Why is it important?
|Voseo on a billboard in Buenos Aires: Note “vení” instead of “ven”|
Photo credit: Qqqqqq licensed CC BY-SA 3.0
It’s only ironic, however, that it’s now completely extinct in the country of its origin, i.e., Spain. Most courses skip this pronoun simply because the two largest dialects of Spanish, Castillian and Mexican, don’t have it in their inventories. But if the dialect you’re aiming to acquire is, say Argentenean or Uruguayan, you just can’t do without vos.
As mentioned before, voseo is not a global phenomenon. It’s rather dialectical and, more often than not, an aspect of non-standard, regional speech. So, what cultures actually embrace this practice and to what extent? You can take it for granted that regardless of its currency in other countries, voseo is non-existent in Spain and most of Mexico. As for the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, let’s see this one culture at a time.
Cultures with predominant voseo
|Voseo at a Nicaraguan airport|
Photo credit: Mbhskid520 licensed CC BY 2.0
- Argentina and Paraguay – Tú is practically non-existent in the Rioplatense and Paraguayan dialects, the ones spoken in these countries. In these cultures, usted is sometimes used in some formal settings but vos is the way to go otherwise.
- Uruguay – Uruguay, too, follows the Rioplatense dialect and runs predominantly on vos. In several areas, however, tú is also used albeit with the vos conjugations. Usage of tú with verbs conjugated in the tú form is alien to Uruguay.
- Costa Rica and Nicaragua – Here, just as in Uruguay, vos can be used with verbs conjugated in both vos as well as tú forms. Usage of tú as a pronoun is non-existent in Costa Rica and rare in Nicaragua. Usted is generally used for new acquaintances or strangers but can, in certain parts, be extended to all situations. Unlike Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, however, tú is still preferred in Costa Rica and Nicaragua when it comes to formal communications, such as media, formal correspondence, or while addressing foreigners.
Cultures with extensive voseo
- Guatemala – Here, vos coexists with tú and usted; however, its usage is generally frowned upon by the older generations and those who come from the upper economic class who see voseo as vulgar or uneducated. Usted is the way to go with the elders; vos is the most intimate form and is used with younger family members or close friends; tú, on the other hand, is a little less intimate. One peculiarity here is that vos is preferred amongst men regardless of their intimacy; two men using tú with each other is seen as a sign of homosexuality. Many couples, despite their intimacy, choose to use the less casual tú with each other as a sign of romance and respect.
- Chile – Here, usage of vos conjugations with tú is spreading rapidly while vos as a pronoun is generally reserved only for very intimate encounters. Usted is the preferred pronoun with strangers and the elders; also, some couples use usted despite their intimacy to show respect for each other out of mutual love.
- Bolivia – Voseo is universally used in the Lowlands of Eastern Bolivia where the population is predominantly mestizo, Criollo, or of German ancestry (e.g., Tarija, Beni, Pando, Santa cruz, and the Lowlands of La Paz). In the Highlands of Western Bolivia, however, where the population is predominantly indigenous (e.g., Potosí, Oruro, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, and the Highlands of La Paz) tú is predominantly the pronoun of choice albeit with verbs conjugated in the vos form.
- Honduras and El Salvador – Here, vos is the most intimate of the three pronouns showing maximum familiarity and, often, least respect. Usted is preferred with strangers and the elders while tú is the way to go with new acquaintances or not-so-close friends.
Cultures with voseo in some areas
- Ecuador – Voseo is predominant only in certain regions, i.e., the Esmeraldas, the center, and the Sierras.
- Venezuela – Voseo is prevalent in the northwest of the country, especially in Zulia State.
- Peru – Apart from some areas in the north and the south of the country, voseo is also widespread in Arequipa.
- Mexico – Overall, voseo is not a Mexican thing; vos is almost alien to Mexican ears. However, it is widespread amongst the poor indegenous peoples of rural Chiapas. Usage of vos in once-voseo states, like Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Yucatán, is on the decline.
- Colombia – The Spanish of Colombia is a whole new world. Here, tú must be used with caution, though voseo is not a common feature in this country. Not only is its usage considered gay between two men, it’s also taken as a sign of being flirtatious or romantic if a man uses it with the opposite sex! Generally tú is reserved for family members and strangers (except for the situations just mentioned); for younger people, usted is preferred. Usted is preferred between two men, where tú would sound uncomfortably effeminate. Vos is preferred amongst people from western (Chocó, Nariño, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca), central (Primarily the Paisas of Caldas, Antioquia, Quindío, and Risaralda), and north-eastern (Cesar, La Guajira, and Norte del Santander - Ocaña Region) Colombia.
Before you fret over the thought of having to learn yet another conjugation for a new pronoun, let me assure you that vos conjugations are much simpler than their tú counterparts.
Let’s start with the present indicative tense, for example. All you do here is drop the -r from the verb, replace it with an -s ending, and accent the last syllable. That’s it. And no stem-changing nonsense. Sweet, ain’t it? So, your hablar becomes hablás, vivir becomes vivís, and comer becomes comés.
Now the commands, or in other words, the imperative. Again, simplicity is the name of the game here. Just drop the -r ending and accent the last syllable and you are done. So, vivir becomes viví, andar becomes andá, and comer becomes comé. The only tricky verb in the vos world is ir which cannot be conjugated in this method. Solution? Use the synonym, andar instead! So, the command to go would be andá. Hasn’t this simplicity won you over already?