I knew Argentinian Spanish was going to be different and when my driver picked me up at the airport and one of the first things I heard him say was “ay-zhair” instead of “a-yer” for “yesterday”, I knew it had begun. Since then, sometimes “a-yer” is ay-shair. The “Y” changes, the “LL” changes, and the “J” changes. Yes, I’ve even been called Shennyfer, when it’s usually Yennyfer in Latin America.
When I talk to locals about the difficulty of understanding Argentinian Spanish, every single person immediately says, Yes because we use the vos form. I even had one person apologize and start using the standard tú. But that’s not it. Although I’m never going to bother to study the vos form so I can use it myself, just like I’m never going to bother with vosotros in Spain, I can understand it perfectly fine.
It’s that damn accent. More specifically, it’s the accent in Buenos Aires. Although people in other parts of the country have the accent as well, it’s not nearly as strong. I’ve had almost no trouble communicating with people on my weekend trips to the north to Iguazu and Salta.
But wait, it’s so much more than the accent. Porteños have their own vocabulary too. It’s called lunfardo. Even that word – what the heck does that mean? According to Alpha Omega Translations:
The actual term “lunfardo” comes from the Italian word “lumbardo” or “lombardo”, which means someone from the Lombardia region of Italy. Many Italian immigrants at the time came from that region of Italy, and lunfardo may also have developed as a way for them to communicate with each other and preserve their Italian identity while trying to adapt to and survive in a new country.
Many words I tried to look up don’t even appear in Google Translate, so I’ve kept a tab with the Diccionario Argentino permanently open on my browser since I arrived. What do you think medialunas & facturas are? Half moons and bills (like utility bills), right? Nope, croissants and buns. For (COVID) face mask, instead of mascarilla or tapabocas, it’s usually barbijo (which normally means chin strap and may explain why so many people here wear their masks around their chins). Do you think a playa is a beach? It might be, but in Argentina it’s also a parking lot. As in playa cubierta (covered parking) and playa de estacionamiento (beach of parking). This country doesn’t even use good old aguacate for avocado. They decided to come up with palta instead. Hell, I don’t even know how to talk about this country in English. Is the adjective Argentine or Argentinian? If Argentine is correct, is it pronounced argen-teen or argen-tiyn?
My brain has gotten so muddled here that the first time I went into the French bakery down the street, I didn’t even realize that the signs were in French, and I know a decent amount of French. I kept looking at the medialuna labeled amande and thinking that I was pretty sure almond was almendra in Spanish, but amande also seemed so familiar. It took me far too long to connect the dots.
I’m also no longer able to discern whether I knew a word before from other Spanish speaking experiences or if it is unique to Argentina. I feel like I’m learning new words almost every day here and I didn’t feel like that in Ecuador. For example, last week someone asked me how I wanted my steak done by asking que punto (what point?). That phrasing felt entirely new to me, but it seems like something I would have known before. And last weekend while driving around Salta and Jujuy, I picked up a bunch of (I think) new vocabulary from road signs. For example, banquita for shoulder (of the road) and calzada for road or lane or pavement (take your pick). I might have known those previously. Or not. I also saw a very interesting sign that read: Animales sueltos. Denuncie su presencia. “Loose animals. Denounce their presence.” Denounce? Ouch. Will you sentence them to a labor camp?
That, of course, is a matter of connotation over denotation. I’m sure the phrasing doesn’t feel dystopian to an Argentine. Argentinian. Person from Argentina.
I noticed something similar on Bumble profiles. There’s a feature on Bumble that lets you highlight five interests you have. In about 30 percent of the profiles I’ve seen, the men say they like crafts. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with men liking crafts, but I’ve seen precisely zero profiles in the United States where men have selected this among all the available options. Is there some cultural force at work? I don’t think so. I think it’s a language force. I believe that on their Spanish version they see bricolaje, which should be translated as “DIY projects”. In English, I see “crafts”, which doesn’t have the same connotation.
And lest you think I’m complaining or criticizing the craziness of language here, I’m not. This is all fascinating and fun to me. I mean, my native language is an utter and total disaster, so if the Spanish here is too, let it be. But when I no longer know the word for swimming pool (because it’s pileta here, not piscina) I’m convinced at some point Spanish here will break off completely and be recognized as a unique language.