Argentian Spanish: you need to be “piola” to get it right.


When summer comes with its long and hot days, one of the things that helps me more to get rid of the sticky heat of the city is the beach. Or better said, the Mediterranean sea water, which freshens up my ideas and cools me down enough as to survive the first hours of the afternoon. I live in the city but my neighbourhood is more like a village. We all know each other and we run into each other on the beach. Year after year. We are all a bit older and a bit wiser. Some years ago I got to know a charming couple from Argentina that comes to Barcelona to spend part of the summer. Their very lettered language with its peculiarities woke my immediate curiosity as a non-stop linguist. And since they come here with plenty of time and I go to the beach eager to listen and learn, I asked them to recall typical words from Argentina so that I could write an article for my blog. But before I uncover these terms to you, I must explain a couple of general things about the Spanish of Argentina.
First of all, it must be said that there is a huge amount of words that are commonly used in Argentina but have become old-fashioned in Spanish. The first term that we quickly associate with the Country of the Río de la Plata is the “vos” , which is “you” in old English. This pronoun was used to address authorities in Spain round the 1500. The “tu”, which was in old English “thou”, was only applied to people with whom one had a very familiar relationship. In Spain, “vuestra Merced” -translated as “your Mercy”- later became “Usted” and replaced the “vos” during the XVII and XVIII centuries. Nowadays nobody uses the last one. But Argentinian Spanish does so for the second person singular and so does Paraguayan and Uruguayan, the Spanish of Central America and the Mexican State of Chiapas.
Argentinians use the “vos” with a second person of the singular without the typical Spanish diphthong. They say “vos andás”, “vos querés” instead of “vos andáis” or “vos queréis”. And interestingly enough they use it with the possessive pronoun “tu” for the nominative “vos”: “vos leés tu libro”, “vos ganás tu plata”. The same way they use the nominative “vos” with the pronoun “te” “vos te comportás”.
Just as in the Spanish of the western part of Andalusia and the one on the Canary Islands, the Spanish of America has done away with the distinction made between “vosotros”, you for a third person singular formal, and “ustedes” for the same person but in formal level.
“Vos” agrees with the verb forms that were plural in their origins and the imperatives lack the final “d” of the Spanish. “Anda” would be an example for that.
Another feature that tickles our ears, used to the non-melodic Spanish, is the vibrant pronunciation of everything that contains the [ll]. A delicious sound for every listener.
Other less remarkable features of the Spanish in Argentina are the use of the future periphrasis “voy a viajar”, “I am going to travel” instead of the simple future “viajaré” or the preference for the simple pasts “comí” – I ate- instead of the perfect tense “he comido”- I have eaten-. In addition to it, Argentinians are used to dactylic stress in words such as “austríaco” or “cardíaco” rather than the non-dactylic stress used in Spain *”austriáco” *”cardiáco”. These words are not written with the stress mark [´]but I have used it only to help the reader know in which syllable will be stressed in any case.
A lot has been written about the Castilian spoken in the Río de la Plata States, and a great deal about the Spanish in Argentina because it is a Spanish that has been deeply modified. In fact, it has been so altered, that some renowned linguists such as Fontanella de Weinberg claim that Argentinian is a language on its own.
Moreover, there are two things that add some extra difficulty to this language: the Lunfardo and the Vesre.
The Lunfardo is the slang invented by prisoners so that the jailers would not understand them. It dates back from the XIX century. A lot of words from the Lunfardo came to the Argentinian language through immigrants, and most of them were Italian- According to Rafael Lapesa, the great Spanish linguist a lot of words from the Lunfardo came from the gaucho language also.
Words such as “laboro” or “laburo” for work have a clear Italian origin. The initial Lunfardo, that was forbidden by the authorities for a long time, has been immortalized in a great number of Tango lyrics that we would by no means understand without the help of a dictionary of this slang. In order to preserve this succulent cultural heritage, the Real Academia del Lunfardo was founded on the 21st of December 1962.
And to make Argentinian even less easy to understand, this language has adopted a great quantity of words from the “Vesre” and introduced them into everyday language. The “Vesre” is a way to speak in which one inverts the syllables. This way “negro” -black- becomes “grone” and the “timbo” is “botín” a shoe, whereas a woman, “mujer” in Spanish, becomes “jermu”.
In addition to those words, there are a great deal more that are widely used and that differ from ours. Money is “plata”, this is “silver”, petrol is “nafta” instead of “gasolina” and a woman is called “mina” instead of mujer. And a “papusa” is a young girl, the same way as a “percanta” and the masculine counterpart would be a “pibe”. A person that keeps on telling lies and shows off, a braggart so to say, is called a “chanta in Argentinian”. A gay person is a “trolo”, a word that reminds us of the Catalan “trola” meaning “whopper”. Somebody who is quick learning things is “piola” and when women walk topless on the beach they “van en Lolas”.
Two words that torture Argentinians because for us in Spain they are normal but for them they are absolutely not are the verb “coger” which for us means “take” but for them it means “to have intercourse”. And the second taboo word is “Concha”, which is a rather common yet a bit old-fashioned female name for us, but designates the female sex for them. So, when we say “cojo el autobús”- I take the bus- a rather funny picture comes to their minds. The word that names the male reproductive organ is “pija” which is only a screw in Mexico. Therefore, in this country you can often read “pijas de todas las medidas” at the ironmonger’s, something that could be translated as “screws of all sizes”. But then again, Argentinians might laugh their lungs out if they read the sign.
The telo is a hotel and a “bulín” is the apartment of a single man which is often used by young couples to have some intimacy when they need to. If the “bulín” is “mistongo” as the tango says, then it is particularly cosy.
As Spaniards, we might understand some words because we know them from other languages. “Gambas” for instance are legs and it’s a similar word to the French “jambes”. Some other words such as the verb “juncar”-observe- will only be understood by context because they don’t remind us of any other word. “El coche no funca” means “the car is not working” and in this case, we might have to use the “bondi”, the bus to go along the “lleca” which is the street.
Talking with Susi she reminded me that the 15th of August was a day “feriado” and not “festivo” as we call the holidays in Spain. But this word was easier to guess than “vento”, “croto” and “cocoliche”, which I found really amazing. “Vento”, and only Lord knows where this word might come from, means “money”. A “croto” is someone that dresses in rags and is dirty and a “cocoliche” is a person who is uncappable of dressing in a harmonious way. In Argentina when someone swears all the time, what we keep on doing here as a national sport nearly, you say that he or she is a “cloaca”, a sewer. And if we know someone very well we say “lo tenemos bien mangiado”, literally we have this person well-eaten.
I am still not sunburnt although I have been lying on the beach writing down what this lovely couple has been explaining to me. They are two excellent people who, due to our senseless laws and a sometimes more than unfair foreigner policy, can only enjoy our beach for 90 days a year. And this even though they are retired and they could be here for much longer together… But before I consider this post finished I will tell them by heart the words I have learned from them. Let’s see if this way, in Argentinian Spanish, they don’t “bochan”me, which means they don’t let me fail the exam. And I wish you a very nice week. Make the most out of it cause the summer is about to end!

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