Spanish language in Ecuador
Spanish is the most-widely spoken language in Ecuador, though great variations are present depending on several factors, the most important one being the geographical region where it is spoken. According to this, it could be divided in 3 groups.
However, as mentioned before, there are several other sociolinguistic factors that influence in the way of speaking, such as the ethnic or social class of the speaker, and if the speaker lives in an urban or rural area. Since the Coast and the Highlands are the most populated areas, these dialects are the most relevant ones in the country, both of which are quite different one from each other. For instance, there are many idioms specific to each region or province, and others that are used and understood nationwide.
This Spanish variant is classified within the Equatorial Spanish dialect, which extends from the south Pacific coastal Colombia to the northern coast of Peru, crossing the Ecuadorian seacoast. The influential linguistic center of this dialectal region is the port city of Guayaquil.
The most remarkable feature of this variant, is the aspiration of the letter "s" at the end of words or when preceded by another consonant, often being pronounced as a smooth English "h". Likewise, letter "j" is not pronounced as strongly as in other variants (χ) but rather smoothly and aspirated (h). This features are shared with the Caribbean and Canary Islands dialects of Spanish.
Thus, this dialect set the phonemical axis of accentual-tonal transition throughout the American varieties of Spanish, which extends geographically from the northern semi-low intonation of Central American and the Caribbean dialects (since only the European variants of Spanish are particularly low-pitched) to the sharp high intonation characteristic of the lands located south, typical of Peru, Chile and Argentina.
Therefore, the variant of Spanish spoken in the Ecuadorian coast and its neighboring western Andean plains, shares features of both Caribbean dialects of northern Colombia and Venezuela, as well as some southern features of the Peruvian seaboard, making identification of this dialect difficult to the ears of an outsider.
In addition, this variant has incorporated into its lexicon a number of words shared with other dialects of Ecuador which are understood only within the country . These words come mostly from the Andean Spanish dialects of Ecuador, with strong influences from Quichua (Northern Quechua), although the Quechua language had no historical presence in the Ecuadorian coast. This is the case of the Quechua-origin word "ñaño" (brother) which is widespread throughout the country.
- Guayaquil accent: One of the most outstanding accents of the region is the one from the city of Guayaquil, the largest city in the country. Being an important large city that has grown demographically through immigration, both national and international, many dialectal variations may be found mainly associated with social class, ethnicity and schooling level. In general, the "s" sound is dropped or aspirated when it is at the end of the syllables while women tend to overpronounce the letter "s" by saying a deaf elongated sound, especially in the beginning of the syllables. Among the higher-schooled classes, the tendency is to correct the accent towards a more standard Spanish, as well as to incorporate foreign words -especially from English- into its lexicon. Amongst the lower-schooled people, other variations may be found. There is a group of people who tend to share their intonation with the coastal farmers (known as "montubio"). Another group of people tend to have a stronger intonation, which is generally known as "street language" featured by pronouncing letter "s" as an English "sh" [ʃ], in addition to a series of words in their lexicon that are not always understood by other speakers in the region.
- Montubio accent: This the dialect spoken by the local peasants of the rural areas of the Guayas, Los Rios and Manabi provinces, known as montubio. They tend to emphasize the first syllable of most words and to pronounce both the "s" and the "z" like the sound /θ/ (like th in think). This phonological type is called ceceo which is also common in some Andalusian Spanish dialects; while some montubios do not to pronounce the "s" at all at the end of the words.
- Esmeraldas accent: The province of Esmeraldas, on the other hand, presents a very different variant noticeable to the rest of the region, with a strong African component, which closely resembles the accent spoken in the bordering coastal region of Colombia (known there as "Chocoano" dialect). Since this region has a majority of people of African origin, this dialect tends to be a little stronger, featuring both lexical and intonation differences.
- Manabi accent: The accent spoken in the province of Manabi is somewhat similar to the dialect spoken in Guayaquil, though slight variations in intonation and lexicon make it distinct and easily identifiable as a separate variety within the Ecuadorian coastal dialect.
Other regions in the Coast tend to speak a very similar dialect to the one spoken in the city of Guayaquil, due to its influence, specially in urban areas. Slight local local variations may be found however.
In the highlands of Ecuador, a variant of Spanish is spoken, often confused by foreigners with Chilango Spanish—the dialect spoken in Mexico City—due to its similarities. However, it can be subdivided in four dialects:
- Pastuso Spanish (spoken in the Carchi province, at the border with Colombia and similar to the one spoken at the other side of the border, in the Colombian province of Nariño)
- Chota Valley dialect, spoken only amongst the people of African descent that live in this valley of the province of Imbabura. It is a mix of the Highland Central dialect with African dialects, though different from the one spoken in the Coastal province of Esmeraldas.
- Central Andean, the dialect spoken in Quito and most of the Highlands.
- Morlaco Spanish, the dialect spoken in the city of Cuenca and the surrounding areas (provinces of Azuay and Cañar). Its main feature is the "singing" accent they have, many syllables being stressed where they don't correspond. Also, the letter "r" tends to be dragged, a feature imported from native languages, sounding like the difficult phoneme /ř/ (this sounds like pronouncing at the same time "r" and "z", and it's only present in Central Slav languages such as Czech and Slovak). Plus, this zone has a lot of own idiomatic expressions not used elsewhere in the country.
- Southern Highlander, the one spoken in the province of Loja. This variant is maybe the most neutral from the Highlands region, but with a special feature, known in Spanish as lleismo (the ancient Castillian way of pronouncing ll as opposed to the yeísmo that is widespread in the rest of the Spanish speaking world where the sounds for ll and y are pronounced as y ). For instance, the word "pollo" (chicken) would be pronounced "polio".
The Spanish spoken in the Ecuadorian Andes tends to have many idioms borrowed from Quechua, the native language spoken by the indigenous from this region. Words such as ñaño (which is used by many to refer to brother or "bro", while ñaña would mean sister) or choclo (corn) are widely used by people of any ethnicity or social class in this area.
Voseo (the substitution of the second-person pronoun tú for vos) is also very common in this region of the country, used only for informal conversations between friends or relatives.
The Amazonian region has a variant similar to the Central Andean dialect, though there are little differences. For instance, the quijo population from the northern areas, use the 2nd pronoun tú but conjugate the following verb with the 3rd person, usted.
At the islands, a dialect very similar to the one from Guayaquil is spoken, with no major variations, since it's a very low-populated region if compared to the rest of the country.