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Social Variation in Spanish - Sociolingüistica Terms in English

Updated on December 10, 2011

What Is Sociolinguistics?

Sociolinguistics, or Sociolingüística in Spanish, is the study of linguistic variation amongst different social groups. Some examples of the different social groups studied include the differences between the youth and the older generations, the differences between the different social classes, and differences between people of different levels of education. This hub will introduce and explain some of the terminology one might expect to encounter when studying sociolinguistics.


Argot refers to the informal specialized vocabulary from a particular field of study, hobby, job, sport, etc. Certain social groups often have their own argot, specifically young people (ie. words such as "radical" or "righteous."

Often certain marginalized groups, such as criminals, will have their own argot as well.

Bilingüismo (Bilingualism)

Bilingüismo, or bilingualism, is the ability of a person to understand two different languages. There are different degrees of bilingualism:

  • Complete (Bilingüismo completo o total) - Complete bilingualism is when a person can speak and understand two languages equally.
  • Partial (Bilingüismo parcial) - Partial bilingualism is when a person speaks two languages with differing proficiency.
  • Environmental (Bilingüismo ambiental) - When a person is exposed to multiple languages on a daily basis (such as one language at home and a different one in public).
  • Residual (Bilingüismo residual) - When a person moves to a new location and maintains their old, residual language as well as adopting the new language.
  • Rudimentary (Bilingüismo rudimentario) - The opposite of complete bilingualism. A rudimentary bilingual can speak one language fluently and a very limited second language.


Cocoliche is an Italian-Spanish pidgin language (some consider it a true hybrid language) that was spoken by Italian immigrants in Argentina primarily between the years 1880 and 1950. The language features a mix of Italian and Spanish words, often times featuring Italian words with Spanish endings appended to them. The play Stéfano by Armando Discépolo is written in Cocoliche.

Comunidad de habla (Linguistic Community)

A comunidad de habla (comunidad lingüística) is any society that has established a common language.

Confianza (Trust)

Confianza is a Latin American form of mutual reciprocity. In relationships between people it means that both parties respect each other and recognize the need to extend favorable treatment to one another.

Deferencia (Deference)

Humility. See confianza above.

Degradación semántica (Semantic degredation)

Degradación semántica is when a previously neutral word acquires a negative meaning.

An example would be the word "huevos." In most Spanish speaking countries, "huevos" just means "eggs." However, in Mexico "huevos" is slang for "testicles," so people refer to eggs as "blanquillos."

Diglosia (Diglossia)

Diglosia is a term that refers to use of two dialects within a single linguistic community. There are two varieties of diglosia, alta and baja (meaning high and low). Diglosia baja refers to the everyday vernacular of a community. The alta variety refers to the language that is used formally, such as in literature or in education. An example of this would be people who speak Spanish at home and among friends and English at work and in the classroom.

Eufemismo (Euphemism)

A eufemismo, or euphemism, is a milder, less offensive word or phrase that takes the place of a franker, more offensive phrase. An example is the usage of "hacer pipi" instead of orinar.

Fórmulas de tratamiento (T-V Formulas)

Fórmulas de tratamiento are different forms of the second-person pronouns that confer varying degrees of familiarity and respect. In Spanish this refers to the differences between tú and usted (tuteo) and vos and ustedes (voseo).

More information here.


Hipercorrección (Ultracorrección) is an overcompensation for a perceived grammatical rule, often used in hope of appearing more intelligent or educated.


Lunfardo is a dialect that used to be spoken only amongst the lower classes of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Overtime, however, its usage has become more mainstream and it has spread to countries such as Chile and Paraguay. The Lunfardo language began as prison slang made up from a variety of immigrant (Italian, French, Cocoliche) and native languages (Quechua). Many words in Lunfardo are a metátesis of standard Spanish words.

Mejoramiento semántico (Semantic Enhancement)

Mejoramiento semántico occurs when a word is elevated from a negative connotation to a neutral or positive connotation.

Poder (Power)

Poder refers to the differences in power between two people. It affects the word choice and fórmulas de tratamiento that are used.

Red comunicative/social (Communicator/Social Network)

The network of people with whom an individual communicated with (ie. family, community, school, etc.).

Sociolecto (Sociolect)

A sociolecto is a social dialect that is spoken by members of a social class.

Solidaridad (Solidarity)

Solidaridad just refers to the equality of two people. See Poder.

Tabú lingüístico (Linguistic taboos)

A tabú lingüístico refers to a word or phrase that has been deemed taboo and unacceptable by a society. Often these taboos vary regionally.


Tuteo refers to the contrast between tú and usted. Often the selection is dependent upon familiarity between the individuals and the poder/solidaridad between them.


Ustedeo refers to the usage of usted, oftentimes even in informal/familiar contexts.

Valoración social (Social valuation)

Valoración social refers to the views that society may have on certain linguistic variations, such as some dialects of Spanish may be less or more respected than others.


Voseo is the usage of the vos pronoun, the vosotros verb form, or both. It is common in South America, but less common in Spain.


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      Danielle 5 years ago

      Holaaa :) soy estudiante de español y esta página me ha ayudado mucho! Muchas gracias!