At first sight South America is a linguistically simple continent for the visitor: Spanish and Portuguese complete the list of main official languages in the vast majority of the continent and both are related. However, South America suffers of a great variety of extreme landscapes that have isolated big areas. Moreover, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani and other native languages have influenced the local versions of Spanish and sometimes even created confusing dialects.
If compared to the Spaniard Spanish, the main characteristics of the South American dialects is the collapse of the “c,” “s,” and “z” into a single sound comparable to the English “s”; nonetheless it is not rare to hear it pronounced as a “sh.”
Until now it was simple. Two sounds have striking differences from one country to another: the “ll” and the “y.” at the end of a word, “y” is always pronounced as “ee,” but at the beginning or the end – Spanish is not exactly a phonetic language – it sounds as a “sh” in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay but as an “ee” or a “j” in Bolivia and the other Andean counties. The lateral consonant “ll” is the most complicated sound. Spaniard pronunciation is almost impossible for most humans. Argentineans and the other southern countries settled down – again – for a “sh,” while Bolivia and the Andean countries prefer an “ee” or a “lee.” The surname “Aslla” is pronounced “As-sha” in Argentina and “As-ee-a” or “As-lee-a” in Bolivia. Bolivians have added a “jh” to denote the English “j,” nonexistent in Spanish.
This is not all. Speech speed and the underlying tone upon with the words are placed change from place to place. Chileans speak very fast and skip the ending “s,” while Bolivians enlarge certain vowels, “la-aar-go” they said (long) instead of “lar-go.” The last is an influence of the Aymara way of emphasizing words.
The vocabulary suffers as well of significant variants which can cause significant embarrassment. In Argentina, “tirar” means “to pull,” as in Spain. But in Paraguay, “estirar” (to stretch) is used. In Bolivia, “tirar” is the parallel of the English word that originally meant “From Unknown Common Knowledge,” that infamous “f” word. “Jalar” is used there to pull something.
These dialects can create “serious” difficulties for the unaware traveller. “Serio” would Argentineans say, while Bolivians would prefer “grave.” Mon Dieau!