Sometimes Americans can be confused by Spanish words that are similar to English ones but do not mean the same thing (false cognates). For instance, the Spanish word compromiso means “commitment” in English. Condado (the extension of the land holdings of a count or conde under feudalism) does not mean “county” in English–in fact the term is not used in Chile, although the concept is understood. Ciudad does not exactly mean “city” in the way we use it.
In strict English and in Spanish, a city (ciudad) is “a center of population, commerce, and culture; a town of significant size and importance.” But we use the word “city” more loosely at times, even to describe smaller towns (pueblos), at times modifying the word with an adjective like “huge,” “big,” “small,” or “medium-sized.” In Spanish that is not the case. In Chile, only larger population centers qualify as cities and the rest are pueblos or villorrios (i.e., a cluster of houses along the roadside or a few shops), They do not have villages (aldeas), even colloquially as, for instance, Greenwich Village.
However, they do add provincias, which are similar to counties in the United States, and comunas, which are basically cities or towns in the United States. The city hall structure of each comuna is called the municipalidad, where the municipio administers the comuna. They also use área metropolitano (metropolitan area) in the same way that Americans do, in order to describe large clusters of population that include many cities (comunas) and can encompass one or more counties (provincias) and even cross state (región) lines, as in the case of the New York metropolitan area. In Chile, there are four significant metropolitan areas: Región Metropolitana de Santiago, Gran Valparaíso, Gran Concepción and Gran La Serena.
Political subdivisions in the United States and their equivalents in Chile are as follows.
|Political Subdivision||Spanish Equivalent|
|the state||el Estado|
|state (50)||región (15)|
|medium-sized or larger city, or group of contiguous cities||ciudad|
|metropolitan area||área metropolitano|
Note that ciudades, áreas metropolitanos naciones, territorios and villorrios do not have their own governing bodies, except for things like inter-city (inter-comunal) administration of mass transit. There is national governance of the Estado or país, and local governance of the regiones, provincias and comunas and some pueblos.
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