>Social class and language in Chile

>Kyle’s post about the Chilean terms flaite and cuico reminded me of this. Katina has also posted about this before.

Recently, I was at a training session at an English Institute to be remained unnamed where I will not be working. Anyway, a large portion of the training session focused on pronunciation problems specific to Chilean Spanish. This was kind of redundant for me, being the only potential teacher there who had actually been in Chile for more than 3 weeks. But I did learn two interesting things.

According to the trainer, Chilean men are reluctant to make the /z/ sound (the s in he’s, the z in zipper) in English because it is associated with gay men.

After that little tidbit, he talked about /ch/ vs. /sh/ (sorry, I can’t type those special little phonetic symbols), but basically the ch in cheese and the sh in shut up. I already knew that the lower classes here in Chile use the /sh/ sound, while the upper classes use the /ch/ sound. For example, a lower class person might say “Sheelay” for Chile while an upper class person would say “Cheelay”. What I didn’t know is that this makes students unwilling to create the “sh” sound in English! He told us about a class he had once of mostly upper-middle class women. They were working on the /sh/ sound and one woman in particular refused to say it, saying “ch” instead. Then she turned to the class, and in Spanish said, “I can’t!”, basically sending the message to the rest of them that she was SOOO high class that she simply could not produce that sound. Ridiculous!

Another example of this happened while I was on the beach in Serena. There was a really funny man selling charqui, which is basically beef jerky made out of horse meat (UGH, don’t get me stared on horse meat…I know it’s a delicacy some places but seriously, CUAK!!). He would go down the beach yelling “Chaaaaarqui charqui chaaaaarqui!” then change to “Shaaaaarqui sharqui shaaaaaarqui!” Why would he switch between the /ch/ and the /sh/? The only reason I can think of is to attract clientele of any social class.

I guess this just goes to show how it’s difficult to learn a language (or teach a language) without learning the culture at the same time.


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