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Interesting Facts about Argentine Spanish

With 450 million speakers, Spanish is the world’s second-most spoken native language all over the world. But while all of those people might speak the same language, they do not all speak it the same way. Even if there is not as much variation between Spanish dialects as there is between dialects in other languages, the regional varieties differ from one another, in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, and less so in grammar.

One of the many varieties of Spanish is Argentine Spanish, also known as Rioplatense or Argentine-Uruguayan Spanish. It takes its name after the countries where the variety is spoken, in Uruguay and Argentina, located to either side of the Río de la Plata, the widest river in the world, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

There are many characteristics of Argentine Spanish which make this variety unique, often requiring the localization of content aimed at the Argentine market. These differences include specific terminology, such as the word “pibe/a” to refer to a guy or a girl, an entirely different second person singular pronoun (“vos”), and the “che” particle, which is often used to identify one of the most famous revolutionaries in the world.

Argentine Words and Lunfardo

Terminology is one of the main sources of local linguistic variety. In the case of Argentine Spanish, there are around 9000 terms used in the area, most of which will not be understood anywhere else. Many of these terms are related to Lunfardo, a slang used predominantly in Buenos Aires, but which spread out around the country at the beginning of the 20th century and now permeates the Argentine vocabulary.

The origin of Lunfardo is contested, with some people attributing it to criminals using it in jails to avoid being understood by the authorities. However, Oscar Conde, who has written two books on this fascinating linguistic phenomenon, argues that Lunfardo arose as a consequence of the European immigration which began around 1880 and saw some four million people migrate to Argentina, mostly from Italy and Spain. It is said that it was the incorporation of Italian which helped shape Lunfardo.

Some examples of this typically Argentinian vocabulary are “mina”, used to refer to women, which is said to come from the Italian word for woman, “femmina”. In Argentina, when you are feeling lazy you can say you have “fiaca”, a word derived from “fiacco”, meaning laziness in Italian. Other examples include terms which haven’t even been adapted at all: Argentines often use the Italian word “birra” to refer to beer, instead of the Spanish word “cerveza”.

Here we list a few other examples:

Peninsular Spanish Rioplatense Spanish English
Trabajar
Laburar
To work
Chico/a
Pibe/a
Guy/girl
Aguacates
Palta
Avocado
Falda
Pollera
Skirt
Coger
Tomar/Agarrar
To grabe/take
Maleta
Valija
Suitcase/Luggage

Voseo in Argentina: “vos” instead of “tú”

Another key feature that characterizes Rioplatense Spanish is the second person singular pronoun, which also affects the verb system used, often confusing Spanish natives and learners alike. Instead of “tú”, Argentines use “vos”, a phenomenon called “voseo”.

“Vos” is used in many different countries, such as Bolivia, Paraguay and Costa Rica, among others, although it is extensively used in Rioplatense Spanish. “Vos” was originally a politeness marker that quickly became less popular in Spain, where “tú” was being favored. However, the use of “vos” survived in certain areas of Latin America. The verb conjugations survived together with the pronoun, which can be very challenging when you are not familiar with the system. This phenomenon can easily be seen when, instead of being told “tú eres gracioso” (you are funny), an Argentine would say “vos sos gracioso”.

Image source: https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk
Peninsular Spanish Rioplatense Spanish
(tú) quieres
(vos) querés
(tú) tienes
(vos) tenés
(tú) eres
(vos) sos

“Che”: An Intriguing Interjection

Another typically Argentine feature of the Spanish language is the use of the interjection “che”. Although “che” is also used in Uruguay and parts of Brazil and Spain, this interjection is famously associated to the Argentine icon Ernesto Guevara, a major figure of the Cuban Revolution.

“Che” is used as an interjection to call someone’s attention, as well as to denote surprise or astonishment. However, “che” can be used in a wide variety of contexts, proving very hard to translate. In some contexts, it can be translated as “yo”, “bro” or “hey!”, but it can also be used at the beginning of a statement with a meaning close to that of “so”. Other possible translations include “right”, “like” or “eh”. The extensive and complex use of this particle is, in itself, an indication of its intrinsically Argentine nature.

The prefix "re-"

In Argentina, the prefix "re-" when used before adjectives demonstrates “extra” of whatever is said. For example, re-canchero would mean extremely cool, nifty or neat. The sentence Martín se vistió re-canchero para salir con María would mean that Martín dressed extremely snazzy (or cool) to go out with María.

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