Castilian Spanish

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Castilian Spanish is a term related to the Spanish language, but its exact meaning can vary even in that language.[citation needed] In English, Castilian Spanish usually refers to the variety of European Spanish spoken in northern and central Spain or as the language standard for radio and TV speakers.[1][2][3][4]

The Spanish language term castellano (Castilian) may refer to the Spanish language as a whole, to the dialects spoken in central and northern Spain, or to the medieval language which was a predecessor to modern Spanish.

The purpose of this article is to describe the features of the Spanish language spoken in central and northern Spain, especially in the way it contrasts with the Spanish varieties in Southern Spain and the Americas.


Map of languages and dialects in Spain.

The term Castilian Spanish can be used in English for the specific dialects of Spanish spoken in north and central Spain. Sometimes it is more loosely used to denote the Spanish spoken in all of Spain as compared to Spanish spoken in Latin America; however, there are several different dialects of Spanish as well as other official languages in Spain.

For Spanish speakers in academic contexts, castellano refers to the language as a whole, as a synonym of español (Spanish).

Accent particularities[edit]

The Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy or RAE) defines Castilian Spanish as a standard language, and many speakers accept RAE as the governing body of the language.

However, some traits of the Spanish spoken in Spain are exclusive to that country, and for this reason, courses of Spanish as a second language often neglect them preferring Mexican Spanish in the United States and Canada whilst European Spanish is taught in Europe. While there is nothing comparable to American and British English spelling differences, grammar and to a lesser extent pronunciation can vary sometimes.

The most striking difference between dialects in central and northern Spain and Latin American Spanish is distinción (distinction), that is, the pronunciation of the letter z before all vowels, and of c only for e and i, as a voiceless dental fricative /θ/, English th in thing. Thus, in most variations of Spanish from Spain, cinco (five) is pronounced /ˈθiŋko/ as opposed to /ˈsiŋko/ in Latin American Spanish, and similarly for zapato, cerdo, zorro, Zurbarán.

Additionally, all Latin-American dialects drop the non-formal vosotros verb form for the second person plural, using ustedes in all contexts. In Spain, ustedes is used only in a formal context. Some other minor differences are:

  • The widespread use of "le" instead of "la" and "lo" as direct object, especially referring to men.[clarification needed]
  • In the past, the sounds for "y" and "ll" were phonologically different in most European Spanish subvarieties, compared with only a few dialects in Latin America, but that difference is now disappearing in all Peninsular Spanish dialects, including the standard (that is, Castilian Spanish based on Madrid dialect). A distinct phoneme for "ll" is still heard in the speech of older speakers in rural areas throughout Spain, but most Spanish-speaking adults and youngsters merge "ll" and "y". In Latin America, "ll" remains different from "y" in traditional dialects along the Andes range, especially in the Peruvian highlands, all of Bolivia and also in Paraguay. In the Philippines, speakers of Spanish and Filipino employ the distinction between "ll" /ʎ/ and "y" /j/.
  • In most of Latin America, usted is used more often than in mainland Spain; however, in Latin America, this tendency is less common among young people, especially in Caribbean dialects.
  • In Castilian Spanish, the letter j as well as the letter g before the letters i and e are pronounced as a stronger velar fricative /x/ and very often the friction is uvular [χ], while in Latin America they are generally guttural as well, but not as strong and the uvular realizations of European Spanish are not reported. In the Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela, the Canary Islands and most of western Andalusia, as well as in the Philippines, it is pronounced as [h].


The meaning of certain words may differ greatly between both dialects of the language: carro refers to car in some Latin American dialects, but to cart in Spain. Sometimes there also appear gender differences: el PC (personal computer) in Castilian Spanish, la PC in Latin American Spanish, due to the widespread use of the gallicism ordenador (from l'ordinateur in French) for computer in Castilian Spanish, which is masculine, instead of the Latin-American-preferred computadora, which is feminine, from the English word computer. Also, speakers of the second dialect tend to use words and polite-set expressions that, though recognized by the RAE, are not widely used nowadays (some of them even deemed as anachronisms) by speakers of Castilian Spanish. For example, enojarse and enfadarse are verbs with the same meaning (to become angry), enojarse being used much more in the Americas than in Spain, and enfadarse more in Spain than in the Americas.

Selected vocabulary differences
Castilian Spanish1 Latin American Spanish2 English
vale bien okay
gafas anteojos/lentes eyeglasses/spectacles
melocotón durazno peach
patata papa potato
judía, alubia chícharo/frijol/habichuela/poroto bean
jersey chaleco/suéter jumper/sweater
coche auto/carro car
conducir manejar to drive
estacionar/aparcar parquear/estacionar to park
ordenador computadora computer
zumo jugo juice
chulo/guay chévere/chido/piola cool (slang)
tío tipo dude/bloke (slang)

1many of the vocabulary examples are used throughout Spain and not necessarily specific to just Castilian Spanish
2Latin American Spanish consists of several varieties spoken throughout the Americas. The examples may not represent all dialects but are meant to show contrast

Inside Spain, there are many regional variations of Spanish, which can be divided roughly into four major dialectal areas:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Random House Inc. 2006. 
  2. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. 2006. 
  3. ^ Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 1998. 
  4. ^ "Encarta World English Dictionary". Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2008-08-05.