Those who come to Argentina to learn the language will find that its interpretation of the Spanish language is every bit as unique as the country itself.
Visitors quickly find out that those textbook Spanish classes can serve as a comfort, but not a compass, when trying to navigate this country’s Italian-flavored version of Spanish.
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The Argentine Accent
Argentines call their Spanish ‘Castellano’ (Castilian) – specifying its regional roots in Castile, Spain.
Argentina was rather secluded from the rest of Latin America due to geographical boundaries and geopolitics during over 300 years of Spanish colonization.
As a result, the Spanish spoken in Argentina (and the Rioplatense Spanish spoken in neighboring Uruguay) evolved from the dialect spoken in Castile during the colonial days.
And while Argentina may have been conquered by Spain, Italians landed in droves beginning in the late 19th century until well into the twentieth century, which added another new twist to the local language.
The first thing that will jump out at those more familiar with ‘standard Spanish’ is the animated Italian-like accent of the Argentines.
Since many were from different regions of Italian and spoke different dialects of Italian, a pidgin called Cocoliche developed which was a mix of Argentina’s Castilian Spanish with words from different Italian dialects.
The Italian-like intonation and melodic underscoring of syllables stuck, in the River Plate region especially.
There are distinct accents throughout Argentina though. The most perceivable accents outside of the River Plate region are in the northern provinces and Córdoba.
Another idiomatic quirk, seen in Santa Fe around the Rosario area and in lower-income communities of metro Buenos Aires is the aspiration of the letter ‘s.’ In that case you’ll be asked, “De donde so’ vo’?”
Travelers who speak a more standard Spanish normally have a harder time understanding than being understood themselves.
The singsong Argentine accent is considered seductive by many native Spanish speakers, so Spanish learners need not worry about picking up the local accent.
Argentines typically enunciate clearly and also tend to speak loudly (like their Italian cousins). These two things make comprehension easier.
On the other hand, they often speak in rapid machine gun-like spurts, faster than the language learning brain can process at first.
As with learning any language, you may just get the gist of the conversation and sometimes have to ask people to repeat themselves.
Some locals are eager to earn English and language conversation meetups are are easy to find anywhere in the country where there are expats or foreigners residing.
Pronunciation of ‘ll‘ and ‘y’
The most striking feature of Argentine Spanish is the pronunciation of the ‘ll’ and ‘y’.
Instead of adopting a ‘y’ sound as in the word ‘yonder,’ the ll and y take on a rougher sound that can be likened to the zh in “casual” or “leisure.”
This particularity is very noticeable in the Buenos Aires, especially posher areas of the city and the northern suburbs.
This can make the pronunciation of some words identical to each other — if someone says ‘se cayó’ (it/he/she fell) you will have to extract from the context the meaning because ‘se calló’ (it/he/she got quiet) is pronounced exactly the same way.
This phonetic difference may take some getting used to, but it shouldn’t hinder communication.
The Use of Vos in Argentina
Another unique feature of Argentine Spanish is the Voseo.
Instead of ‘tú,’ as the second-person singular pronoun (the informal form of the word ‘you,’) ‘vos’ is used.
Using the vos form may take a bit of practice, but once you figure out how it works the construction is rather simple.
The conjugations are exactly the same as the tuteo except in the present indicative and with the affirmative commands.
After some effort it turns out to be easier to conjugate using ‘vos‘ because unlike the ‘tú’ form, there are only three irregular verbs.
How to Conjugate Verbs Using ‘Vos’
When ‘tú’ is used the conjugation of irregular verbs it requires a stem change in the second person form.
With ‘vos‘ no stem change is necessary because the stress or emphasis is on the last syllable (i.e. ‘tienes‘ becomes ‘tenés‘, ‘pides’ becomes ‘pedís.’)
The imperative form using voseo is easy too. Just remove the ‘r’ from the verb and stress the last syllable.
So instead of saying ‘tú ven’ using ‘vos,’ it’s (vos) ‘vení’ to command someone ‘come.’
To tell someone — like you reading this right now — ‘to think’ in the vos imperative form say, (vos) pensá instead of ‘(tú) piensa.’
Irregular Verbs using ‘vos‘
A great thing about using voseo is that there are only three irregular verbs.
To make things even easier, both ‘ir’ and ‘haber’ are conjugated the same as with using ‘tú‘.
The verb ser (to be) is the one that throws people off: ‘(tú) eres’ becomes ‘(vos) sos.’
Argentina travelers should take note because they will inevitably be asked, “¿De dónde sos? “(video, opens in new window) throughout their stay.
Voseo Pronoun ‘Ti’
Another linguistic phenomenon of voseo is there’s more to it than just switching from ‘tú’ to ‘vos’ as the personal pronoun.
The prepositional pronoun ‘ti,’ also morphs into ‘vos.’
“El regalo es para ti” becomes “El regalo es para vos.”
“Quiero ir al parque contigo” becomes “Quiero ir al parque con vos.”
But no worries, navigating the world voseo prepositional pronouns is not a priority on the Castellano learning journey, as ‘ti‘ is equally understood.
But it’s a distinctive feature that sets voseo apart in terms of how people address one another.
It’s important to note that while ‘vos’ is used for personal and prepositional pronouns, this shift does not extend to object pronouns or possessive pronouns.
The voseo for these pronouns are the same as in tuteo.
So, when venturing into the realm of voseo, keep in mind these distinctions in mind at least while listening and embrace the variations it brings to the Spanish language.
It should also be noted that while ‘vos’ is used in the second person in most of Argentina, in the northwest provinces of the country and along the Andes Mountains closer to Chile many people still use ‘tú.’
¿De Donde Sos? One Question You Gotta Learn!
Despite using the ‘voseo’ in most of the country, the second person plural pronoun ‘vosotros‘ is not used in Argentina; instead ‘ustedes‘ is always used to address a group.
Argentines do not tend to use singular, formal ‘you,’ (usted) as frequently as in many other Latin American countries.
While people from Colombia and Ecuador use ‘usted‘ frequently (even to address their dogs!) in Argentina it is reserved mostly for business situations, addressing the elderly and authority figures, and sometimes as a way to jokingly give deference to a friend.
Throughout much of the country, Argentina’s Castellano adopts a very informal style heavily peppered with lunfardo, the local slang, particularly in Buenos Aires. In fact, sometimes it is quite vulgar.
The daily vernacular used by Argentine teenagers would probably land kids in big trouble in most other Latin American countries.
Argentine Spanish is colorful and not for the easily offended in general. Nicknames emerge from personal characteristics and they aren’t politically correct — anyone Asian is called ‘Chino‘ or ‘China’ (Chinese); overweight people are called simple ‘gordo‘ or ‘gorda‘ (fatty) and anyone from anywhere in Eastern Europe or the former USSR is called ‘Ruso‘ or ‘Rusa‘ (Russian).
Americans are called ‘yanquis‘ (yankees) — even if they’re from the southern U.S.
There are also many words unique to Argentina known as ‘Argentinismos‘ such as the words, ‘che‘ ‘birra‘ and ‘boliche.’
Learning Spanish in Argentina may be an unusual choice but it’s a good one.
There are worse things than picking up an accent many people find attractive and a large vocabulary of slang.
→ Read on to learn some ‘Argentinismos‘ — Weird Words You’ll Only Find in Argentina
→ Continue Reading: Lunfardo: Argentina’s Naughty Slang