The differences between these two groups of speakers from the same region are an example of the pragmatic differences between two language groups.  This case demonstrates how language reflects social identities such as social class and race.  While we will not spend a great deal of time on this topic in this website, this section provides some preliminary insight into the types of pragmatic distinctions that can occur.  If you are interested in this topic, we encourage to you explore these social distinctions further.

The social context

All of these examples come from reception desks, informational booths, or financial cashiers in public institutions in La Paz, Bolivia. 

Differences in Service Encounter Interactions

The primary differences found in these interactions were distinct politeness strategies used by the employees when addressing white-mestizo clients as compared to indigenous clients.

In general, the differences in these service encounters demonstrate that, with the white-mestizo population, formal language, titles, politeness markers, and indirect requests are typically used.  On the other hand, with the indigenous group, informal/familiar forms, sarcasm, and direct requests are used.  Also, the use of titles is not common.  We see these differences in a number of areas.



Requests for Locations of People, Places and Services

The white-mestizo group usually received impersonal replies such as:

En el primer piso hay una lista de pacientes. 

The indigenous group usually received a response that was personalized, often a command.

Andáte al piso 4…

(Placencia, 2002, p. 200)



Explanations of Process or Stages in the Interaction

Note the differences between the way the two groups are addressed.  With the white-mestizo group, formal commands and titles are common, whereas with the indigenous group, informal commands are used, no titles are used.

White-mestizo group
Allá en el escritorio aproxímese señora.
(formal)        (title)

Indigenous group
Allá al frente andá para certificación.

(Placencia, 2002, p. 201)




Requests for Exact Change
Again, a similar pattern emerges in the differences between the two groups.


Disculpe, ¿Tiene tres bolivianos?
No tiene cinco bolivianos señor.

Tres bolivianos rapidito.
¿No tienes tres bolivianos?

(Placencia, 2002, p. 204)




This pattern emerges throughout service encounters in public institutions.  We see similar results in situations where clients are asked to take a seat, give personal information, and move ahead in the line.


How can you use this information to improve your own pragmatic abilities in Spanish? 


Do you think social distinctions such as those found in this example are unique to the Spanish-speaking world?  Justify your answer.