Colombian Spanish

Colombian Spanish is a term that refers to 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 y 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 phoneme /x/ is realized as glottal [h] "in all regions [of Colombia]",[1] in common with the pronunciation of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and southern Spain.
  • The voiced consonants /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/ are pronounced as plosives after any consonant (rather than the fricative or approximant that is characteristic of most other dialects). Thus pardo ['paɹdo], barba ['barba], algo ['algo], desde ['dezde]—rather than the ['paɹðo], ['barβa], ['alɣo], ['dezðe] of Spain and the rest of Spanish America. A notable exception is the region of Nariño.[2]

Personal pronouns

  • The Spanish of Colombia, and especially that of Bogotá, 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.[3][4]
  • Characteristic regional usages of pronouns include voseo (use of vos for the familiar singular "you", rather than the of other dialects) in the Paisa region and the Valle del Cauca, and the use of "su merced" (literally "your mercy") in Cundinamarca and Boyacá.
  • 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.[5]


  • 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 and Costa Rican Spanish as well.
  • 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"). The latter expressions are especially frequent among lower- and lower-middle-class speakers.
  • Sentences are often begun with what seems to be an out-of-place conjunction que ("that"), which makes the sentence sound as if the speaker is delivering a message from a third party. Thus "Que vienen pronto" ("[They say] that they are coming soon") for standard "Vienen pronto" ("They are coming soon"), or "Que gracias" ("[He/she says] that [I am to give you] thanks") when returning a borrowed item, instead of simply saying "Gracias" ("Thank you"). The use of this added conjunction is also associated with lower- and lower-middle-class speakers. Colombian sources speculate that this usage came from the customary practice of children to run family errands and deliver messages to others in the community—neighbors, butchers, cobblers, etc. Eventually, it is thought, some people started using this form out of habit even when there was no third party involved.

Slang words

Slang talk is frequent in popular culture, especially in the barrios of big cities. In the Paisa region and Medellín, the local slang is named "Parlache".[6] Many slang expressions have spread outside of their original areas to become commonly understood throughout the country.[7] While some words eventually lose their status as slang, others continue to be considered as such by most speakers, and many of these words are considered vulgar and rude by some people, especially in Bogotá. The process of slang expressions expanding beyond their original group of speakers often leads the original users to replace the words with other, less-recognized terms to maintain group identity. Although prescriptive grammarians often describe this kind of language as crass or distasteful, it is a continuing linguistic phenomenon with clear sociological importance.[8]

Many of these words have been popularized by the Colombian media, such as Alonso Salazar's book, No nacimos pa' semilla,[9] Victor Gaviria´s movie Rodrigo D. no futuro, or Andrés López'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 literal translation and meaning are:

  • abrirse ("to split up"): to leave.
  • aporrear: to accidentally fall.
  • arepera: lesbian.
  • arrecho: horny.
  • bacán, bacano, bacana: someone or something cool, kind, friendly.
  • barra ("[gold] bar"): one thousand Colombian pesos.
  • berraco, berraca: someone "hardcore", awesome, worthy of admiration, "the man". Está berraco/a: (1) It's hard to deal with, difficult (referring to a problem, puzzle, or issue); (2) He/she is angry, "pissed off" (referring to a person). (This is the Colombian slang par excellence, embraced by all regardless of social status, and understood and used in every region of the country.)
  • la berraquera (derived from berraco): (1) the ultimate greatest thing, "the bee's knees". (2) will power, determination, courage, strength.
  • boleta (also bandera, ceba, garra, iguazo, depending on the region): something or someone obvious, tacky, ordinary, cheap, nasty, lacking in style.
  • brutal: extremely cool, really awesome. ¡Ese man, tan brutal!—This guy is so cool!
  • cagar ("to shit") or joder ("to fuck"): to tease, to mess with something or someone, to cause damage.
  • caliente ("hot"): dangerous.
  • camello ("camel"): job.
  • caspa/calilla ("dandruff"/"thin cigar"): a badly-behaved person.
  • catorce ("fourteen"): a favor.
  • charlar: to chat, sometimes to gossip.
  • cojo ("lame, wobbly"): weak or lacking sense.
  • comerse a alguien ("to eat somebody"): to have sex.
  • corroncho: (1) something really tacky or ordinary, derogatory of people from the Caribbean area of Colombia. (2) someone who has something new and is eager to use it because they have never had anything like it.
  • chévere: cool, admirable.
  • chicharrón: (pork rind): a problem, something to deal with.
  • chimba: pussy (slang for female genitalia). When it is used as an object of comparison it denotes an extreme attraction to something (attractive/cool). Example: Eso es una chimba de carro ("That is a cool car). Its use is considered obscene, although it is heard frequently in Medellín and other cities. It can be intensified by the prefix re-: ¡Qué rechimba! - "How awesome/cool!"
  • chino: ("Chinese"): child.
  • chocha: (1) pussy; (2) someone stubbornly set in their ways, an old, stubborn person.
  • chutear: to kick.
  • embarrar: to mess up, to get in trouble.
  • emputado/da: extremely angry.
  • entucar: to make out.
  • filo ("sharp"): hunger.
  • fresco ("fresh"): "Be cool!"
  • gamín, from French gamin "naughty child": (1) a boy living in the streets (also called ñero; (2) a person who has no manners.
  • gas ("gas"): something nasty or unpleasant.
  • gasolinera or gasolinero: a "gold digger".
  • golfa: an easy or promiscuous woman.
  • gonorrea ("gonorrhea"): evil, loathsome.
  • guaricha: a derogatory term for female, something between "ordinary" and "bitch". (Example: ¡India guaricha! — "You ho'!!")
  • 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."
  • güevón ("big balls"): (1) lazy, "dumb ass"; (2) also used between men to express sympathy and solidarity: ¡Ay güevón! — "Oh, man!"
  • hembro (term used by females or gays): handsome.
  • 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.
  • llave ("key"): friend.
  • mamar: to suck off.
  • mamar gallo (literally: suckle a cockerel [originally obscene, but now humorous]): to pull someone's leg (English idiom), to tease, wind up, fool around, take the piss/Mickey.
  • mamola: no way
  • 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"): a really mean person.
  • nerdo or nerda: nerd, geek.
  • nonas or nones: no.
  • ñero or mañé: low-class, nasty.
  • paila ("saucepan"): (1) bad luck; (2) "too bad".
  • paquete ("package"): one million Colombian pesos.
  • 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. Colombian singer and Medellín-native Juanes named his album P.A.R.C.E. after this local phrase.
  • perder el año: (1) to get an F (grade)); (2) to die.
  • pichar: (1) to have sex; (2) to drink beer.
  • pilas ("batteries"): wake up, watch out, smarten up.
  • pisarse ("to step over"): to leave.
  • plata ("silver"): money.
  • plomo ("lead"): bullets.
  • porfa (from por favor): please.
  • ratero (from rata "rat"): robber.
  • rola or rolo: someone from the capital city, Bogotá.
  • rumbear: 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: expert, "hardcore" (someone who is very good at doing something).
  • tombo: policeman.
  • tragado ("swallowed"): having a crush on someone.
  • trillar ("to thresh"): to make out.
  • 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.
  • ¿Vientos o maletines? (humorous form of ¿Bien o mal?): How are things?
  • vieja ("old woman"): woman.
  • yeyo: a feeling of being extremely scared or worried, with a light feeling of nausea or feeling faint.

Colombian Spanish dialects

Lipski[10] groups Colombian dialects phonologically into four major zones; Canfield[11] refers to five major linguistic regions; Flórez[12] proposes seven dialectal zones, based on phonetic and lexical criteria; and still others recognize eleven dialect areas, as listed below.

Paisa dialect

(see Paisa region)

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] like that of northern and central Spain.[13] Paisa Spanish is a "voseante" dialect, meaning it uses vos rather than for the familiar singular "you" pronoun. The role of this voseo usage in forming the distinct Paisa linguistic identity was reenforced by its use in the works of several Paisa writers, including Tomás Carrasquilla, 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. In Colombia, the speech of Bogotá is widely held to be a prestige standard of "purer" language, perhaps due to its historically conservative nature[14] (preservation of syllable-final [s], preservation of /d/ in the -ado ending, preservation of the ll/y contrast,[15] etc.).[16]

Cundiboyacense dialect

The Cundiboyacense dialect is spoken mainly in the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá (Cundiboyacense High Plateau). This dialect makes a strong use of the expression sumercé or su merced (literally "your mercy") as a formal second-person singular pronoun. It is also an area of strong "ustedeo", that is, the use of the pronoun usted (considered formal in most other dialects) in informal speech (as and vos are used in other dialects).

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 Spanish. Syllable-final /s/ is typically pronounced [h]; thus costa ("coast") is pronounced ['kohta].

Valluno dialect

The Valluno dialect 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. A chucha here is not another crude word for "vagina" or "prostitute", as in other areas, but an opossum. A pachanguero is someone who dances/parties all night long.

Andean dialect

The Pastuso or Andean dialect is spoken in the southwest area of the country. 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.

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, bordering Venezuela. As in the neighbouring Cundiboyacense High Plateau, there is a strong use of ustedeo (see above).

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) and into Venezuela. It has a characteristic influence of indigenous languages with specific tonalities at each side of the Colombian and Venezuelan borders.

Chocó or Pacific dialect

This dialect extends beyond the Department of Chocó throughout the Pacific coast and is said to reflect African influence. Characteristically, syllable-final /s/ is frequently "debuccalized" (pronounced as [h]) or omitted, as in Colombia's Caribbean dialect (see above). 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.

Island dialect

This is the dialect spoken in the Islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina in the Colombian Caribbean. It is marked by a mixture of Caribbean Spanish with English language tones.


  1. ^ Canfield (1981:34)
  2. ^ Canfield (1981:36)
  3. ^ Ringer Uber (1985)
  4. ^ Lipski (1994:213-214)
  5. ^ Schmidely, Jack (1983). La personne grammaticale et la langue espagnole. ISBN 290261847. 
  6. ^ (Spanish) Parlache
  7. ^ Antioquia University- Communications Portal
  8. ^ Paisa website
  9. ^ Alonso Salazar, No nacimos pa' semilla: La cultura de las bandas juveniles de Medellín (CINEP: 1990)
  10. ^ Lipski (1994:209)
  11. ^ Canfield (1981:36)
  12. ^ Flórez (1964:73)
  13. ^ Canfield (1981:36)
  14. ^ Lipski (1994:207)
  15. ^ Canfield (1981:35)
  16. ^ Garrido (2007)


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