The Complicated World of Yucatecan Spanish

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Little did I know that during one of my earliest trips to a tendejón (small family owned store) in the Yucatan Peninsula that dropping a coin on the floor would open the door to the complicated world of speaking Spanish in the region. Putting a pause to paying the young man behind the counter I got on the floor to look for it and our dialogue went as such:

Owner: ¿Lo buscate, joven?

Me:       [ pondering in my head why he would be asking if I looked for it. Is it not obvious that I am in the process of doing such? Everybody knows that ‘buscar’ means to look for.]  Ah, sí, lo encontré!

Owner:  [laughing and realizing that I learned Spanish outside of the Peninsula] Qué bueno que lo buscate.  Aquí decimos lo busqué… no encontré.

So, with this conversation the language I had learned in first year Spanish in high school went out the window as I realized that many people use the same verb for ‘to look for’ and ‘to find’.  How illogical!  But…  That was just the beginning! Little did I know that even non-Peninsular Mexicans would arrive here scratching their heads in confusion.

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The Yucatan Peninsula is somewhat isolated from mainland Mexico and it is a short distance to its Caribbean neighbors. This has lead to several factors that influence its current language. First, the Castilian Spanish that the Spaniards introduced has been the base for the current Spanish spoken. Also, the proximity to the Caribbean has influenced the language in both vocabulary and pronunciation with some phrases. Of course, one of the largest contributing factors is the Yucatec Mayan (there are many Mayan dialects, but this is spoken only in the Peninsula) spoken by the Maya people for centuries in the area. The Yucatan’s Spanish is a very unique one in which its inhabitants take great pride.

The socio-economic and ethnic background statuses, like in other parts of the world, influence the manner in which a person speaks in the Peninsula. However, we will give you some examples of some language differences you might encounter sometime and somewhere as you travel the region.

Some pronunciation points:

*Vowels tend to be drawn out a bit more, especially where the stress of a word is located.

*The sound ‘sh’ does not exist much in the Spanish language, but in the Yucatan you may hear it more since in Mayan it does exist.  A prime example is a neighbor who clearly says ‘SHincuenta’ instead of ‘Cincuenta’ for the number 50.

*The “ñ” which usually has a sharp “nya” sound is drawn out more to sound like “nia” or “nio”.  An example would for the ‘niño‘ which would be pronounced ‘ninio’.

*Sometimes the letter ‘h’ is pronounced like a soft ‘j’. In other Spanish dialects, the ‘h’ is silent.

Now let’s get to some fun words and expressions. Keep in mind, even if locals don’t speak Mayan, they sometimes unknowingly use the phrases as they are part of the language here.

¡Way!           Expression of surprise or scare.  Many other Spanish dialects would use ¡Huy!

Máare           General interjection. Many times used at the start of a sentence. e.j. well, wow!, OK, etc.

Boxito(a)      Coming from Mayan for black, it is a term of endearment. It would be like calling somebody ‘dear’.

Tuch             Belly button.  Used commonly for ‘Happy Hump Day!’ or ‘Feliz tuch de la semana’.

Chan             Small, tiny.  Also, it is a very common last name in the region.

¡Fo!                Expression of disgust when something is gross or nasty.

Bulto              A bag or purse.

Lóoch            To hug.

Peek’              A dog.

Wach              Literally meaning dirty, it is used to call a person from other parts of Mexico, especially Mexico City.

Puyul               Derogatory term for a gay man, especially an effeminate one.

Heladez           Coming from the word for ice, an exaggerated expression to describe cool temperatures.

Pelaná             A very nasty, general term to call a person if you were mad at or did not like him or her.

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So, that is just the tip of the iceberg of Yucatecan Spanish! Each day I acquire more knowledge about this complex language.

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5 thoughts on “The Complicated World of Yucatecan Spanish

  1. We will be living in Merida for three months this coming summer, and your post will be very useful. We have been learning and practicing our Spanish on the Baja peninsula, so it should be an interesting contrast 🙂

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