Salvadoran Spanish

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Salvadoran Spanish
Español salvadoreño
Pronunciation[espaˈɲol salβaðoˈɾeɲo]
Native toEl Salvador
RegionCentral American Spanish
Native speakers
6.5 million in total (2019)[1]
L2: 19,200 (Instituto Cervantes 2019)
Early forms
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
 El Salvador
Regulated byAcademia Salvadoreña de la Lengua
Language codes
ISO 639-1es
ISO 639-2spa[2]
ISO 639-3
Two varieties of Salvadoran Spanish by Azcúnuga López (2010).
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Salvadoran Spanish is geographically defined as the form of Spanish spoken in the country of El Salvador. The Spanish dialect in El Salvador shares many similarities to that of its neighbors in the region, but it has its stark differences in pronunciation and usage. El Salvador, like most of Central America, uses voseo Spanish as its written and spoken form, similar to that of Argentina. Vos is used, but many Salvadorans understand tuteo. Vos can be heard in television programs and can be seen in written form in publications. Usted is used as a show of respect, when someone is speaking to an elderly person.

Phonetics and phonology[edit]

Notable characteristics of Salvadoran phonology include the following:

  • The presence of seseo wherein /θ/ and /s/ are not distinguished. Seseo is common to Andalusian, Canarian, and all Latin American Spanish varieties.
  • Syllable-final /s/ is realized as glottal [h][3][4] (mainly on the Eastern departments as Usulután and San Miguel). In the casual speech of some speakers, this may also occur syllable-initially.[5] This is most common word-medially, in an unstressed position, as in casa [ˈkaha] 'house', and is much less common in a word-initial stressed position, as in siglo [ˈsiɣlo] 'century'.[6] Syllable-final [s] is always or mostly pronounced in the formal speech, like TV broadcasts.
    • A voiceless fricative which sounds similar to [θ] is also used in the speech of some Salvadorans.[7] According to Brogan 2018, this is the result of a gestural undershoot. It is on an acoustic continuum between [s] and [h], representing an intermediate degree of lenition.[8]
  • /x/ is realized as glottal [h].[3][4]
  • Intervocalic /d/ often disappears; the ending -ado is often [ao].[3][4]
  • There is no confusion between final /l/ and /r/, unlike in the Caribbean.[citation needed]
  • Word-final /n/ is pronounced velar [ŋ].[3][4]
  • As El Salvador was part of the First Mexican Empire, the Salvadoran dialect adopted the voiceless alveolar affricate [t͡s] and the cluster [tl] (originally []) represented by the respective digraphs ⟨tz⟩ and ⟨tl⟩ in loanwords of Nahuatl origin, quetzal and tlapalería [t͡ɬapaleˈɾia] ('hardware store'). Even words of Greek and Latin origin with ⟨tl⟩, such as Atlántico and atleta, are pronounced with /tl/: [aˈtlantiko], [aˈtleta] (compare [aðˈlantiko], [aðˈleta] in Spain and other dialects in Hispanic America).[9]

Pronouns and verb conjugation[edit]


In El Salvador, as in the other Central American nations, vos is the dominant second person singular pronoun used by many speakers in familiar or informal contexts.[10] Voseo is most commonly used among people in the same age group in addressing one another. It is common to hear young children address each other with "vos." The phenomenon also occurs among adults who address one another in familiar or informal contexts. "Vos" is also used by adults in addressing children or juveniles. However, the relationship does not reoccur when children address adults. Children address adults with usted regardless of age, status or context.


"Usted" is the formal second person singular pronoun in Salvadoran Castilian. "Usted" is used in addressing foreigners formally, for acquaintances, and in business settings. Unlike nearby Costa Rica, "usted" is not the dominant second person pronoun for addressing a person.


is hardly used, though it is occasionally present between Salvadorans who aren't imitating foreign speech.[11] It occupies an intermediary position between vos and usted. It is used in addressing foreigners familiarly and when writing correspondence to foreigners (again in familiar contexts).

Postposed pronouns[edit]

In El Salvador, and neighboring areas of Honduras and Guatemala, vos, or more rarely usted, may be added to the end of a sentence to reiterate the listener's participation. This constitutes free use of the pronoun, unconnected to any of the arguments in the preceding sentence. Little is known about this phenomenon's origins.[12]


In El Salvador and Guatemala it is common to place an indefinite article before a possessive pronoun, as in una mi tacita de café lit.'a my cup of coffee'. Very rarely the possessive can be combined with a demonstrative pronoun, like aquella su idea lit.'that his/her/their idea'. This construction was occasional in Old Spanish and still found in Judaeo-Spanish, but its frequency in El Salvador and Guatemala is due to similar constructions being found in various Mayan languages.[13]

Salvadoran Caliche/Caliche Salvadoreño[edit]

The definition for Caliche is an informal term for Salvadoran Spanish due to colloquialisms and unique indigenous lexical words that are different from Salvadoran Spanish. Caliche refers to the Nawat (Pipil) influenced dialect of Spanish spoken in El Salvador. Many words have gone through the process of deletion, vowel assimilation, or epenthesis to make it easier for the speaker to understand. Salvadoran Caliche is used across social classes, although professional individuals tend to avoid it because it is not considered "proper" Spanish.

For example, this table shows the difference between Standard Salvadoran Spanish and Caliche:

Salvadoran Spanish Salvadoran Caliche English gloss
Acá, así es la situación La onda está así This is the situation
Dinero pisto Money
Un Colón salvadoreño Un Peso/ Un bola One Salvadoran Colon
Está difícil Está yuca It is difficult
Está muy ebrio/borracho Está muy bolo/ A verga/Pedo He/She is very drunk
Sabemos progresar Sabemos socarla/ Le hacemos huevos We know how to progress
Nos gusta salir a pasear Nos gusta chotiar/Vacilar We like to go to outings

Words like this are not unique to El Salvador, and when heard by someone that is Salvadoran or from neighbouring countries they are understood. Nawat's influence appears in the word chiche, which means "breast".[14] But chiche in El Salvador also means "not easy”. Another word is guishte,[15] which means a piece of broken glass, which comes (from Witzti “thorn”). This word does not appear in any dictionary so its origin cannot be traced, but the only hypothesis behind this word was proposed by Pedro Geoffroy Rivas—an anthropologist, poet, and linguist—who believed that it came from the Pipil language, since El Salvador's Spanish has been heavily influenced by it.[citation needed]

Unfortunately, Caliche is not described in studies on Salvadoran Spanish. The philologist John M. Lipski points out that Centro American Spanish (including the Spanish spoken in El Salvador) lacks adequate sources for linguistic and literary research. Lipski further elaborates that such linguistic shortage indicates a possible generalization that in recent decades Salvadoran dialectology has failed to advance as rapidly as the comparative work in other Latin American nations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Spanish → El Salvador at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "ISO 639-2 Language Code search". Library of Congress. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Canfield 1981, pp. 65–66
  4. ^ a b c d Lipski 1994, pp. 290–291
  5. ^ Brogan & Bolyanatz 2018, p. 203.
  6. ^ Lipski 1984.
  7. ^ Brogan & Bolyanatz 2018, p. 204, citing Canfield 1981, Hualde 2005 and Lipski 1994.
  8. ^ Brogan & Bolyanatz 2018, p. 204.
  9. ^ Navarro Tomás 2004, Section 98
  10. ^ Lipski 2000, p. 65.
  11. ^ Lipski 2000, p. 66.
  12. ^ Lipski 2000, pp. 67–68.
  13. ^ Lipski 2000, p. 70.
  14. ^ "chiche". Diccionario de la lengua española (in Spanish). Retrieved October 6, 2021.
  15. ^ "Guishte". Diccionario Libre (in Spanish). Retrieved October 6, 2021.


Further reading[edit]