Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chile 101: They Speak Chilean Here

Perhaps the first thing to know about Chile is that it is a very isolated country. Geographically Chile is separated from the rest of South America by the Andes Mountains and most Chileans I have met have never traveled outside of their country. Of the few that have, many have solely been to Mendoza, Argentina, just over Chile’s eastern border. On a recent trip to Argentina, one Argentine I met told me that historically Chile has been a country apart from the rest of Latin America. Indeed, Chile has yet to join one of the two South American trading blocs, the CAN (La Comunidad Andina) or Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur), neither has the Chilean government taken a firm stand pro or anti- Hugo Chavez. One more bit of evidence to Chilean uniqueness is the country’s version of Spanish. There are many words used here, chilenismos as they’re called, that are unique to Chile. In fact, I would venture to say, they don’t speak SPANISH here, they speak CHILEAN.

Exhibit A: the term “Huevón.”
Often times pronounced, “Gue-on,” this is an all encompassing term used by Chileans of all social strata. It has a plethora of meanings and can be good or bad. For instance, if you see a friend walking down the street, you might say “¿Cómo estai, huevón?” whatsup, man? But at the same time, if someone cuts you off in traffic you very well might shout “¡huevón!” in their direction. Alternately, you could also use it solely in reference to “that guy over there.” There’s also the slight variation “huevada” which is ascribed to objects; calling something a “huevada” us similar to labeling it a “whatchama-call-it.” Huevón refers to men, the feminine version is “huevona.” But be warned, do not ever call a female a “huevona,” it’s akin to saying bitch/slut. Because of its many shades of meaning, as a foreigner it’s best to only use this term among friends.

Exhibit B: the term “Po.”
The term comes from the Spanish “pues” (well…) and whether you are rich or poor; a day laborer, university professor, electrician, or a businessman; EVERYBODY says “po.” It doesn’t really mean much of anything; it’s just attached to the end of phrases to make what you are saying more emphatic. So, instead of the mundane “Sí” (yes), it’s common to hear sípo. There’s also “Nopo” rather than plain old “no,” and “no sépo” instead of “no sé” (Spanish for: I don’t know.)

Exhibit C: the verb Cachar.
The rest of the Spanish speaking world uses “entiendes” for “do you understand?” Not so in Chile, where “entiendes” is said about as often as snow falls in June. Instead, the say “¿cachai?” This word actually comes from the English verb “catch,” as in “catch my drift” and can mean “understand” or alternately “have sexual relations” (hence it’s another word for foreigners to be careful using).

Exhibit D: Other miscellaneous terms:
¡Qué lata! What a pain!
¡Qué fome! How boring!
¡Bacan! Cool!

Now hopefully you have a beginner’s grasp of Chilean Spanish. So if someone ever asks you, “¿Catchai, huevón?” You can affirmatively respond “¡Sípo!”

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