent, strictly non-rhotic, plosive and very marked wording similar to received pronunciation in UK English) all varieties show a notable R-lessness.

Island dialect

This is the dialect spoken in the Islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina in Colombia's Caribbean region. It is marked by a mixture of Caribbean Spanish with some features of English. Syllable-final /r/ can be realized—in addition to the flap [ɾ], the trill [r], and the lateral [l]—as the alveolar approximant [ɹ], the latter thought to be an influence of British English. Thus verso ("verse") becomes [ˈbeɹso] (alongside [ˈbeɾso], [ˈberso], or [ˈbelso]); invierno ("winter") becomes [imˈbjeɹno] (alongside [imˈbjeɾno], [imˈbjerno], or [imˈbjelno]); and escarlata ("scarlet") becomes [ehkaɹˈlata] (alongside [ehkaɾˈlata], [ehkarˈlata], or [ehkaˈlata]). Word-final /r/, when followed by a vowel-initial word, is usually realized as a tap, an approximant, or the lateral [l], as in amo[ɾ~ ɹ ~ l] eterno ("eternal love"). And when followed by a consonant or a pause, it may be realized as any of these sounds, or as a trill, or elided, as in amo[r ~ ɾ ~ ɹ ~ l] paterno ("paternal love").

This phonetic characteristic is not exclusive to Colombians whose ancestry is traced back to the Spanish period before the British invasion, under British territorial rule, and the recovery of Spanish control; it is also used by Raizals, by whites of British descent, and by descendants of mainland Colombians. The dialect of native Spanish speakers in the area is closer to the Nicaraguan dialect of the Caribbean coast, reflecting the geographical location of the archipelago, off the coast of Nicaragua.

Valluno dialect

The Valluno dialect or español vallecaucano is spoken in the valley of the Cauca River between the Western and Central cordilleras. In Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca, there is strong use of voseo (use of the pronoun vos where other dialects use ), with its characteristic verb forms.

The Valluno dialect has many words and phrases not used outside of the region. People commonly greet one another with the phrase "¿Q'hubo vé, bien o qué?". Also, it is common to be asked "¿Sí o no?" when assessing agreement to even rhetorical statements. Thong sandals are referred to as chanclas, and plastic bags (bolsas elsewhere) are called chuspas. As in other areas, a chocha here is another crude word for "vagina". It is used the word chucha to refer to an opossum. A pachanguero is someone who dances/parties all night long. Andrés Caicedo was the main writer to depict the vernacular usage of language in an accurate manner.[19]

Pastuso dialect

The Pastuso dialect is spoken in the southwest area of the country. One feature is apicoalveolar [s̺], a sound transitional between [s] and [ʃ], like that of northern and central Spain. But unlike Paisa dialect, speakers of this dialect typically conserve the "ll"/"y" distinction (i.e. they do not practice yeísmo), and in some areas the double-R phoneme is realized as a voiced apical sibilant. Contrary to a tendency in general Spanish to weaken or relax the sounds /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/ between vowels, Pastuso speakers tend to tense these sounds with more emphasis than in other dialects.[20]

Opita dialect

The Opita dialect is spoken mostly in the departments of Tolima and Huila, mostly in the central and southern parts of the Magdalena River Valley. This dialect is said to show strong influence of indigenous languages. It is noted for its slow tempo and unique intonation. The phonology is yeísta and (like all Spanish in the Americas) seseante. The dialect is traditionally characterized by the use of the second-person pronoun usted (or vusted in some rural areas) not only in formal circumstances but also in familiar ones (where most other dialects would use )—see "ustedeo" above—although is gaining ground among young people. There is little or no voseo in this area.

Santanderean dialect

The dialect spoken mostly in the northeastern part of the country in the departments of Santander and Norte de Santander. There is a strong use of ustedeo in both informal and formal contexts.

Eastern plains or Llanero dialect

The dialect spoken in this region covers a vast area of the country with less population density. It is spoken in the eastern plains of the country from the Cordillera Oriental (eastern mountain range of the Andes). It has a characteristic influence of inland Colombian settlers.

Chocó or Pacific dialect

This dialect extends beyond the Department of Chocó throughout the Pacific coast and is said to reflect African influence in terms of intonation and rhythm. Characteristically, syllable-final /s/ is frequently "debuccalized" (pronounced as [h]) or omitted, as in Colombia's Caribbean dialect (see above). Like Caribbean dialect, word-final /n/ is realized as velar [ŋ]. The /d/ is replaced by /r/ in some words, and syllable-final /l/ and /r/ are often merged or interchanged in a way similar to that of Caribbean Spanish.


  1. ^ Lipski (1994:205–207)
  2. ^ Canfield (1981:34)
  3. ^ a b c Canfield (1981:36)
  4. ^ "Diphthongization of Mid/Low Vowel Sequences in Colombian Spanish" (PDF). Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  5. ^ Ringer Uber (1985)
  6. ^ Lipski (1994:213–214)
  7. ^ a b "Desarrollo sociolingüístico del voseo en la región andina de Colombia (1555–1976)". Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  8. ^ Schmidely, Jack (1983). La personne grammaticale et la langue espagnole. Presses Universitares de France. ISBN 2902618476. 
  9. ^ Carvalho,, Ana M., Rafael Orozco, and Naomi Lapidus Shin, (eds.) (2015). Subject Pronoun Expression in Spanish: A Cross-Dialect Perspective. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. p. 21. ISBN 9781626161702. 
  10. ^ Lipski (1994:214)
  11. ^ "Parlache". 30 August 2004. 
  12. ^ "Antioquia University- Communications Portal". 
  13. ^ Alonso Salazar, No nacimos pa' semilla: La cultura de las bandas juveniles de Medellín (CINEP: 1990)
  14. ^ Lipski (1994:209)
  15. ^ Flórez (1964:73)
  16. ^ Lipski (1994:207)
  17. ^ Canfield (1981:35)
  18. ^ Garrido (2007)
  19. ^ "Desarrollo sociolingüístico del voseo en la región andina de Colombia (1555–1976)". 24 April 2015. Retrieved 16 October 2017. 


  • Canfield, D. Lincoln (1981), Spanish Pronunciation in the Americas, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 34–38, "Colombia", ISBN 978-0-226-09262-1 
  • Díaz Collazos, Ana María (2015), Desarrollo sociolingüístico del voseo en la región andina de Colombia, Berlín: De Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-040414-2 
  • Flórez, Luis (1964), El español hablado en Colombia y su atlas lingüístico: Presente y futuro de la lengua española, 1, Madrid: OFINES, pp. 5–77 
  • Garrido, Marisol (2007), "Language Attitude in Colombian Spanish: Cachacos vs. Costeños", LLJournal, 2 (2) 
  • Lipski, John M. (1994), Latin American Spanish, Longman, ISBN 978-0-582-08761-3 
  • Low, Peter (2015), Colombian Spanish: Phrases, Expressions and Tips to Help You Speak Like a Local, Travelloco Publishing, ISBN 978-1-5262-0248-2
  • Ringer Uber, Diane (1985), "The Dual Function of usted: Forms of Address in Bogotá, Colombia", Hispania, 68 (2): 388–392, doi:10.2307/342216 

External links

  • Colombia, capital del idioma español 25 de marzo de 2007
  • Jergas de habla hispana Spanish dictionary specializing in slang and colloquial expressions, featuring all Spanish-speaking countries, including Colombia
  • How to speak Colombian Spanish Sample conversations and guide to common Colombian expressions, vocabulary, and phrases
  • El voseo en la literatura colombiana de los siglos XIX y XX, Ana María Díaz Collazos
  • Colombian Spanish Blog A series of English-language posts explaining slang terms and phrases used by Colombians.
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