From Castellano to Paceño

Every language has its dialects. Every region has its slang.

Having studied castellano, Spanish from Spain, I knew there would be a lot for me to learn regarding language in Bolivia.

Gone are my days of using vosotros, cursing like it’s no big deal (because in Spain, it isn’t) and using all the weird idioms I picked up during my semester abroad. Now, I’m learning to speak like a Paceño, a person from La Paz.

Thankfully when I lapse back to using my old vocabulary, almost everyone has found my Spaniard words and phrases to be either funny or cute. Only once have I gotten myself into trouble, making the fatal mistake of using the verb coger instead of tomar. For those who aren’t familiar with why this was a problem, I’ll leave you to look it up on your own time.

However, what has really stood out to me isn’t the differences in dialect between Castilian and Bolivian Spanish, but rather the unique attributes of language in La Paz.

The most noticeable is the addition of -ita and -ito to so many words. For the non-Spanish speakers, adding these diminutive suffixes indicates affection or smallness. People in La Paz are constantly ending their words with them in everyday conversations.

For instance, when I got the idea for this blog post, I asked my host family for words that they add -ito or -ita to, and instantly they thought of more than twenty examples. From viejita to chiquita and tecito to poquito, the people of La Paz refer to almost everything and everyone affectionately.

Similarly, another difference I have noticed pertains to many of the young Bolivians I’ve met. Almost every young person I’ve met in La Paz goes by an apodo or nickname. Some simply go by a shortening of their full name like my host sisters, Taly (Natalia) and Mey (Amelia) — (Also, here’s a shout out to them for being great hosts and for reading my blog posts!) Others, go by a personality trait or physical attribute like Chascas, a girl with very curly hair. Lastly, and the most difficult for an outsider like me to understand, are the nicknames given as inside jokes among friends, where the name was coined after a funny event or situation. For example, a friend of my host sister is lovingly called Queso.

Regardless of where the nicknames have come from, none of them are mean-spirited, and everyone seems to claim their nickname with pride. It seems the nicknames connect people together, whether it be through creating them after sharing a funny moment or explaining them to a new foreign friend.

When I arrived to La Paz, I felt that the people were quite welcoming and warm. I briefly touched in my last post about how I observed a lot of friendliness and politeness amongst strangers on public transportation. Now, as my days continue here, my feelings about Paceños have only strengthened. With their use of diminutive suffixes and nicknames, their language as well as their actions display affection and care.

There’s a lot of warmth here in La Paz, and it’s not just from the sun. 

Listen closely to feel it.


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