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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 12 (Nov.-Dec. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Afro-Bolivian Spanish


Afro-Bolivian Spanish

The so-called "Afro-Bolivian Spanish" is spoken by Afro-descendant communities settled in the Nor Yungas province (department of La Paz, Bolivia); while in the Sud Yungas province, Afro-Bolivian people usually speak Aymara or the local variant of Spanish used in La Paz.

This variant of Spanish differs from the standard in that it has a characteristic pronunciation which happens to be easily recognizable (a feature that gives away the speaker’s ethnic group).

During the colonial period, the Spanish language spoken by African slaves was called "bozal" (muzzle), and the stereotype associated with this form of speaking has lasted centuries. Just to give you an idea, nineteenth-century literature, especially travellers’ accounts, and folklore tales written during the first half of the twentieth century insisted on portraying it as a variant where "r" was usually pronounced "l" and consonants at the end of words were often devoiced: "arroz" would sound (and, still does so) "aló".

Putting aside discrimination and mocking, one of the features of Afro-Bolivian Spanish is certainly the fact that consonants at the end of words are dropped; for example "s" at the end of a syllable is left off or aspired, and "r" is omitted in the infinitive form and in words such as "mujer" (which is pronounced as "mujé").

"Ll" becomes "y" and "f" before vocals becomes "ju"; as a result, "familia" is pronounced as "juamía", "fiscal" is pronounced as "juiscal" and "café" is pronounced as "cajué". Sometimes, "f" can change its form before consonants too, and "fruta" is therefore pronounced as "jruta".

On the other hand, vocals can be added at the end of words; accordingly, "él" becomes "ele" and "ayer" becomes "ayere".

Although grammar does not differ substantially from standard Spanish, plural forms are tremendously irregular; for example, "los peones" is said "lo peón"; "las mujeres" is said "lo mujé"; "tres meses" is said "tres mes"; and "en el antiguo idioma de mis abuelos" is said "en idioma antigo de mis abuelo".

On many occasions determined articles and some propositions like "de", "en" and "a" are dropped, as happens in the following examples:

    Tiene su mujé, mujé aprendió tomá [Tiene a su mujer, la mujer aprendió a tomar]

    Mayordomo pegaba gente, patrón atrás de mayordomo [El mayordomo pegaba a la gente, y el patrón iba detrás del mayordomo]

    Nació Mururata; tengo hermano allá Coroico [Yo nací en Mururata; tengo un hermano allá en Coroico]

In most cases there is not gender concordance between nouns and adjectives: "las mujeres altos", "esos fiesta", "los hombre con camisa blanco", "han quedado hartos [muchos] viuda" or "unos quince mula".

Finally, the third person of singular is preferred over the rest, and is often used instead of them:

    ¿De qué nojotro va viví? Nojotro trabajaba hacienda. Nojotro tamién tiene jrutita; yo no entiende eso de vender jruta. Yo creció junto con Angelino; nojotro creció lo dó aquí [¿De qué vamos a vivir nosotros? Nosotros trabajábamos en la hacienda. También tenemos frutita; no entiendo eso de vender la fruta. Yo crecí con Angelino; crecimos los dos aquí]

Vocabulary includes the words traditionally used in this region, though there are two which seem to be very characteristic of Afro-Bolivian Spanish: "cho" (an interjection to draw attention, similar to Argentinean and Uruguayan "che") and "jay" ("listen!").

Partly due to the Aymara constantly making fun of their way of speaking, Afro-descendants do not consider their language as a variant of Spanish (proper and unique) but as a "badly spoken" form of this language. Today, Afro-Bolivian Spanish is fading away and might well disappear from the region.

That is why the work by poets like Juan Angola Maconde is so important: he tries to collect old words, preserve them and revive their use.

Tudu lus día salgu a sentá / a la loma di aquí pue ta.
Y sempre mi quedu a mirá / a la mosa di qui dirá.
Cuchuqui cho disti andis toy / li jondiao cun liriu quisoy.
Cumu alza y lu quepecha / samona pue lui inborracha.
Al sol li pidu apurau / consejo di enamorau,
y al liriu li pidu amor / pa conquistá esa jlor.
Cuasquier jlor qui ta jawirau / sudor di cuerpu cansau,
chajchura jay pensamentu / y chajaya intendimientu.
Sol dici toy inamorau, / lirio dici jay, soy morau.
Mumas pur su dircio pietu / luz rejuicilia completu.
Qui dirá la linda mosa / qui creció sempre hermosa.
Cuandu lus jlor di la loma / li digan adios paloma.

[Every day I go out to sit down / on this hillock right here.
And I always wait to see / what the young woman will say.
Calm, cho, from where I am / I throw her a bunch of beautiful lily.
How she picks it up and wraps it! / Its perfume, then, intoxicates her.
The sun I quickly ask for / a lover’s counsel,
and the lily I ask for love / to win the heart of that flower.
Any flower that is soaked / in sweat as a tired body,
waters, jay, the thought / and dulls the understanding.
The sun says "I feel in love". / The lily says "jay, I am purple".
Just because of its black figure, / the light flashes fully.
What will say the pretty young woman / that grew always beautiful
when the flowers on the hillock / say her "goodbye, dove"].


Article. "Afro-Bolivian language today: the oldest surviving Afro-Hispanic speech community", by John M. Lipski.
Book. "Afro-Bolivian Spanish", by John M. Lipski.
Article. "Pueblo afroboliviano, cultura llena de tradiciones", in Vida cotidia nitica [es].
Article. "Poesía afroboliviana", by Juan Angola Maconde [es].


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