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Weyers, J. R. (2022). Attitudes Toward Ustedeo, Tuteo, and Voseo in Medellín: A Test Case for Written Domains. Hispanic Studies Review, 6(1).
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  • Figure 1. Comparison of responses for national and international brands.


This study is based on the results a survey of 233 informants in Medellín, Colombia. The participants expressed their preference for an ustedeo, tuteo, or voseo imperative form (devoid of a subject pronoun) in simulated written advertising for national and international brands. Overall, men preferred ustedeo forms and women preferred tuteo forms. Voseo was not a top response for any category, but its presence as an acceptable written form is noteworthy. For national brands, the informants preferred tuteo, with voseo in second place. For international brands, they preferred ustedeo, with tuteo in second place. From the results, we conclude that (a) men prefer written ustedeo as a possible substitution for tuteo; (b) women prefer written tuteo forms given the prescriptive prestige of and its corresponding verb forms; and (c) written voseo is recognized as acceptable for local domains.

1. Introduction

When rendered in Spanish, ‘fly with us’, ‘relax, you deserve it’, and similar ad copy employ imperatives whose morphology indicates the grammatical subject; it may feature a tonic pronoun of address for emphasis or clarity; and subsequently the chosen subject establishes the relationship between the advertiser and the potential consumer as formal or informal, singular or plural. How consumers react to the ad copy, that is, their positive or negative attitude toward the linguistic forms in advertising are important to understand. For marketers, consumers’ attitudes may impact the success of the campaign. For linguists, consumers’ attitudes are likely to reflect the norms of the dialect in question vis-à-vis their expression of what seems ‘correct’ or otherwise to them.

In the study on which the current paper is based (Weyers, 2021), over 200 survey participants in Medellín were asked to identify whether they preferred vos or —the tonic pronouns as subjects or prepositional objects—and whether they preferred voseo or tuteo verb forms (devoid of a tonic pronoun) in advertising campaigns. One respondent’s comment to a survey item that offered a choice of verb forms resonated. Given the choice between ‘ven’[tú] and ‘vení[vos] (‘come’, to the Explora science museum), the individual explained that ‘ven[tú] was preferable because ‘vení[vos] ‘looked Argentine’, that is, foreign. Many informants concurred by expressing a preference for tuteo rather than voseo verb forms in written advertising, while simultaneously expressing their preference for tonic vos over in comparable ad campaigns. Weyers (2018) shows that tonic vos has a vocative function as a marker of local identity when it appears in written public discourse. The findings in Weyers (2021) affirm that conclusion and show that consumer attitudes toward voseo verb forms are less positive than their attitudes toward vos.

Weyers (2021) compares consumer attitudes toward voseo and tuteo in the linguistic landscape in light of the presence and competition between vos and in Medellín’s dialect (cf. Millán, 2014). However, they are not the only singular forms of address in paisa Spanish, that is, the dialect of the Department of Antioquia, of which Medellín is its capital. Usted and ustedeo forms are also present in Medellín’s dialect, and they are present in written advertising along with voseo and tuteo (cf. Weyers, 2016b). The present study expands on previous research by examining linguistic attitudes toward ustedeo, tuteo, and voseo verb forms in written advertising, consisting of three variables rather than two. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that includes all three singular forms of address to determine speakers’ preference in a written domain. It was borne of three research questions:

  1. Do speakers from Medellín prefer ustedeo, tuteo, or voseo verb forms in written advertising?
  2. Do speakers’ preferences vary between national and international brands in advertising?
  3. What does a preference for a particular form of address tell us about the sociolinguistic norms in Medellín?

The survey results we analyze here come from the survey instrument that was used in Weyers (2021). While that study emphasized the informants’ preference for voseo or tuteo, the final eight survey items contained ustedeo in the options as a means to determine if its inclusion affected consumers’ previously expressed preference for voseo or tuteo. Weyers (2021) reports on the results of the first 14 items on the survey instrument, which we describe below. The final eight items that include ustedeo as an option fell outside of the scope of Weyers (2021). The results are instructive, however, and we report on them here. The results provide guidance on how to proceed in future research Medellín’s three forms of singular address.

This article is organized in five sections, including this introduction. In part 2, we describe Medellín’s address system and discuss the relevant research on the topic. Part 3 describes the testing instrument and survey procedures we used, while part 4 presents the results from the survey and discusses their significance. In the conclusion, we examine the implications of the results and their contribution to the study of Medellín’s system of address.

2. Forms of address in the Spanish of Medellín

Paisa Spanish is characterized by the use of three singular forms of address: vos, and usted. Clearly, having three options to address an interlocutor presents complexities that having one, such as you in English, misses. Given the innate intricacies of Medellín’s tripartite system, the topic has generated substantial academic interest, emphasizing two primary facets of it: 1. the persistence of vos and its potential future status (Jang, 2010, 2012a, 2015; Millán, 2014; Weyers, 2016a, 2016b, 2018); and 2. the idiosyncratic use of informal and intimate usted in Medellín and throughout the country (Jang, 2014; Millán, 2014; Uber, 1985). We address these in order here.

Although Colombia is not considered a voseante country, vos is present in the Departments of Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, and their environs. From the Latin second person plural, vos evolved by the 15th century in Spain to encompass singular and plural address and competed with as a form of direct address. As such, vos was introduced in the Americas by the Spanish conquerors and explorers since it was a feature of the language they brought with them (Penny, 2000, p. 138). By the 17th century, vos began to lose ground in Spain and subsequently in those American regions that had direct contact with the motherland: Mexico; Peru; Spain’s Caribbean islands; the port of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia); as well as Bogotá, which became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (Penny, 2000, p. 138). Those areas that were distant from those centers of Spanish influence maintained vos: Central America, given its distance from Mexico City in colonial times; the Río de la Plata region—which is distant from Lima—; and in the case of Colombia, Antioquia and Valle del Cauca, which are physically remote from Bogotá and Cartagena given the dramatic geography that separates highland Colombian regions (Montes Giraldo, 1967, p. 23).

In paisa Spanish, vos and share preterite, imperfect, future, and conditional verb forms; estás and monosyllabic forms like das, has and vas are shared; te is the direct and indirect object pronoun that corresponds to vos and . Voseo and tuteo verb forms in paisa Spanish differ in the imperative (affirmative and negative), present indicative, and present subjunctive (Montes Giraldo, 1967). Finally, sos and eres are the forms of ser for vos and , respectively. Table 1 provides a sample of comparative voseo and tuteo forms.

Table 1.Sample voseo forms in Paisa Spanish.
Volar Comer Vivir
Vos Vos Vos
Imperative (affirmative) volávuela comécome vivívive
Present indicative volásvuelas coméscomes vivísvives
Present subjunctive (also negative imperative) volésvueles comáscomas vivásvivas

The persistence of vos in Medellín and its surrounding area has been the focus of recent research on the phenomenon. Twentieth century researchers pointed regularly to the use of vos in speech across all social strata (Ades, 1953; Flórez, 1957) and its use as a marker of local identity (Montes Giraldo, 1967; see also Jang, 2013; Millán, 2014; Weyers, 2016a). Villa Mejía (2010) shows the vital role that vos plays in costumbrista literature, marking rural paisa speech as voseo predominant. At the same, somewhat paradoxically, intellectuals of the past century lamented the existence of colloquial vos. Flórez (1957) and Montes Giraldo (1967), for example, opined that vos was an uneducated form of address that was substandard for public domains. Montes Giraldo (1967) went as far as to predict that vos would disappear from use once ‘culture flourished in Medellín’ (pp. 37-38, translation mine). It is important to note that negative opinions toward the presence of vos, along with its prominent role in costumbrista literature, are not exclusive to 20th century Medellín or Colombia in general. We find parallel situations in studies of Central American and other South American varieties (cf. Benavides, 2003). Here, we emphasize the research on Medellín since that is our focus in this study.

Research on Medellín’s dialect paused during the last decades of the 20th century, the period of time that corresponds to the darkest days of that city’s difficult recent past. The 21st century brought about a renaissance in Medellín on several fronts. The eponymous cartel that threated Medellín was brought to justice; sociolinguistic research on paisa Spanish was reinitiated (perhaps not as a direct result of the disbanding of cartel activity, but the chronology is notable); and a unmistakable pride in local identity emerged in the World’s Most Innovative City, a moniker that was bestowed on Medellín in 2013 in recognition of its transformation (Urban Land Institute, 2013).

Jang (2010) initiated the renewed focus on vos in Antioquia, reporting on its presence in Medellín (Jang, 2010, 2012b) and in the surrounding countryside (Jang, 2012a). In those studies, Jang reports that vos is present and robust in 21st century paisa Spanish; it has a strong presence in the Antioquian countryside; and while he predicted that vos might lose some ground in Medellín to (Jang, 2012a), he concludes that vos is an important marker of paisa identity (Jang, 2013), which suggests some level of tenacity in its presence. Millán (2014) added to the sociolinguistic research, noting the presence of vos as an important characteristic of paisa Spanish. Like Jang, Millán (2014) suggested a potential change, emphasizing that female speakers show greater affinity toward , with widespread vos usage being more a function of male speech (2014). Agudelo Montoya et al. (2016) concur that male speakers are more apt to demonstrate pride in their use of vos, while female speakers express a negative opinion towards its use, even in cases in which those same speakers use it regularly.

Recall that Montes Giraldo (1967) predicted the demise of vos in Medellín as the city grew and culture flourished. We find that the opposite has occurred in 21st century Medellín. The election of former Mayor Federico Gutiérrez (2016-2019) seemed to accelerate a change in the social status of vos, particularly in written public domains. As a candidate, Federico (as he is known) ran on a platform of being 'aliado con vos’. Indeed, he emphasized his background as a product of the humble Belén neighborhood of Medellín and addressed voters and officials as vos throughout the campaign. As mayor, he introduced the ‘Medellín cuenta con vos’ initiative, and prominently displayed that slogan on an updated version of the city’s coat of arms. During his time in office, Federico appeared weekly on Telemedellín in his ‘Federico con vos’ segment; all official communiqués from the city on billboards and social media platforms regularly used ‘Medellín cuenta con vos’, along with information and directives that used vos increasingly throughout his administration.

We previously cited Jang’s and Millán’s studies that predicted a potential change in the use of vos in Medellín, specifically, that vos might give way to , particularly among female speakers. Those studies, however, predate the election of Federico Gutiérrez. As such, they do not account for the increased public presence of written vos in city advertising, along with other commercial advertising from several local businesses (Weyers, 2016a, 2018). From 2016 until 2019, written vos in public spheres increased steadily (Weyers, 2016a), suggesting that a language change that would make vos increasingly prestigious could be in progress. First, given the increased pride in local identity, Weyers (2018) shows that paisas use tonic vos vocatively, in speech and in writing. That is, the pronoun vos appears regularly in domains in which local pride is aroused, as in ‘Medellín cuenta con vos’ or ‘Tan paisa como vos’, the latter of which expresses local roots and pride in them (Weyers, 2018, p. 475). Voseo verb forms appear with less frequency in written advertising. Indeed, Weyers (2016a) shows that tonic vos regularly appears in ad copy that features tuteo verb forms (e.g. ‘¿Ya lo conoces [tú]? Siempre queremos estar más cerca de vos’, p. 484). Second, given the increased presence of vos in Medellín’s linguistic landscape, Weyers (2021) finds that form, which was previously disparaged and generally considered non normative for writing (cf. Agudelo Montoya et al., 2016) is acceptable to a cross section of paisas who participated in a study of advertising campaigns. From that study, we find that a cross section of paisas accept the pronoun vos as ‘correct’ for public advertising, while the voseo verb form meets with less enthusiasm overall (Weyers, 2021). As we have stated, and will elaborate on below, that is the study on which the current one expands by including ustedeo verb forms in the study participants’ choices of ‘correct’ forms for written advertising.

On the topic of usted, it is important to highlight its unique usage in paisa Spanish. As in the rest of the Spanish-speaking work, usted reflects social distance between interlocutors; it is used to address a speaker with respect and reverence. In Colombia, usted is polysemic: in addition to expressing social distance, usted is used to express solidarity. That is, we find in Colombia that there is a formal usted and an intimate usted (Uber, 1985). For example, one uses usted to address a superior, an older person, or someone in a position of trust. At the same time, usted can be used between significant others, spouses, with a dog, and with a child, to express solidarity or intimacy. Jang (2010, 2014) notes that intimate usted is associated with lower socioeconomic speakers. Given its informal use, and considering the presence of vos in Medellín, it is not uncommon for usted and vos to be used interchangeably, sometimes with the same person in the same conversation (Jang, 2014). While this general parameter applies to all speakers, Jang (2010, 2014) reports that it is favored by male speakers, particularly when addressing other men, as reciprocal in speech among male interlocutors is considered effeminate.

is the normative second person singular pronoun of address that competes with vos and, given what we explained about vos/usted mixing, it competes with usted to some degree. is considered prestigious; it is often viewed as the ‘correct’ form of address in formal domains; and it is used regularly in education (Agudelo Montoya et al., 2016). Recall that Jang (2012a) predicted that vos might give way in part to an increased use of in urban areas of Antioquia in a nod toward Medellín’s growing international status. Also, Millán (2014) and Weyers (2021) report that female speakers use more regularly than males, a finding that is reminiscent of Labov's (2001) tenet that women tend to prefer prestigious linguistic forms (p. 275). In short, enjoys the prestige that vos has not yet fully achieved.

The language of advertising is meant to be clear and concise. Moreover, successful advertising connects with potential consumers by convincing them to buy a product or use a service. In Spanish, that implies that advertisers must determine whether they will address the consumer as vos (where it is used), , or usted to establish the desired relationship. Advertising is defined as a one-way communicative event that has a singular purpose: to persuade the consumer (Escribano, 2006). Given its particular focus, the message in advertising is more regularly conveyed in the singular rather than the plural, to connect individually with the customer. In this case, it is more common to find vos, , or usted in advertising than ustedes or vosotros. is reported as the most used pronoun of address in Spanish-language advertising (Bursik, 2008; Ferrer, 1995) since it expresses solidarity with the consumer: the advertiser expresses a sense of understanding the customer’s needs, experiencing their issues, and offering a solution. Nonetheless, usted is found in non-commercial advertising (e.g. instructions, expressions of policies) and in commercial advertising for services or products that call for a level of respect or social distance, like medical services or insurance (Weyers, 2011). In those regions where vos is used, we find that its use in written advertising reflects its acceptance as a local linguistic norm (Weyers, 2012). In the case of Medellín, vos in advertising, particularly as a tonic pronoun, is shown to be present and growing (Weyers, 2016a). Its use confirms its place in the linguistic profile of Medellín.

The current study is based on medellinenses’ attitudes toward forms of address in written advertising. The informants reacted to a survey instrument that created for this study using stock photos of the businesses at hand and limited copy ad that was meant to imitate advertising (see Appendix A). Given the advertising style of the survey instrument, the precepts of Linguistic Landscape (LL) provide guidance for our research. LL emerged as a field of study to examine the presence and social role of multiple languages that appear in the signage that surrounds us daily in Western life (Landry & Bourhis, 1997). LL has since been expanded to examine the presence of variable forms of the same language in public signage (Cenoz & Gorter, 2006), which is the case for this study. Jaworski and Thurlow (2010) maintain that the physical space of the LL is a ‘visual ideology’ that defines users’ beliefs about linguistic forms and their social role (p. 11). Moreover, LL provides a record of older and newer linguistic forms, cataloguing usage and language change over time (Kallen, 2010, p. 42). Subsequently, LL provides us a visual representation of what is acceptable to local speakers, whether older or newer linguistic forms, since advertising is successful when the consumer accepts the message and the linguistic forms that are used (Escribano, 2006, p. 295). Given the use of stock photos to elicit our informants’ responses, a visual representation along with competing linguistic forms were present, allowing us to apply the principles of LL in our analysis.

Specifically, our paisa informants were shown a picture of a brand—coffee shop, airline, and the like—and asked to choose whether they preferred a voseo, tuteo or ustedeo imperative (i.e., ‘eat’, at a particular restaurant) for each advertising situation. Their choices are intended to inform us of how paisas view voseo, tuteo, and ustedeo verb forms as ‘acceptable’ across domains, as articulated in the three research questions that guide the study.

3. Methodology

The results for this study were derived from a survey of 240 anonymous informants in Medellín. The informants were chosen randomly in a man-on-the-street type format: the two interviewers approached potential informants individually on public streets, in public spaces, as well as in and near their workplaces and requested their participation. The success of the survey relied exclusively on the generosity of those who agreed to participate. The interviewers were graduate students in Communication and Journalism at a private university in Medellín with which the present author has professional ties. One female and one male interviewer, both in their mid 20s, conducted 120 surveys each. Our analysis is based on 233 surveys, the result of discarding 7 responses due to unusable information like missing demographic information (due to human error) or incomplete responses.

As we referenced, the results we analyze here come from the survey instrument used for Weyers (2021). That instrument is a booklet of multiple pages, consisting of 22 items: the first 14 items asked informants to determine whether they preferred or vos in 10 instances, and whether they preferred tuteo or voseo verbs in 4 of them. Specifically, informants reacted to two versions of the same 14 ad campaigns, both of which were manually altered by the researcher so one version used tonic vos or a voseo verb form and the other used tonic or tuteo verb form. Recall that the results showed that tonic vos and tuteo verb forms were preferred in written advertising by the majority of paisa informants. The results are reported in Weyers (2021).

The eight items on which this study is based featured imperative verb forms and introduced ustedeo as an option that was absent from the previous survey items. Those imperative preference items on the survey were included as a preliminary measure to determine if the addition of an ustedeo option altered or confirmed the informants’ previous choices between voseo and tuteo verb forms from the earlier survey items. Their intention was to provide guidance for potential future research that would include the three forms of singular address.

Survey items 15-22 consist of photos of eight businesses that operate in Medellín, four of which are Colombian and the other four are international brands. The photos are arranged so comparable businesses—like Satena and American Airlines—are contiguous on the survey. Beneath each stock photo are three imperatives, in voseo, tuteo and ustedeo forms. For example, with both airlines, informants chose among variations of ‘fly’: 'volá’ [vos], 'vuela’[tú], and ‘vuele’[usted]. which was registered by the interviewers on their response sheets. No other wording (such as ‘fly with us’) appeared with the imperatives in an attempt to focus the informants’ attention exclusively on the verb form. Imperative forms were chosen given their regular presence in advertising campaigns.

There are four categories of comparable businesses, for a total of eight tokens per survey. For the two businesses in each category, participants chose among the same voseo, tuteo, or ustedeo imperatives that might be used in advertising for these brands. For the category ‘cafés’, Juan Valdez Café and Hard Rock Café offered variations of ‘drink’(‘tomá’ [vos], 'toma’[tú], 'tome’[usted]); for ‘banks’, Bancolombia and Citibank offered variations of ‘deposit’ ('depositá’ [vos], 'deposita’[tú], 'deposite’ [usted]); for informal dining, J&C Delicias (a local arepa chain) and McDonalds offered varieties of ‘eat’('comé’[vos], 'come’[tú], ‘coma[usted]); and ‘airlines’, as we discussed, used ‘fly’. To reiterate, this part of the survey instrument is found in Appendix A.

For each of the items, the interviewers asked the same question: ‘of the three options presented here, which do you like best?’ Indeed, ‘which do you like best?’ was used consistently in the survey protocol. Since the objective of the survey was to elicit linguistic attitudes, which option the informants like best adequately addresses the task. Were we to ask which one seemed most correct, or some other judgment question, we would run the risk of informants calling upon their knowledge of Spanish usage rather than expressing their personal opinion. The assistants were instructed to address the informants as usted. The research assistants documented the responses immediately on the answer card by circling V, T, or U. On that same card, they circled M or F to record the informants’ sex and identified the informants’ approximate age by using their best judgment rather than asking them directly, which seemed invasive. On the answer card, the research assistants circled 10 (for late teens), 20 (in their 20s), 30, 40, 50, or 60+ to record each informant’s approximate age. At the same time, the interviewers documented where the survey took place. This was done as a means to identify their socioeconomic position, which might influence their responses. For example, it was presumed that informants who was approached in an upscale part of the city would likely represent the upper class. After consideration, it was determined that our intention would lead to incorrect assumptions. As a result, we removed that information from consideration.

The results were entered into the SPSS program, which provided frequencies and the one-way ANOVA results that tested for the statistical significance of the informants’ sex and approximate age on their choice of voseo, tuteo, or ustedeo verb forms. The results and a discussion of them are in the following section.

4. Results and discussion

Recall that there were 233 randomly chosen participants whose responses are considered here. Of them, 158 are males and 75 are females. Regarding the informants’ age, we find a considerable contingency of informants in their 20s, particularly males, who make up over 40% of the corpus. The demographic makeup of the respondents is shown in Table 2. There, the three largest groups are highlighted for reference.

Table 2.Demographic makeup of the informants.
Age range of informants Male
n (% )
n (% )
Under 20 3 (1.3%) 3 (1.3%)
20-29 97 (41.6%) 38 (16.3%)
30-39 43 (18.5%) 14 (6.0%)
40-49 10 (4.3%) 10 (4.3%)
50-59 3 (1.3%) 9 (3.9%)
60 and over 2 (0.9%) 1 (0.4%)
TOTAL 158 75

The research assistants were directed to find a diverse sample of informants, males and females, of all ages. Since both assistants were graduate students in their 20s, that likely accounts for why they were in greater contact with and/or drawn more to informants of their own age. Still, male respondents outnumber females by over 2 to 1, and males in their 20s make up a disproportionate share of the sample. As one of the assistants worked at a technical institution where males outnumber females, it is possible that contributed to the volume of male informants. At the same time, it is likely that cultural considerations and a sense of personal safety may have resulted in several potential female informants refusing to participate in public spaces. Irrespective of the reason, it is essential that we begin our analysis by recognizing that the sample is uneven. Throughout this paper, the data is analyzed as percentages of the samples, thereby allowing for a reasonable comparison of results. Moreover, the total sample size of 233 provides substantial data for analysis; more participation from female respondents would have been preferred, but there is ample data to make judicious comparisons in our analysis. We believe that the percentages we report make a persuasive argument, although we remain cognizant that the sample population is skewed toward young men.

4.1. Overall results

As we discussed, the informants were shown eight stock photos, organized in four categories: cafés, banks, airlines, and informal dining. Each category featured one Colombian brand and one international brand (see Appendix A). For each photo, informants chose a voseo, tuteo or ustedeo imperative that they ‘liked best’ to appear in written advertising for that business. Table 3 shows the results from all 233 informants, with the majority response highlighted for each item.

Table 3.Aggregate responses for all informants.
Brands Voseo
# (%)
# (%)
Juan Valdez Café 79 (33.9) 134 (57.5) 20 (8.6)
Hard Rock Café 13 (5.6) 83 (35.6) 137 (58.8)
Bancolombia 46 (19.7) 146 (62.7) 41 (17.6)
Citibank 12 (5.2) 63 (27.0) 158 (67.8)
Satena Airlines 54 (23.2) 160 (68.7) 19 (8.1)
American Airlines 9 (3.8) 81 (34.8) 143 (61.4)
Informal dining:
J&C Delicias 39 (16.7) 66 (28.3) 128 (54.9)
McDonald’s 46 (19.7) 160 (68.7) 27 (11.6)

From Table 3, we note a discernible pattern in the responses. Overall, our informants preferred tuteo imperatives for Colombian brands and ustedeo imperatives for international brands in the ‘cafés’, ‘banks’, and ‘airlines’ categories. ‘Informal dining’, however, presents the reverse: the informants preferred the ustedeo form for local J&C Delicias and tuteo form for McDonald’s. Although ‘informal dining’ reverses the trend of the other three categories, the majority preference for tuteo for national brands and ustedeo for international ones is clear in Table 3.

Given the pattern we identified, why is ‘informal dining’ an outlier? One reason might be the order in which the photos appeared. Unlike the other three categories, for ‘informal dining’ the international brand (McDonald’s) appeared first, before the local restaurant, J&C Delicias. Perhaps the informants followed a pattern of response without realizing that the order of international versus national brands was different. At the same time, the ‘informal dining’ items were the final two of a long survey instrument (recall that there were 22 items in total), and survey fatigue is a possible reason as well. While these explanations remain as possibilities, it seems unlikely that so many informants would have fallen into the same pattern and/or suffered fatigue in the same way. It appears more probable that the informal dining choices evoked unanticipated images that have nothing to do with whether the brand is national or international.

J&C Delicias is found in mall food courts, Medellín’s international airport, and in some locations as a stand-alone restaurant in a commercial building. It is the type of restaurant that combines elements of fast food and others of a family style bistro, and its concept varies across locations. The present author had in mind J&C’s less formal concepts when it was chosen to counter McDonald’s as a local fast food chain. In J&C, customers order from a printed menu booklet, typically at a counter. The customer retrieves their meal from the counter, on a tray, when their buzzer activates. J&C’s menu items are served on plates, and they require silverware to be eaten. There are some locations of J&C that feature table service rather than counter service. In comparison, McDonald’s is less formal. The format is unchanging: customers order at the counter, retrieve their meal, which is wrapped or boxed, and does not require silverware since it is mostly eaten with your hands. It seems possible that our informants responded to the last two items with this distinction in mind: J&C probably evoked images of a family sit-down restaurant, while they viewed McDonald’s as more informal. Of course, we can only speculate. Were this the case, it would represent a survey weakness that would need to be addressed for future studies.

As we discuss the rationale behind the choice of comparable businesses, it is important to comment about Juan Valdez Café and Hard Rock Café as similar businesses. At the time of surveying, Starbucks had not yet debuted in Medellín’s market, where it currently has multiple locations that compete with Juan Valdez. Hard Rock Café was chosen as the counterpoint for Juan Valdez for two reasons: (1) both businesses use Café in their name, creating a visual similarity when one looks at their names; and (2) Hard Rock Café in Medellín is a food court bar with limited meal service, unlike its full service restaurant concepts found elsewhere in the world, and not unlike Juan Valdez which serves sandwiches, baked goods, as well as coffee. (See Appendix A for a photo of Medellín’s Hard Rock Café.)

From Table 3, we see that although tuteo and ustedeo imperative forms were chosen more than voseo for all items, voseo responses yielded a noteworthy level of use. Of note is the response for Juan Valdez Café: over 1/3 of the respondents chose voseo as their preferred verb form for that business. As we study the results in Table 3, we find a relationship between preferred forms and the second most preferred. That is, where tuteo is preferred—for national brands in ‘cafés’, ‘banks’, and ‘airlines’, as well as for McDonald’s—the second most popular response is voseo. On the other hand, where ustedeo is the popular response—with most international brands and J&C Delicias—tuteo is the second most popular. For the national brands and McDonald’s, we sense that informants expressed a sense of connectedness with the businesses, and demonstrated solidarity by preferring the tuteo form, which is commonly considered most ‘correct’ for written domains (cf. Agudelo Montoya et al., 2016). Regarding the second most chosen form, it seems that informants opted for voseo as connecting most of the national brands with their sense of local identity, in a way that is reminiscent of what we find in Weyers (2018). In the case of international brands and J&C Delicias, the majority seemed to have conveyed a sense of propriety toward the brand by choosing ustedeo as their preferred form. In these cases, the prescriptive tuteo was chosen as the second most popular response since it is considered ‘correct’ for written public domains (cf. Agudelo Montoya et al., 2016).

While ustedeo and tuteo imperative forms are the most commonly preferred among the survey participants, voseo has a noteworthy presence in the results. Indeed, voseo is preferred by an average of 24% of the informants for national brands and McDonald’s, and it was considered appropriate by a minority of respondents for international brands. Recall that the purpose of this part of the survey instrument was to determine if the addition of ustedeo as an option altered informants’ lesser support of voseo verb forms in written advertising, as reported in Weyers (2021). The results here support the conclusion that voseo verb forms are less favored in advertising. Nonetheless, the results here also point to the non standard voseo as more ‘correct’ than prescriptivists (cf. Montes Giraldo, 1967) might allow. To that end, the pie charts in Figure 1 compare the responses for national and international brands (irrespective of the ‘informal dining’ outlier answers). There we see that (a) tuteo is preferred overall for national brands; (b) voseo is preferred by over ¼ of the informants for national brands; (c) ustedeo is the minority choice for national products; (d) ustedeo and tuteo are preferred for international brands, in that order, at a generally comparable rate; leaving (e) voseo as the minority choice for international brands. These conclusions support those from Millán (2014) and Jang (2013) that vos is a marker of local identity and is deemed acceptable for written advertising among some paisas for local domains (Weyers, 2018).

Figure 1
Figure 1.Comparison of responses for national and international brands.

4.2. Informants’ sex as a significant factor

We ran a one way ANOVA of the results for each of the items to determine if sex (this section) and age (next section) were statistically significant for any, some, or all of the items. We set the significance level of .05. The respondents’ sex was significant for all but two of the items: Juan Valdez Café and Satena Airlines. Table 4 shows the significance values for those items for which sex is statistically significant.

Table 4.Significance values for informants’ sex.
F p
Hard Rock Café 32.4 < .001
American Airlines 24.6 < . 001
Bancolombia 6.0 = 0.15
Citibank 13.8 < .001
McDonald’s 4.3 = .04
J&C Delicias 27.1 < .001

The male and female responses for the six items that have sex as statistically significant are shown in Table 5, which features shading for the reader’s convenience in comparing responses. In Table 5, we find a clear distinction in the responses according to sex. First, we see that our male informants show an overall preference for ustedeo while our female respondents prefer tuteo (orange, or middle bar) in the aggregate. Specifically, in four of the six items (e.g. Hard Rock, American Airlines, Citibank, and J&C Delicias), men prefer ustedeo over the other options. In contrast, women prefer tuteo in five of the six items (e.g. Hard Rock Café, American Airlines, Bancolombia, McDonald’s, and J&C Delicias) over the other options.

Table 5.Responses where sex is statistically significant, by sex.
n (%)
n (%)

n (%)
n (%)
n (%)
n (%)
Hard Rock Café 112 (70.9) 25 (33.3) 41 (25.9) 42 (56.0) 5 (3.2) 8 (10.7)
American Airlines 116 (73.4) 27 (36.0) 36 (22.8) 45 (60.0) 6 (3.8) 3 (4.0)
Bancolombia 19 (12.0) 22 (29.3) 106 (67.1) 40 (53.4) 33 (20.9) 13 (17.3)
Citibank 121 (76.6) 37 (49.3) 30 (19.0) 33 (44.0) 7 (4.4) 5 (6.7)
McDonald’s 13 (8.2) 14 (18.7) 111 (70.3) 49 (65.3) 34 (21.5) 12 (16.0)
J&C Delicias 108 (68.4) 20 (26.7) 29 (18.3) 37 (49.3) 21 (13.3) 18 (24.0)

In the cases of Bancolombia and McDonald’s, for which men did not prefer the ustedeo form, their responses for voseo are greater than those for ustedeo, which is the opposite for the women’s responses. For Citibank, where women did not prefer tuteo as in other items, we find that their choice for tuteo is overall not much less than their preferred ustedeo responses. For the men, ustedeo is widely preferred for Citibank, with minimal tuteo responses.

In summary, for these items for which sex is statistically significant in the analysis of the results (Table 5), we see that overall men prefer ustedeo, and women prefer tuteo verb forms for written advertising. In the case of voseo, Table 5 shows a mixed bag. For Bancolombia and McDonald’s, men show more affinity toward voseo than women. For Hard Rock Café, Citibank, and J&C Delicias, women chose voseo more often than men. The difference between the sexes in the response for American Airlines is negligible.

Does the male informants’ preference for ustedeo suggest that they are somehow more respectful than their female counterparts? That does not seem to be the case. What is more likely is that the male preference for ustedeo may reflect their avoidance of tuteo, which is preferred by their female counterparts. Recall that women are reported to be more apt to prefer a prescriptive language form than men (Labov, 2001; also Gordon, 1997). Moreover, recall that Uber (1985) describes the polysemic quality of usted in Colombian Spanish, where it is both respectful and informal. Although we do not know which of the uses inspired the preference for ustedeo among men, it seems probable that it is the latter. Finally, recall that paisa men reportedly consider tuteo in conversation to be effeminate (Jang, 2010, 2014), and that usted and vos are commonly interchanged (Jang, 2014). Voseo is present in the results, but in this survey, as in previous research, voseo verb forms do not currently enjoy the prestige of tuteo or ustedeo in writing (Weyers, 2016a). Given what we described in Section 2, it seems likely that men’s preference for ustedeo is a rejection of tuteo, and perhaps an incomplete nod toward voseo, rather than an attempt to express social distance or reverence. Weyers (2021) shows that men prefer the pronoun vos as a subject or prepositional object to a lesser degree than voseo verb forms, which contributes to our understanding why voseo was not the top choice for any item for them.

4.3. Informants’ age as a significant factor

As in the previous section, we ran a one way ANOVA to determine if the informants’ age was a significant factor in their responses. The program indicated that age was significant for 5 of the 8 items: Hard Rock Café (p = .042), American Airlines (p = .004), Bancolombia (p = .003), McDonald’s (p = .009), and J&C Delicias (p = .027). However, upon analysis of each of these cases, we determined that the substantial participation of males in their 20s that we discussed in Section 2 does not allow us to reach accurate conclusions about the impact of the informants’ age on their responses. For example, when we look at the results for American Airlines, informants in their 40s show a stronger preference for tuteo over all other age groups (65% versus an average of 36%), which makes an argument for age playing a role in how our informants responded. But, as we refer to Table 2 (demographic makeup of the sample), we see that there were 20 informants registered as being in their 40s, which makes up less than 9% of the total participants. For comparison, informants in their 20s number 135, which is nearly 60% of the sample. Given the uneven demographic makeup of our 233 informants, it would only be speculative to report that the informants’ age influenced their responses.

5. Conclusion

Study results often inspire further investigation and lend themselves to suggested changes for future endeavors. This research does both. First, the current study examines paisas’ contrastive attitudes toward voseo, tuteo, and ustedeo imperative verb forms in advertising. The addition of ustedeo forms to the informants’ options makes this study unique among the many others we have referenced throughout, albeit limited in scope. Given its limited scope, we offer the current study as a test case, setting the stage for a future in-depth investigation into speaker preferences for all three singular forms of address in use in Medellín.

It is hoped that the current study will guide and instruct future research by addressing its contributions and its shortcomings. Future research will benefit from studying forms other than imperatives to determine if different verb forms—and therefore different emphases in the advertising message—evoke divergent preferences for forms of address. Most important, future studies will benefit from a more diverse group of informants in sex and age. No research model is perfect. In Weyers (2021) and this study, every effort was made to make the survey instrument as natural as possible, to elicit natural responses. To that end, we used photos of real ad campaigns and actual brands that are readily visible around Medellín. This type of forced choice responses was deemed efficient—the success of the survey relied on the generosity of strangers donating their time—and less invasive than open ended questions. Still, it would be worthwhile to explore different survey setups for comparative purposes.

The current study contributes to our understanding of address forms among speakers in Medellín. That men favor ustedeo verb forms, women favor tuteo, and voseo enjoys some level of acceptance when applied to local domains, is supported by previous research, as we have indicated throughout. The research we cited throughout emphasizes the use of tonic , vos and/or usted (see Section 2); for those studies that address pronoun and verb form usage, there is not yet a connection made between the two. Recent research on paisa Spanish points to an increasing presence (Weyers, 2016a, 2018) and acceptance (Weyers, 2021) of tonic vos in written public domains. That research along with the current study indicates that voseo verb forms do not enjoy the same level of acceptance in writing, that is, that vos and voseo forms do not increase in usage and potential prestige at the same time. Future research will benefit from examining that relationship and the possible future status of voseo (and other) verb forms in written domains.

The tripartite system of address that characterizes the Spanish of Medellín presents a curious situation in which colloquial vos is reported to gain in prestige, prescriptive is preferred by women, and usted—here, the usted of solidarity—is the preferred form among men. The results from this study highlight that complex system of address and set the stage for further investigation.


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Appendix A