The United States is home to the world’s second largest Spanish speaking community. But Latinos in the United States have very diverse origins and they don’t all share the same accent, idioms and colloquialisms. So how do those varieties and dialects come together in American media directed at the hispanic audience?
Broadcast Neutral Spanish
A lot of non Spanish speakers assume that Spanish is “Mexican” and that American media aimed at hispanics tends to follow the Mexican variety. Not only is this untrue, but it also doesn’t do justice to the Mexican people either. Just as English accents change throughout the United States, Mexico too has many accents within its borders. However, the important things here is that Latinos in the US come from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Central American countries like Honduras and Nicaragua and from all over Latin America. So would these ethnicities sacrifice their own Spanish for Mexico’s?
Of course not. Let’s not overcomplicate it. As with English, Spanish changes from country to country. But the more formal you get, the closer different varieties become. A British newspaper is not fundamentally different (in terms of vocabulary) from an Australian one or from an American one. The same happens with Spanish - even though colloquialisms change, the written language doesn’t suffer that much. Some words don’t translate well across the ocean (think ‘rubbish’ vs ‘trash’), but they are rarely a reason for gross misunderstandings. Plus, native speakers are likely to have heard these words before at some point, just as you have heard both ‘rubbish’ and ‘trash’.
So what newspapers, television and most websites use is called “broadcast Spanish”. Also known as neutral Spanish, this is a polite form of Spanish that uses standard grammar, uses ‘ustedes’ and avoids words that are restricted to a certain region. Broadcasters usually speak clearly, but they maintain their own country’s accent - if you tune into Univisión or Telemundo, you’ll listen to Cuban, Venezuelan and Mexican accents one after the other. At the end of the day, everyone understands each other.
It’s worth noting that broadcast Spanish wasn’t created by Hispanics living in the United States - it was already used in Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela in soap operas and mass media.
Characteristics of Standard/ Neutral Spanish
- absence of idioms and regional mannerisms
- ustedes for the second person plural (instead of vosotros)
- tú for the second person singular (instead of usted or vos)
- use similar words that can be understood across different regions (e.g. “equipo” for computer, instead of “ordenador” or “computadora”)