Argentina & Spanish: 5 Things you Know if you Speak “castellano”

Argentina has its own brand of Spanish. If you can identify with the points below, you probably speak it, too! 

I began studying Spanish in middle school. However, it was not until I spent a semester living in Buenos Aires that I truly learned the language. Argentine Spanish is unlike any other variety of the language, and here are five things you know to be true if you’ve learned the language in the Cono Sur.

 

In Argentina, “español” is a thing of the past. 

You only speak “castellano” now. 

I’ve found this to be true in most parts of Latin America. However, I don’t know anyone who defends the principle as fiercely as the Argentines. Your average porteños (people who live in Buenos Aires) are delightfully prideful of their unique brand of Spanish, and they’ll defend it until you’re both blue in the face from arguing. One point of contention, especially when it comes to interacting with native English-speakers, is whether we should call the language “español or “castellano (“Spanish” and what would translate to “Castilian”.)

I wish I knew more about the cultural significance of this. My Spanish-speaking friends from Bilbao, Miami, and Buenos Aires all claim this relates to linguistic imperialism. I’d imagine it stems from not wanting to identify with the language of the colonizer. (But someone please jump in here if you’ve got a better understanding of this than I do!) All I know is Argentines will insist you say you’re visiting the famed obelisk city to learn castellano. I never wanted to offend my Argentine hosts, so I followed suit and didn’t ask any more questions.

 

You realize Argentina is a “vos” world.

Everyone who disagrees is simply not Argentine. 

Contrary to everything I learned in my formal Spanish classes, “” and “usted” aren’t the only ways to address a single person. The voseo form is also perfectly accepted, and in Argentina, it’ll get you farther than its common cousins. There’s a historic reason for this, too, and according to this Remezcla article, it has to do with a culture’s proximity to the Spanish Crown during colonizing centuries. Today, porteños will understand you if you come at them with the tuteo, but they immediately recognize you as a foreigner.

While countries throughout Latin America use voseo, “vos” has become a prime indicator of Argentine Spanish. It’s been almost two years since I moved to Buenos Aires, but “vos” has become a part of my habitual vocabulary. Whether I’m speaking Spanish in New York or Quito, people hear the voseo and immediately assume I’m Argentine. Since I’m not a native Spanish-speaker, I’m flattered by their error.

 

Teatro Colon
Teatro Colón. I didn’t realize how amazing this theater was until very late in my semester abroad. | Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

Argentina’s Spanish has a cadence that’s (suspiciously) similar to Italian.

This is usually accompanied with expressive hand gestures, too. 

As an Italian speaker, this immediately threw me for a loop. Argentines’ expressive hand gestures and singsong intonation constantly made me forget which language I was supposed to be speaking. So, I spent my first few weeks in Buenos Aires trying to detangle the two languages in my brain. There’s a historic reason for this, too, and it has to do with the fact that most porteños have Italian ancestry.

I’ve always loved the Argentine accent and am glad I picked it up a little. I used to loathe my heavy North American accent whenever I spoke Spanish, but now, everything sounds a bit lusher when I talk. Even an Argentine argument sounds beautiful, which, to me, is how you know you’ve encountered a smooth accent.

 

Your pronunciation becomes a little…unorthodox.

This is great in Argentina but can cause communication problems in the rest of the world. 

 

My Argentine pronunciation worms its way into my everyday Spanish conversations. This is much to the annoyance of my Spanish-speaking friends, I’m sure. The trademark porteño rendition of pronouncing ll with a sh (whereas in other parts of the world, it maintains a y sound) will follow you wherever you go.

Even though I’ve traveled extensively throughout other Spanish-speaking communities since living in Buenos Aires, I cannot lose this Argentine pronunciation. It’s partly due to pride and partly due to habit, but one thing remains true: Whenever I speak Spanish and mention mis llaves or say something is amarillo, I feel a tinge of nostalgia for Buenos Aires. And I don’t want to lose that yet.

 

Villa Ocampo
I got an earful of beautiful Argentine Spanish at Villa Ocampo, where I took a tour. | San Isidro, Argentina

 

The slang will be unusable with your non-Argentine friends. 

And that’s okay because you’ll think of Argentina every time you use it! 

 

Every country has its own slang, but Argentina’s still continues to perplex me. Choruses of “Che, boludo!” echo through the streets (which means “Hey, dude!” among friends, but literally means “[Whatever che means], big balls!”) Try saying this anywhere else in Latin America, and people will look at you with concern. That’s because you sound like you’re speaking Spanish, but you don’t make too much sense.

Other favorite bits of Argentine slang include “chamuyero,” which refers to a liar or a player, and “mina,” which is just another way of saying “girl.” I’m not sure how this differs from “chica” or “muchacha,” but you’ll sound positively porteño if you use it.

 

Did I miss anything? Let me know how learning to speak castellano has influenced your life. Drop me a comment below!

 

(Cover photo: Belgrano in the summertime. | Buenos Aires, Argentina)

 

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