Have you ever wondered what distinguishes Argentinian Spanish from other Latin American varieties? Today, we’ll be exploring the pronunciation, accent, and slang of Argentina.
It’s no secret that the Latin American Spanish dialect is an evolving language. And the Spanish spoken in Argentina and Uruguay is probably one of the most peculiar varieties, both for its phonology and lexicon.
If you are interested in getting to know more about the Argentine way of speaking Spanish (as well as learning a little bit more about Argentina), here is a complete guide to the differences between Argentinian Spanish and other accents in Spanish-speaking countries
I’m a native speaker and a teacher of Argentinian Spanish. I will introduce you to Argentine pronunciation, Argentine accent, and Argentine slang when compared to other Latin American varieties of Spanish.
Latin American Language & Culture
Latin Americans are considered to be quite happy people. We like partying, dancing, and hanging around with our friends and family. We kiss and hug people even when we meet them for the very first time; we’re friendly people.
Most of the 46 countries that form Latin America, with the exception of Brazil, Haiti, Santa Lucia, French Guiana, and Belize, speak the same language – Spanish. At the same time, there can also be many different Spanish varieties within the same country.
The two most distinct varieties of Spanish are probably the Rioplatense and Latin American Spanish varieties, which display differences in the grammatical, lexical, and phonetic levels, and are spoken in different areas of Latin America.
Argentinian Language & Culture
We Argentines are proud of our geography – we boast about our beautiful Cataratas del Iguazú and our impressive Patagonia. We worship Messi and Maradona. We love sharing our deepest traditions with foreigners – an asado on Sundays, a mate every afternoon, and a tango lesson in the streets of La Boca, a traditional neighborhood in Buenos Aires.
We also like to teach our new foreign friends Argentinian slang. Argentines don’t speak español; we speak castellano.
We don’t tuteamos each other; we voseamos.
And we don’t lloramos /ʎ/; we yoramos /ʃ /.
We tend to add lunfardo terms and Italianisms here and there in our speech, and we use superlatives all the time because our language is recopado.
No matter which variety of Spanish you speak, you will always understand the other, and your interlocutor will help you do so. 😉
Differences between Rioplatense and Latin American Spanish varieties
In a 2017 interview for BBC Mundo, the Uruguayan linguist Magdalena Coll (Historia y presente del yeísmo (rehilado) en el Uruguay- Coll Magdalena, Canale Germán-2016) recalled that until the XIX Century, there were two recognized forms of Spanish- correct Spanish (Peninsular Spanish) and incorrect Spanish, a deformation of the first, which included basically all other varieties.
Things have changed since, and nowadays the Rioplatense variety of Spanish is the standard for speaking and writing in Argentina and Uruguay; and some of its features can be also found in other Spanish varieties both in Latin American countries and in some regions of Spain.
Let’s explore some of the differences between the Rioplatense and other Latin American Spanish varieties:
Grammar: second person singular- voseo
Voseo is one of the most noticeable features of Rioplatense Spanish, also called Argentinian Spanish. It consists in using the pronoun vos instead of tú and ti, to address the second person singular. It is used in informal contexts, to address people with whom the hierarchy or age is the same. In formal contexts, all varieties of Spanish share the use of the pronoun usted.
The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) distinguishes two forms of voseo– pronominal voseo and verbal voseo.
- Pronominal voseo is the use of the pronoun vos instead of tú or ti, to perform the following functions in the sentence:
Pronominal voseo vs. tuteo
|Subject||“Vos no fuiste ayer, ¿no?”“You didn’t go yesterday, did you?”||“Tú no fuiste ayer, ¿no?”“You didn’t go yesterday, did you?”|
|Vocative||“Che vos, ¿estás listo?“Hey, you. Are you ready?”||“Oye, tú. ¿Estás listo?”“Hey, you. Are you ready?”|
|Prepositional complement||“No me fío de vos”.“I don’t trust you.”||“No me fío de ti”.“I don’t trust you.”|
|Comparative complement||“Nadie es más importante que vos”.“No one is more important than you.”||“Nadie es más importante que tú”.“No one is more important than you.”|
- Verbal voseo is the use of a different form of verb conjugation for the person vos. It doesn’t affect other tenses than the present indicative and the second person singular of the imperative mood.
It is formed by dropping the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, -ir) and adding a new one (-ás, -és, -ís). Notice that in regular verbs, the only difference between the tú and the vos forms is that the stress is moved to the last syllable.
Verbal voseo vs. tuteo
|“Siempre hablás de lo mismo”.“You always talk about the same stuff.”||“Siempre hablas de lo mismo”.“You always talk about the same stuff.”|
|“Nunca comés toda la comida”.“You never eat all your food.”||“Nunca comes toda la comida”.“You never eat all your food.”|
|“¿Vos vivís tu vida al máximo?”“Do you live your life to the fullest?”||“¿Tú vives tu vida al máximo”.“Do you live your life to the fullest?”|
|Irregular verb: SER|
|SER||“¿Vos sos Juan?”“Are you Juan?”||¿Tú eres Juan?“Are you Juan?”|
Also, verbs that are irregular in the “tú” form are regular for “vos”:
Verbal voseo vs. tuteo
|Irregular verbs for “tú”|
|dorm-ir||“¿Dormís bien?”“Do you sleep well?”||¿Duermes bien?“Do you sleep well?”|
|pod-er||“Podés venir esta noche”.“You can come tonight.”||“Puedes venir esta noche”.“You can come tonight.”|
|sent-ir||“¿Sentís dolor?”“Do you feel pain?”||¿Sientes dolor?“Do you feel pain?”|
In the Imperative Mood too, in regular verbs the only difference between the tú and the vos forms is that the stress is moved to the last syllable.
Verbal voseo vs. tuteo
|“Hablá más fuerte, por favor”.“Speak louder, please.”||“Habla más fuerte, por favor”.“Speak louder, please.”|
|“Comé toda la comida”.“Eat all your food.”||“Come toda la comida”.“Eat all your food.”|
|“Viví tu vida al máximo”.“Live your life to the fullest.”||“Vive tu vida al máximo”.“Live your life to the fullest.”|
Verbs that are irregular in the “tú” form are regular for “vos”:
Verbal voseo vs. tuteo
|Irregular verbs for “tú”|
|hac-er||“Hacé un pastel para María”.“Make a cake for María.”||“Haz un pastel para María”.“Make a cake for María.”|
|ir/and-ar||“Andá a la escuela”.“Go to school.”||“Ve a la escuela”“Go to school.”|
|dec-ir||“¡Decí la verdad!”“Tell the truth!”||“¡Di la verdad!”“Tell the truth!”|
|pon-er||“Poné la mesa, por favor”.“Set the table, please.”||“Pon la mesa, por favor”.“Set the table, please.”|
SER “Sé vos mismo siempre”.
“Sé tú mismo siempre”.
“Always be yourself”.
ESTAR “Che vos, estate quieto un rato”.
“Oye tú, estate quieto un rato”.
“Hey you, be quiet for a while.”
Probably, the most distinguishable feature of Rioplatense Spanish is the use of yeísmo, in which the consonants “y” and double “l” (ll) are pronounced like the English sound “sh” [ʃ] instead of [ʎ]: lluvia “shuvia” and not “iuvia”. This feature is widely used in Buenos Aires and most of Argentina (except for some Northern provinces), and Uruguay.
Other examples are:
|[ʃ] instead of [ʎ]|
|Word||Rioplatense Spanish||Latin American Spanish|
|Llevar (to take)||shevar /ʃevar/||ievar /ʎevar/|
|Llave (key)||shave /ʃave/||iave /ʎave/|
|Ya (right now)||sha //ʃa/||ia /ʎa/|
|Yegua (mare)||shegua /ʃegua/||iegua /ʎegua/|
The term lunfardo derives from the Italian word Lombardo and it means “villain”. Lunfardo is an Argentinian slang originally used in Buenos Aires by criminals and lower-class people since the late XIX Century. It was a mixture of terms from Italian (mostly), Spanish, African, French, and indigenous origin that helped immigrants and locals communicate. By the beginning of the XX Century, Lunfardo spread its usage to other social classes, mainly by the introduction of Lunfardo terms into tango lyrics and poetry.
Oscar Conde is a poet, essay writer, and university professor in Buenos Aires. He wrote several books about tango and Lunfardo, including the Etymological Dictionary of Lunfardo (2004) and Lunfardo (2011).
He states that Lunfardo can be considered a local Argentinian slang used by the first Italian immigrants, which mixed Spanish with words in Italian and French.
Some examples are:
|pibe, piba (kid)||Tango “El sueño del pibe” (1942)Tango “The boy’s dream” (1942)|
|chamuyo, chamuyar (to cook up a story)||Tango “El Chamuyo” (1938)|
|afanar (to steal)gil (dumb)||“El que no afana es un gil” (Tango Cambalache, 1934)“The one who doesn’t steal is dumb” (Cambalache, 1934)|
|¡Che! (Interjection)Hey!||“¡Che, vos! ¡Sí, vos! ¡Te estoy hablando!”“Hey you! Yes, you! I’m talking to you!”|
By mid XIX Century Argentina underwent a political era marked by the will of our government to attract immigrants to turn Argentina into an exporting country. This is how many foreigners, mainly Italian, Spanish, and French arrived in Argentina. From 1881 to 1914, more than four million immigrants settled in our country, almost 50% of whom were Italian (Devoto 2009:247).
Most of the Italians that came to Argentina were uneducated people. In order to be able to communicate with the Argentinians, they mixed words from their own dialects with Spanish words, and that is how cocoliche appeared and many Italian words became common in everyday speech.
Many Italian words were incorporated into Rioplatense Spanish; some of which are still used today:
Words of Italian origin
|pibe, piba (kid)||From Genoese “pivetto”|
|laburar (trabajar)||From Italian “lavorare”|
|escrachar (to put somebody into evidence)||From Neapolitan ”schiacciato”|
|¡Chau! (Bye!)||From Italian “ciao”|
|¡Sentí! (Listen!)||From Piedmontese “Senti!”|
|Nono, nona (grandpa, grandma)||From Italian “nonno, nonna”|
Phrases of Italian origin
|¡Mama mía! (Goodness!)||Expresses surprise (Mamma Mia!)|
|¡Ma sí! (Come on!)||From Italian “Ma sì!”|
|Te quiero bien. (I really love you)||From Italian “Ti voglio bene“|
Spanish is one of the four most spoken languages in the world after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi. Speaking Spanish– be it Peninsular, Rioplatense or Latin American Spanish, can be very useful for traveling, working, and studying abroad. If you’re planning a trip to Argentina and you already know the grammar, which is the same for all varieties, just remember about voseo, yeísmo, and lunfardo, and you’ll be ready for the experience.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Rioplatense and Latin American Spanish. If you did, why not join our mailing list and get notified whenever we publish new articles.