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Argentine Spanish and Lunfardo

Grocery in Buenos Aires, Argentina: Barfy Burgers
lost in translation

The Argentine Way

The dialect of spanish spoken in the Río de la Plata area (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) differs from the standard Latin American variety in two distinct ways.

First of all, 'll' and 'y', normally pronounced like the english 'y', are both pronounced 'zh'. Thus yo tambien sounds like 'zho tambien'. The exception is when 'y' is at the end of a word; estoy is pronounced as it would be anywhere.

A bit trickier is the use of vos in place of the more common , which requires a different verb form in the present tense, except for some irregular verbs. For regular verbs, an accent is added to the second syllable: tú comes becomes vos comés. For stem-changing verbs, the original stem is used in place of the changed one: tú tienes becomes vos tenés. With 'ir' verbs an 'ís' ending is used: tú vienes becomes vos venís. And some forms seem just plain random: tú eres becomes vos sos.

Dazed and confused? Fortunately, you'll be understood just fine in Argentina if you use standard Latin American (or even European) Spanish. But keep the differences in mind and you'll have an easier time understanding the locals.

Lunfardo: Slang of Buenos Aires

Porteños, the residents of Buenos Aires, have a special way of communicating with each other. Known as lunfardo, it's a sort of Italian-influenced street slang created long ago in Buenos Aires' working class neighborhoods, and often used in Tangos. Here are some less offensive examples:

  • laburo - work, job
  • piola - clever
  • macanudo - excellent, cool
  • morfar - to eat
  • guita - money
  • bronca - anger, frustration

For budding linguists and those out for a chuckle, here is an extensive Lunfardo dictionary in English. We recommend using lunfardo with great caution, if at all—many words are rich with innuendo.

Castellano? Huh?

Spanish isn't called español in Argentina. Like in some other South American countries, it's called Castellano or Castilian (remember the 'll' is pronounced 'zh' in Argentina). The reason is that Spain is a linguistically diverse nation, and it was only when the kingdom of Castile achieved dominance over the rest of Spain that Castellano became the official language of the land. Thus Castellano refers to a specific language of Spain, Castilian, while español is somewhat ambiguous.

Learning Spanish

A bit of study before you go will make your trip that much more rewarding. The award-winning website Learn Spanish offers free tutorials on pronunciation, vocab, and basic grammar.

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