All you need to know about Iberian America

Indigenous Influences in the Spanish Language in Latin America

Years ago, I was spending a few months in Bolivia…

And I happened to stop by La Paz because I wanted to see some cool things close enough to that city.

Such as Lake Titicaca as you can read my article on that place here.

Or Death Road as you can read what I wrote here.

Anyway, there was some hotel I was staying at in some popular area of the city.

And I walk in, get my keys to the room but then went to the bathroom near the lobby area.

When inside, I see this “don’t throw the toilet paper into the toilet” signs that you see sometimes in Latin America.

Granted, you can throw the toilet paper into the toilet in some parts of Latin America…

When I arrived to Buenos Aires some months afterwards, I was surprised I could throw the toilet paper into the toilet!

Granted, I was also as equally surprised that I never could throw the toilet paper into the toilet when I spent my first few months in this part of the world some odd years ago.

Anyway, I’m sitting down and I see this sign as I said that tells me not to throw the toilet paper into the toilet.

But I was confused.

When reading the sign, there was some strange ass word that I never saw before that did not look anything like Spanish.

It was some long ass word with a bunch of seemingly random letters thrown into it…

If I could repeat the word, it’d be something like “Bahtoskavola” or some crazy shit like that.

Thinking to myself when I saw it – “what the fuck is that?”

Pretty confident one of my old Spanish teachers Bush never taught me that word before.

And that word was, from my vague memory, supposed to be either for toilet paper or the toilet.

One of the two.

I forgot.

I just remember that the word itself was quite strange.

Anyway, the point of this article is to briefly give some examples of this type of scenario where you might have some decent Spanish under your belt…

But you find yourself running across a strange word that doesn’t look anything like Spanish.

It’s when you find a word that most likely comes from or is influenced by some indigenous language that is popular to the area you are in.

Just so that anyone new to Latin America reading this will know that it isn’t the fault of your college Spanish teacher for teaching you the wrong word for “toilet paper” or whatever.

Simply that, technically speaking, you are dealing with the influence of another completely different language.

Which is also a side point by the way that comes to mind real quick…

Being that the Spanish language has its notable differences from country to country in Latin America.

Personally, I like Argentine Spanish the most because it sounds nicer on the ears in my opinion.

Anyway, let’s get to some examples of the main topic for this article and wrap this up briefly.


Back when I was dating my last girlfriend in Mexico…

She came from some random small town in Hidalgo state of Mexico known as Ixmiquilpan.

However, I could never get the pronunciation or the spelling of the word right.

I always spelled it however it looked like to me “ixi-milk-i-pan.”

Anyway, she always found it funny how I put a “milk-I” into the middle of the word particularly.

It’s a weird word anyway.


The Tenangos of Guatemala

Now, to be fair, I wasn’t quite sure if a city name liked Quetzaltenango is derived from indigenous influence or not.

It was a city I spent some months in when I was in Guatemala as you can read here.

So I looked it up.

According to Wikipedia here, the name of the Guatemalan city comes from:

“When Alvarado conquered the city for Spain in the 1520s, he called it by the Nahuatl name used by his Central Mexican Indian allies, "Quetzaltenango", generally considered to mean "the place of the quetzal bird."

Then I looked up the history of other areas in Guatemala that end in the “tenango” ending.

Such as Huehuetenango, Chimaltenango, Mazatenango, Momostenango, etc…

And they all seem to come from the Nahuatl language.

There likely could be other areas in Guatemala with these endings but that’s what I could find briefly.

Guarani in Paraguay

This is one of the more notable examples that came to mind.

How, in Paraguay, one of the official languages of the country is Guarani.

Given that importance, I questioned if there are certain words Paraguayans use for normal things that Spanish speakers in other countries wouldn’t use.

Words that would be derived from Guarani or any other language.

As I write this, I’m not familiar with any specific words like that but I imagine that it is likely the case for at least a few words.

So I looked it up.

So according to this article here, tranquilopa is apparently a common expression.

Which apparently is a fusion of the Spanish word “tranquilo” and the Guarani word “pa.”

You also have another expression that is supposedly common place enough known as “Ahata ayu.”

Which apparently is just another way of saying “adios.”

Now, keep in mind, I actually have no idea if those words are actually used by common people in Paraguay.

I’ve been to Paraguay as I wrote here but I don’t really know the country too well as of this writing.

So take that for what it is.

But what about Guarani influence on how certain places are called?

Well, according to Wikipedia here, one of the most important waterfalls in South America known as Iguazu Falls….

Which is located between Argentina and Brazil…

Also has its name influenced by the Guarani language.

“The name Iguazú comes from the Guarani or Tupi words "y" [ɨ], meaning "water", and "ûasú "[waˈsu], meaning "big"

Of course, you have places in Paraguay as well that have this influence.

For example, according to Wikipedia here, a place in Paraguay known as “Itauguá” had its name influenced by the Guarani language.

“Its name is related to the Ytay stream, that flows through the land. So, "ita", which means "stone" in the Guaraní language, plus the suffix "gua", which indicates "belonging in Guaraní language.”

Anyway, those are all just some examples.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that I’m not trash talking the influence of indigenous languages onto the Spanish language.

It’s perfectly cool obviously.

Just something that I wanted to bring light attention to for anyone who is new to Latin America.

Because you will likely encounter examples of this from time to time.

And while you got examples of this all across Latin America is every country…

You are more likely to see this influence in the local language in some parts of Latin America more than others.

For example, I have spent about 4 years now in Mexico.

With 3 of those years being in Mexico City and another year being in a city called Pachuca.

In either city, I never really noticed too many examples of large and strange words that don’t look like Spanish.

Though, being fair, Mexico City does have examples of it.

Take a look at some of the street names and you will probably find some streets with that influence.

Though, at the same time, you will also find plenty of street names with European influences named after places like London or wherever.

I’d argue though that maybe that influence on the local language is less noticeable in Mexico City versus other areas of Latin America like Chiapas perhap or Ixmiquilpan.

That feels like a safe enough opinion but I’m not entirely confident on it.

But it sounds reasonable.

And there are parts of Latin America that also have heavier indigenous influence on the language…

Like Gautemala, Ecuador, Bolivia or Peru perhaps…

Versus other countries like Argentina or Uruguay where maybe it would be less noticeable.

Though, even in those places, you will find easy enough examples of this.

For example, I posted a picture to Twitter today of a lake in Argentina known as “Nahuel Huapi.”

But go to a place like Buenos Aires and the more indigenous influences might less noticeable than if you go to a place like Jujuy for example.

So it’s not just the country as a whole…

But really specific parts of the country where indigenous influences on the language would be more noticeable.

Like how, if I had to guess, you’d probably see more of it in a place like Chiapas than Mexico City.

If I had to guess anyway.

Anyhow, that’s all I got to say.

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Best regards,


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