Like the rest of the Southern Cone (in the narrow sense of the term), Chile occupied a rather peripheral position in the Spanish Empire, being isolated from the principle trading routes and administrative lines of communication. It belonged to the Viceroyalty of Peru and so was governed ultimately from Lima, albeit with a significant degree of administrative autonomy from 1563, when the Audiencia de Chile came into existence. For much of the early colonial period the indigenous Mapuches harried the Spanish, while the area’s natural resources – particularly in mining – were not properly exploited until the 19th century. For centuries the Chilean economy's sole function was to provide the Viceroyalty of Peru with commodities like tallow and wheat or the raw material leather. Like that of its sister nations to the east of the Andes, the Spanish of Chile reflects drift away from the Castilian model, as well a degree of archaism. On the other hand, a number of features set it apart from el español ríoplatense and, ever since Henríquez Ureña put forward his seminal classification of American Spanish in 1921, linguists have tended to see Chile as forming a special dialectal enclave.
One of the features by which a Chilean speaker can be recognized is the tell-tale palatalization of /x/ before front vowels. Slight fronting of velars before a front vowel occurs in Peninsular Spanish, as a natural result of coarticulation (the process whereby the position of the organs involved in one speech sound is affected by their position in a preceding or following sound). The effect is much more marked in Chilean Spanish, however. For example, the word gente ‘people’ is likely to be pronounced as [ˈçente], where [ç] is a voiceless palatal fricative. In some cases there may even be epenthesis of the palatal semivowel [j], as in [ˈçjente] gente. An excessively palatal articulation of /x/ may be perceived as being characteristic of lower-class speech. It is clear, however, that the phenomenon also occurs routinely in the speech of the educated middle classes.
As in the rest of the Southern Cone, syllable-final /s/ is subject in Chile to weakening processes (modification to [h], elision or assimilation). Rates of weakening are very high, even in word-final position before a word-initial vowel, as in [loˈhotɾoh] los otros ‘the others’. Elision and assimilation carry acertain social stigma and are routine only among the urban lower classes and among less educated rural speakers.
Chilean varieties of Spanish may also be characterized by the assibilation of /ɾ/ and /r/, with frequency tending to correlate inversely with position on the socio-economic scale. As in other assibilating dialects, the voiceless variant of the assibilated sound, viz. [ʂ], tends to occur after a voiceless stop or in syllable-final position – as in [ˈkwatʂo] cuatro ‘four’ and [seˈɲoʂ] señor – while the voiced variant [ʐ] appears where standard Spanish has [r], as in [ˈpeʐo] perro ‘dog’.
Finally, CH-lenition (the weakening of /tʃ/ to [ʃ]) is not uncommon; thus muchacho ‘boy’ may be heard as [muˈʃaʃo] rather than as the more standard form standard [muˈtʃatʃo]. Unfavourable social indexing of CH-lenition can lead to hypercorrection, an oft-cited case being [ˈsutʃi] for [ˈsuʃi] sushi.
Voseo was once as widespread in Chile as on the other side of the Andes. However, possibly as a consequence of the standardizing efforts of the celebrated grammarian Andrés Bello in the 19th century, it has come to have a negative sociolinguistic value. Thus Modern Chile is a country in which tuteo arguably predominates, especially in educated speech, but in which voseo retains significant vitality at the vernacular level.
As regards the verb forms that go with vos in Chile, the -ar conjugation has what from the historical perspective is a dissimilated ending in the present indicative, albeit with loss of the etymological final /s/. Analogous dissimilated -ar forms are also available in the imperfect and the conditional but not, surprisingly, in the imperfect subjunctive (where only the assimilated form is available).
In the (merged) -er and -ir conjugations, the present indicative has the assimilated ending -í or -íh, the latter variant exhibiting a debuccalized residue of the etymological final /s/, while the imperfect, the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional exhibit variation between assimilated and dissimilated endings (the former but not the latter retaining the etymological final /s/).
In the imperative, all three conjugations exhibit analogical adoption of the etymological second person singular forms, i.e. those associated with tú.
In the future, analogical forms modelled on the etymological second person singular forms (cantarás etc.) compete with historically plural forms which end in -í or -íh. These latter forms reflect the same merger of the endings -éis and -ís that is apparent in the present indicative.
The overall situation is summarized in Table 1 below (for which I am indebted to Alexiel Riquelme).
|Imperfect||cantabas ~ cantábai||comías ~ comíai||vivías ~ vivíai|
|Imperfect subj.||cantaras||comieras ~ comierai||vivieras ~ vivierai|
|Conditional||cantarías ~ cantaríai||comerías ~ comeríai||vivirías ~ viviríai|
|Future||cantarí(h) ~ cantarás||comerí(h) ~ comerás||vivirí(h) ~ vivirás|
The most unique features of the Chilean lexicon derive from indigenous roots (mainly Mapuche and Quechua). Reasonably common Mapuche-derived words include guata ‘paunch’, chilla ‘fox’, trutro ‘chicken leg’, chuico ‘demijohn’, canco ‘clay pot’. The common verb achuntar ‘to hit the mark’ is lexically derived from chonta ‘palm tree’, which is of Quechua origin. Also from Quechua is callampa ‘shanty-dwelling’. From the Castilian lexical stock come roto/-a ‘bloke/woman/pleb’, a destajo ‘to your heart’s content’, lustrín ‘shoeshiner’, traba ‘hair clasp’. The commonly encountered word futre ‘well-heeled person’ is of French origin (pausibly from (se) foutre 'get fucked').