The geographic location of Panama has led to the combination of many varied language influences to create what we now know as Panamanian Spanish.
The geographic location of Panama has led to the combination of many varied language influences to create what we now know as Panamanian Spanish. Spanish is actually the most used and the official language of Panama, coexisting with 19 other languages. These include the indigenous language Bugle, and languages such as Embera, Ngäbere, Kuna, Wounaan, Tjerdi, Naso and Bribri (which has only recently been recognized by the Panamanian government). We also see a large presence of both English and English Creole in Panama.
Influences on Panamanian Spanish
Panamanian Spanish today includes a significant amount of the English vocabulary, possibly due to the cultural and significant influence of the United States with the construction of the Panama Canal. In addition, there was a large influx of immigrants from the Caribbean during the 19th century, and they also left their mark on the language.
On the other hand, other languages have not had a marked impact, and these include French and languages from different colonies such as Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi and Italian. And of course we must always remember that Panama had a large African presence, starting when African slaves were brought out by the first colonies: this had a major influence on the culture and language of Panama.
With all these linguistic influences and mixtures of language from so many varied backgrounds, the Spanish language in Panama is distinguished by a series of unusual aspects. For example –
- With phonetics, we see the lisp, and the loss of Intervocalic -d (among others);
- With morphosyntax we see the use of tu, and usted for second person plural (among others);
- And with lexicon we see the use of words shared with the Venezuelan Caribbean and the Colombian, words like chiva, which describes a small bus.
The Lack of Influence by Indigenous Languages
The Panamanian language has not been greatly influenced by indigenous languages, although some vestiges of these languages can be found in the current lexicon: these languages include Chicheme, Chicha, Chilate, Ullama, Tamale and Churu, among others.
Influence of the English Language on Panamanian Spanish
The Panamanian language followed the logical evolution of languages from the Spanish branch, and even though we know that new words were assimilated from other languages, generally these new words were adapted according to the grammatical rules of Spanish. So, in this sense, aside from English being widely used in the tourism and business spheres, it definitely has an influence on the Spanish spoken in Panama: and so we see English words being transformed into Spanish. An example of this would be the English verb ‘to park’, where a Panamanian won’t ‘aparca’ but rather ‘parquea’; and from the English ‘to shop’, a Panamanian doesn’t va de compras – they chopear. And, to carry this further, they wouldn’t chopear in a Centro commercial, they’d chopear in a mol - meaning a US English ‘mall’.
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