Lagarteran Spanish has changed
In the 1980s, visitors from Madrid sometimes found it difficult to understand Lagarterans. The vocabulary, grammatical rules and the “music” of the language were quite different from how it was spoken in Madrid, especially the speech of older people who’d spent most of their lives in the pueblo. Some local words and expressions have been collected by Julián García Sánchez and José Álvarez Castaño, among others (1). Here, the focus is in how Lagarterans talk today, though of course, recording language before it disappears is a valuable task.
Language is constantly changing, and the way we speak in Lagartera today is more affected by the outside world. We travel more. School, work, television and the internet also bring us new words and expressions from the outside world. Marrying someone from ”outside”, from another pueblo, even another region or country is more common. Younger Lagarterans tend to follow the national fashion of shortening words, for example ”vacas” for ”vacaciones”, ”finde” for ”fin de semana”, ”cole” for ”colegio”, ”profe” for ”profesor”, and ”porfa” for ”por favor”. They also use English expressions such as ”el look”, ”el marketing” and ”un crack” (2). Teenagers are connected to an international community through their mobile phones. Today, a visitor from Madrid has much less trouble understanding us, and this is especially true for younger people.
How and why has ‘Lagarteran’ changed?
It’s easier to understand how a language changes if we look at different age groups and their life experiences. Today, most children study at the local primary school, then study at the secondary school in Oropesa, before learning vocational skills, or embarking on studies at university. In contrast, most Lagarterans over the age of 60 started their working lives much earlier. People now in their 60s and 70s often started working at the age of 14, while people over 70 sometimes started working at the age of nine. Teenagers who wanted to study after the age of 14 had to go to Talavera or further away, and they tended to be the children of better-off families.
This means that the experience of being a teenager today is different from that of decades ago. Young people today study longer and mix more with teenagers from different towns. They have more years to develop a common language with more “modern” words. They are in two social groups, their pueblo and people their own age.
Decades ago, 14-year-olds who started work entered the adult world. This meant that they used the language of the adults around them. There was less difference between the language of teenagers and adults then than there is now, even though there were more teenagers in the pueblo then, and they met one another in their free time. However, in the old days there was more difference between the way men and women spoke because they used to work in different activities. Boys worked as builders, with livestock or in a bar, and there was still work in the embroidery industry, in laundries or selling embroideries. A few boys found desk jobs. Girls used to embroider alongside their mothers and with their neighbours. If there was a family business, girls could help with selling embroideries.
Women embroiderers tended to lead separate lives from men, so in households where women embroidered at home and men worked with livestock or in construction, the way women and men spoke was very different. Men could freely insult livestock or bricks. Girls, on the other hand, were taught by their mothers to speak “nicely”, a lesson endorsed by the Church, and “what people might say”. This is reflected in the way some older people speak today. Husbands may use expletives, which wives consider OK, because they believe that’s how men talk, even though they themselves use euphemisms instead of rude words.
There was a trade in which men and women worked together: the production and sale of embroideries. The men who put out work for women, and who travelled to the cities and the coast to sell embroideries, had to “speak nicely”, refraining from using rude words that might upset women.
Gender differences in speech exist everywhere. What’s special about Lagartera is that decades ago, those differences were especially marked for all women here, compared to surrounding villages, and are still marked among older women, because women and men led separate lives at the time when they developed their adult linguistic styles. The pressure of ”what people might say” was stronger at that time. Women refrained from using rude words, partly because they saw them as ugly, and also because they did not want to be seen as ”common”. Today, a teenage Lagarteran is as concerned about her reputation at school as she is about what they might say about her in the pueblo. So today, older women may be shocked by the way young women use language, while they may see older women as ‘old-fashioned’.
From teens to adults
Teenagers around the world tend to be very aware of fashions, both in speech and in clothing, hairstyles and music. They’re developing their own identity, different from that of children and their parents’ generation. Adults often complain about teen fashions in clothing and music, as well as language. It’s often said that teenagers use too much fashionable slang and too many swear words, sometimes as insults. Teenagers explain that they’re usually joking, not cussing seriously. Teens may adopt expressions from music, such as rap and reggaeton. Many older Lagarterans dislike reguetón, which is popular as party music among young people. Critics mention its lyrics, which can be explicit and express contempt for women. However, as teenagers point out, not all reggaeton is “machista”, and they like the music because it’s catchy, not because of the lyrics.
Of course, not all teenagers are the same. Some have hobbies such as sports, playing a musical instrument or art, which help them develop skills, making them more self-confident. These activities also help them cope with stress. They learn technical vocabulary related to their hobbies. Teenagers who find academic work easy don’t mind being called ”swots” by others, and are more likely to expand their vocabulary through studying. Although teenagers agree that they tend to use cuss words more than adults, some rarely do, and they tend to be young people with a talent for handling stress. It’s a talent that some people seem to be born with, although some activities, such as dancing to catchy music with friends, can also help us manage stress.
Teenage Lagarterans interact with older people, their teachers, their parents and Lagarterans who’ve known them since childhood. They can function in different social worlds, the pueblo and the school. Older people value the youngsters. Those who stay here are the future of the village. This feeling of identity and being valued means that it’s probably easier for adolescents to talk to adults in rural areas than in cities. When teenagers talk to adults, they use fewer ”new” words, and more ”old” words, compared to when they talk to each other, so that adults can understand them.
As they grow older, teenagers develop different interests, and become more confident in their own judgement, and less tied to the linguistic fashions of their age group. They also begin to think about the world of work, which involves a transition to being a young adult. This transition may involve moving away from the village.
Lagarterans in the world
In Lagartera there’s now more work in the service sector than there used to be, for example in shops and old people’s homes, but the norm is that, if you’ve studied and want a well-paid job, you have to work outside the pueblo, or migrate to the city. When young people look for work, their concerns change. If they want a job in which they deal with the public, they have to master “posh Spanish”, moving away from teen speech.
Migrants have to adapt to a more urban style of speaking, abandoning localisms, partly because it’s easier to be understood if you use the same language as others, and also because city people sometimes make fun of rural styles, calling them “paleto”. This applies to accent and intonation, as well as word choice. However, emigrants don’t lose their “Lagarteran” identity and, once they return to the village, they can go back to speaking in a more “Lagarteran” way. That happened to me in the early 80s, when I went to Madrid after months in the pueblo. I’d picked up a bit of the music here, and used words like ”pazguata” for someone who’s a bit slow, and ”Anda!” as an exclamation of surprise, which my Madrid friends saw as rural. I had to change how I spoke for people in Madrid, and could relax when I returned to the pueblo.
Where does ”Lagarteran” come from?
Yes ”Lagarteran” is rural, for example, religion tends to be more important in rural areas than in the cities, and in Lagartera more so than in the neighbouring pueblo, Oropesa, which is a little bigger and has more immigrants from other parts of Spain. This is reflected in how we speak. Religious swear words are much stronger in rural than in urban areas, where religion isn’t so important. In Lagartera you could say that even our atheists are Catholic atheists. In a way ”being Catholic” is cultural, a way of seeing the world, rather than to do with being a practising Catholic.
In the 80s, old ladies would sometimes say ‘Ave María Purísima!’ as an exclamation of surprise, reminiscent of Ireland, a country which also has a very Catholic culture, and which also has jokes about priests and nuns, like the ones I have heard in Lagartera. In England, where religion is less important, these expressions and jokes are not so common. This difference isn’t just about language, it’s about culture as a whole.
In rural areas we preserve the linguistic history better, for example, in Lagartera, we preserved the difference between the ‘ll’ and the ‘y’ sound until recently, while in Oropesa this difference was lost earlier. When children from all the pueblos come together in Oropesa to study, this difference between the young people from Oropesa disappears. There are traditional ”Lagarteran” words that the RAE recognises, for example, ”achiperres” (junk) and ”cuesco” (noisy fart). Jopear” (to throw someone out) is not recognised by the RAE, but it does mention ”hopear” (to walk from street to street) and the two words seem related.
”Fusca” (rubbish, weeds, litter) is a very Lagarteran word, and according to the RAE, it comes from Extremadura and Salamanca. The dictionary of Peraleda de la Mata, a village in Extremadura near Lagartera, lists other ”Lagarteran” words, such as ”costribo” (worry, uneasiness) (3). This word is recognised by the RAE, but as ”apoyo o arrimo”, which is the opposite of Lagartera and Peraleda. There is also ”faratar” (to get rid of something badly done) which in Peraleda is recognised in the sense of ”miscarriage”. In Lagartera people also said, ”ha tenido un esfarate” when a woman had a miscarriage. ”Juche”, which in Lagartera is a small room, in Peraleda is a hole or hiding place, while a ”calambuco” in Lagartera is a stubborn person, and in Peraleda is a clumsy person, not very crafty or skilful. Both would be people who don’t listen to sensible advice.
Then there are words that are used in other parts of Spain, such as ”fararse” (to slip), which has this meaning in Malpica de Tajo, Valencia, and Jaen, although it doesn’t appear in the dictionary of the RAE, nor in that of Peraleda. There are few words that are ”purely” Lagarteran, perhaps ”atifole” (cord, or something to tie things up with). However, in Lagartera we do pronounce words in our own way, for example ”miatú” (for ‘mira tú) and ”ramá” for ”enramada” (a place where livestock is kept).
There are many clues that tell us that we share our linguistic heritage with Extremadura, for example, the use of ín/ino or ina to form a diminutive, e.g. ”pequeñina” instead of ”pequeñita”, or ”pajarín” instead of ”pajarito”. At school children are usually taught to use ‘ito’, ‘ita’ or ‘illo’, ‘illa’ as diminutive suffixes, but the RAE accepts the Lagarteran version as a regional variant in León and Aragón (4). People travelling in the north of Cáceres, near Lagartera, also note the use of this diminutive.
It’s clear, then, that the way we speak in Lagartera has a lot to do with where we live. Even our Lagarteran ”leísmo” is recognised by the RAE as a regional characteristic (5). In Lagartera, we use localisms, and we share many of them with Extremadura.
Are our localisms wrong?
Are our linguistic peculiarities wrong? There are two main approaches to studying language. One is the linguistic approach, which merely describes how people speak, without judgement, while at the other extreme there’s the prescriptive approach, which tells us how we should speak. So, from a linguistic point of view, using a regional diminutive is fine, especially since it’s sanctioned by the RAE. From a prescriptive point of view, ”muy malísimo” is ”incorrect”, but from a linguistic approach, it’s simply the way older people often speak in this part of Spain. It gives more emphasis than a simple ”muy mal” or ”malísimo”.
In practice, it’s simpler to think about what’s appropriate; if you use a double superlative when talking to friends who also use it, then that’s fine, but it’s not appropriate for situations that require more formal language, such as an exam, or a business meeting. The reality we face is that we have more opportunities if we can use “formal” Spanish at work. It’s not that our identity as a pueblo, or a region is “wrong” or invalid, but that learning “posh” Spanish can help us in life. Back in 1978, an older man with little formal education remarked at a public meeting: “We don’t know how to talk”. Of course, he knew how to talk, what he meant was that he was not fluent enough in “posh Spanish” to speak confidently in public. When he was young, only children from rich families could study, whereas today children from families with modest incomes have better access to education.
Grandparents and grandchildren
It’s often thought that our linguistic life progresses from childhood, when we learn to speak, through rebellious adolescence, then adulthood, when we increase our language skills, until old age causes us to forget much of what we knew. However, as Pilar García Mouton has pointed out, generations interact and learn from each other (6). Grandmothers are increasingly caring for their grandchildren, as more and more women work outside the home.
Adults who spend a lot of time with children need to be able to communicate with them, so they need to understand their vocabulary, which in Lagartera includes “mola” (cool), “diver” (fun) and “chupado” (easy-peasy). Grandmas both learn from and teach their grandchildren. If they help children with homework, they also learn new expressions and ideas from textbooks, which they sometimes have to interpret in a way that a child can understand. For children, learning with Grandma can be fun, because they get more individual attention and can take a more active role than at school, sometimes they are the teacher, explaining words to Grandma and other times the student, listening to her explanations.
What about fathers and grandfathers? Traditionally, women have taken care of young children, but teachers say that the role of men is also important for language learning. Both girls and boys like paternal approval, although boys may benefit more from fathers taking an interest in what’s happening at school. Girls tend to develop language more quickly than boys when they are young, so boys may start primary school at a less developed stage (7). Because girls tend to read more easily, some boys may rationalise that studying is for girls, and that what girls do isn’t important because they aren’t worth as much as boys. If fathers take an interest in their studies and encourage their children, that can help change the narrative.
Of course, each boy is an individual. I learnt the word ”gandul’ (lazybones) from a seven-year-old boy, who used it when a classmate wanted to copy his homework. This word reflects a value that work should be rewarded, and freeloaders shouldn’t get away with benefiting from the work of others. Treating children as individuals is more productive than using gender stereotypes.
So how do Lagarterans talk?
Lagartera has its linguistic peculiarities, but there is a lot of variety how people talk within the pueblo. The way we talk depends on our experiences and who we talk to. This is how we develop our individual linguistic styles.
Alison Lever, Lagartera, Toledo, December 2022
Thank you to the Lagarterans and others who helped with this article, especially Amada, José María, Ana, Inma, and Palmira,
and to desenfoque garterano for the illustrations
Diccionario del Campo Arañuelo toledano. José Castaño Álvarez y Eusebio González Rodríguez Libro impreso, español Editorial: J. Castaño Álvarez, [Madrid] 2007 y 2015
2) ‘crack’ is an English word, but in Spanish it’s used to mean a very talented, or simply a wonderful person eg ‘eres un crack’. In English it isn’t used this way as a noun, though a ‘crack shot’ is a very good shot, a ‘crack detective’ is a very good detective. In Irish, a craic is an enjoyable time with entertaining company.
Pilar Garcia Mouton also worked on this project:
One idea being discussed in Europe and the United States is for boys to start school a year later than girls, a proposal that takes into account their slower language development, on average. This is a bad idea. First, boys would fall even further behind girls, having lost a year of school. Then, as critics point out, there are many differences between children that are not linked to gender. In a group of five-year-olds, some have just turned five, while others are approaching six, so age differences may explain many of the differences observed between children in the same classroom. Some children may receive more family support for homework than others. On the other hand, each child is an individual, and children of the same age, gender and family background develop differently. Individualised attention allows each child to learn to read and write at his or her own pace, thus solving many problems.
Parents often focus on reading and writing, but first oral language skills, speech comprehension and oral expression need to be developed. These are activities that can be done in groups, for example one child can explain to the class ‘Why I like football’, or ‘What I see in this picture’. Parents who ask ‘How was school?’ and are interested in the answer help their children learn to express themselves. If they don’t learn in primary school, they can end up like the man who said in 1978, ‘We don’t know how to speak’.