Colombia boasts a strong linguistic tradition. The country is commonly cited, even in other countries, as possessing a variety of Spanish that is somehow “superior” or a “standard” among Latin American Spanish varieties. The Colombian branch of the Real Academia was founded almost a century and a half ago, the first such body established in Latin America. Colombia produced two of Latin America’s great philologists, Miguel Antonio Caro and Rufino José Cuervo, who gave their names to the Instituto Caro y Cuervo founded in Bogotá in 1942.
Colombian Varieties of Spanish is a collection of essays on the Spanish of Colombia that offers a mix—some elements better than others—of readings on the subject. Three articles focus on Caribbean speech—one of these being the creole Palenquero. Cali, Bucaramanga, and Bogotá are also featured in different articles. Several of the studies cover Colombian speakers in the United States. Quite surprisingly, none of the book’s ten chapters deals with the speech of Medellín, Colombia’s second city and home of the paisa dialect that characterizes the Antioquia province. While the authors disavow any intention to seek to treat all varieties of Colombian Spanish, the absence of anything on the paisa has to be counted as a weakness in the collection.
Editors File-Muriel and Orozco offer the keynote article, a wide-ranging review titled “Colombian Spanish at the Turn of the 21st Century.” They claim that Colombia represents the second highest Spanish-speaking population in the world. (This reviewer suspects that Spain just about shades Colombia in this regard, although the order might be reversed if one includes the varieties of Colombian Spanish that are spoken by the millions of Colombians who live outside the national territory). A rich array of sources is cited in this introduction, though one might have wished for a somewhat more critical engagement with these. For example, the cited division of Colombia into two macrodialectal areas is unsatisfactory. Given the traditional [End Page 157] difficulty of internal communications in this vast country of mountains and rivers and jungle, the fact is that more than two major dialectal areas could be identified as having developed. For example, to lump Medellín and Bogotá together as Cachaco is to force two unwilling partners into a unit. Nonetheless, this introductory essay constitutes a valuable synthesis of the literature on Colombian Spanish.
Following this, John Lipski turns his attention to Palenquero, one of the two creoles spoken in Colombia, the other being the English-based speech of the islands off the coast of Nicaragua. More specifically, Lipski’s interest is what he terms the “New” Palenquero. Palenquero is an Afro- Iberian creole, spoken in a tiny area of northern Colombia, not far from the city of Cartagena de Indias. The number of Palenquero speakers scarcely exceeds 2 000, and, just a few decades ago, the language was under severe threat. Perhaps surprisingly, given the widespread pressure towards standardization suffered by regional varieties and minority languages and creoles, Lipski reports that the health of Palenquero is good. He attributes some of its renewed vigor to the Colombian government’s policy of support of minority languages. Teaching resources for the language have been developed, including a grammar and a short dictionary. The profile of Palenquero speakers that Lipski sketches is a little unusual. On one side the elderly and the young, the latter with varying levels of proficiency in the language; in between, an adult generation composed of people who have a command of the language but who have been conditioned not to use it. One wonders if there are parallels in the case of other creoles or minority languages outside of Colombia. The young generation tends to be linguistically purist, often seeking to excise Spanish words where a Palenquero word is available. As Lipski shows, they are often not successful in noticing which elements of Palenquero are intrinsic, and which are Spanish borrowings.
The phenomenon of syllable-final loss of /-s/ is well known all over the Spanish-speaking world...