If somebody thinks they know Spanish very well, they should definitely visit Costa Rica. It will allow them to revise their opinion. My friends were trying to be nice and used the more understandable version, but they have also taught me some interesting vocabulary that would give any self-respecting Spanish teacher a heart attack.
The language a lot of people - especially the young ones - use here is called "pachuco" - it is sort of an equivalent of what we sometimes call the "kitchen Latin". There are some words you cannot escape from in Costa Rica. Examples are "mae" and "maje". The first one exists only here, the other although known in the Latin world it's not widely used. For a foreigner the difference between them is very difficult to grasp. Till this day I'm not entirely sure I'm getting this right. When I asked I was given a seemingly simple explanation. There used to be only one word "maje" which in standard Spanish (Castellano) means a bit silly person, not to say a village idiot. In Costa Rica the meaning has evolved to a guy who you know, maybe from class, maybe you've done some business with or just hang with occasionally. However if you're talking about someone absent it may have a slightly negative taint to it.
The story may seem easier with "mae". It simply means everybody: friends, buddies, acquaintances, people who you're talking to at the moment etc. It is also used as a coma every fourth or fifth word. The first thing Ticos say to you as a greeting is often: Que me dice, mae? A sort of "what's up, man?"
Another trade mark phrase for Costa Rica is "pura vida". You'll find it everywhere, on T-shirts, souvenirs, ads, guides, shoes etc. It means anything and everything that is positive. Somebody asks you how you are, the answer is "pura vida". Instead of a "thank you" you'll get a "pura vida". If someone is cool, a good friend, a buddy, they are "pura vida". How was the beach? Pura vida. How was your class? Pura vida. How was your lunch? Pura vida. In other words the whole Costa Rica is "pura vida".
Another word of similar meaning but definitely less commercialized is "tuanis". And with those few words we can already create our first Costa Rican dialogue:
- Ay, mae, que tuanis!
- Si, mae, pura vida.
Any place, any situation, any topic.
Another one that I like is the word "chunche". The translation is very easy because "chunche" is everything that we forgot what it's called. In English the equivalent would be "thingy", "thing in my jiggy".
You may have noticed I have referred to people from Costa Rica as Ticos. Everything Costa Rican is "tico". A girl from Costa Rica is a Tica. Beer produced in Costa Rica is "cervesa tica". Where did this name come from? Some indigenous tribe? Name of a tribe's chief? Ruins? No, the only logical explanation that I got was that they like useing specific diminutives a lot. Instead of "chiquito" they will say "chiquitico", un ratico, un momentico etc.
Spanish is one of the most fascinating languages in the world. It has so many varieties around the Latin world plus its originator Castellano. One of the most incredible varieties is the Spanish of Ticos. Especially if you consider how young and small the country is.