language, Latin America, Spanish-speaking Country

Countries that Speak Spanish: Chile

At ACR Spanish Translations, I am passionate about the Spanish language and I know that a language is only as alive as the cultures in which it is used and evolves. That’s why I will be profiling Spanish-speaking countries in this blog series: so you can get to know all of the amazing places this world has to offer where Hola means hello and everything Spanish will help you get by! This month, I am looking at a country whose territories stretch as far south as Antarctica: Chile!

 Country Name: Chile             Pronunciation: Chee-lay

This long, narrow country averages only 177 km from its eastern border to the Pacific Ocean, yet it contains true ecological diversity within its 4,270 km from north to south. Between the Atacama Desert – the world’s driest desert – in the north to the fjords, inlets, peninsulas and islands of the south coast, Chile contains at least 10 major climatic subtypes including desert, Mediterranean, oceanic, alpine tundra and the subtropic Easter Islands. Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Chile is highly seismic and volcanic. Chile’s population and agriculture is concentrated in a small central region around the capital city of Santiago.

There are different ideas about the origins of the name Chile. According to 17th century chronicler Diego de Rosales, the Inca called the valley of the Aconcogua “Chili”, a corruption of the name of a Picunche tribal chief named Tili who ruled the area at the time of the Inca conquest in the 15th century. It has also been suggested that the name comes from various Indigenous words such as the Mapuche word chili, meaning “where the land ends”; the Quechua chiri, meaning “cold”; or tchili meaning either “snow” or “the deepest point of the Earth.” Spanish conquistadors heard the name from the Inca, and survivors of Diego de Almagro’s 1535-6 gold-seeking expedition south from Peru called themselves “men of Chilli.” Almagro universalized the name.

Why do Chileans speak Spanish today?

The region now known as Chile was colonized by Spain in the 16th century. There is evidence of human presence in the Monte Verde valley area as far back as 18,500 years ago, and settlement from about 10,000 years ago. The Inca briefly extended their empire into what is now northern Chile in the 15th century, but were successfully resisted by the Mapuche.

In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to come to Chile, and he managed to cross the Atlantic and navigate through the straits at the southern point of South America into the Pacific Ocean. He was followed by Diego de Almagro’s expedition in 1535. Recognizing the agricultural potential of Chile’s central valley, Pedro Valdivia began the conquest of Chile in 1540. Spain conquered the Inca rulers in north and central Chile, but were successfully resisted by the Mapuche in what is now south-central Chile. Resistance by the Mapuche and other Indigenous peoples repeatedly drove the colony’s southern borders north. Chile declared independence from Spain in 1818, and over the 19th century its territory grew outward from the central region. Mapuche resistance eventually ended under the pressure of a series of military campaigns, agreements and settlements in the 1880s.

Under colonization by Spain, Spanish became the dominant language of the colony and later the nation state of Chile. Remote and distant, Chile was not an attractive destination for European migrants in the 19th century and the primary group of Europeans to come to Chile were Spanish.

Chilean Spanish is spoken with distinctive accent that is unlike its neighbouring countries. Final syllables are often dropped and some consonants have soft pronunciations.

Chilean culture reflects a heritage of pre-colonial Andean and Mapuche culture, Spanish colonial influences, and the influences of English, French and German migrants in the 19th century. Home to two Nobel Prize in Literature laureates, Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971), Chile is considered a “country of poets.”

Fast facts:

  • Largest city: Santiago
  • Religion: Majority Roman Catholic
  • Famous Chileans: Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Lucho Gatica, Fernado Gonzáles, Elías Figueroa
  • Currency: Peso (CLP)

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