By: Kate DesCombes, Emma Gerona, Lauren Simpson
Spanish is the national language of Argentina. It makes up billboards and traffic signs, menus and movies. It can be heard on street corners and in the homes of families. The language has such a wide-reaching impact that it has become an integral part of Argentine culture. But Spanish was not the first language in the region, nor is it the only one spoken in the country today. Explore below to see how las idiomas de Argentina have shaped the nation.
Spanish was the first major language to envelop the region. A brief look at the early history of Argentina shows how the Spanish language arrived and remained such a dominant force through the centuries.
However, Argentina’s history is not unique. Many nations in Latin America have a similar narrative: small native groups with their own dialects scattered the region, Spain invaded and colonized, and Spanish became the primary language. Eventually, the residents revolted against Spain and gained independence, but kept the Spanish language.
While its early history may not be unique, Argentines speak Spanish differently than most other Latin American nations. Argentine Spanish, also known as Rioplatense Spanish, has its own flare due to the heavy Italian presence in the country. Immense Italian immigration to Argentina began in 1857 and continued through 1940, making up almost 45% of immigration during that time period. The massive numbers arrived partially because of the social and economic strife in Europe and spiked after each of the world wars. Today, up to 60% of the county’s population has some degree of Italian descent and Italian is the second most spoken language in the country.
The Rioplatense accent is comparable to that of the Neapolitan dialect of Italian. For example, the “ll,” which in Spanish is usually pronounced as “y,” becomes a “sh” or a “j” in Rioplatense Spanish. Argentina is also known for its use of the pronoun “vos” instead of the more frequently used “tu”. Additionally, there are many small disparities in verb tenses and vocabulary, such as the use of “sos” rather than the well-known “eres” for the verb “to be”. These discrepancies often lead to a language barrier within the Spanish speaking community.
The mere size of the country, and the mass diversity from European immigrants, local natives, and Arabic and African people, has created the huge melting pot of Argentinian dialects which are specific to its borders. Outside of the Rioplatense dialect, which is centered in the River Plate region, home to some of Argentina’s principal cities, there is an abundance of local dialects. Particularly noteworthy are the Quechua and the Guaraní, found in the Northeast and Northwest regions of the country respectively. There is also a large Portuguese influence in the region bordering Brazil. Although these dialects are representative of much smaller regions in Argentina and are spoken by far fewer people than some languages, for example Italian and English, they illustrate how language can represent a culture and therefore be a source of pride.
Based on their early history, it may come as no surprise that Argentines have bitter feelings towards citizens of the United States and Britain. Many citizens even have an inherent distrust in the English language. This mistrust beings at a young age; schools blame English for the country’s broken economy and distraught history. English is also associated with horrible incidents, such as rape. As school children grow older, some choose to stay true to their constructed nationalism and do not learn the English language.
Yet, many Argentines, especially in the workforce, do speak English. They recognize that, due to the influence English speakers have had in the Argentine business sectors, English is the passageway for citizens to be successful in their turmoil-infested national economy. This recognition has led to a growing cultural acceptance of the English language.
This acceptance doesn’t necessarily translate to tourism, as Argentines generally dislike Americans and other English-speaking tourists. However, Argentina is not known for being unpleasant to tourists. It is by no means dangerous to be an English-speaking tourist in Argentina. In fact, Argentina is not known for being very dangerous at all.
Although Argentina faced a similar story of conquest as much of Latin America, its languages illustrate the vast and colorful culture in the country. Even though it is unlikely that we will encounter any of the specifically Argentine dialects during our trip, there is much we can learn from the Rioplatense form of Spanish whose distinct structure represents dignity in an Argentine identity. It will be fascinating to observe locals’ perspectives towards our group, as English speaking tourists, when the language itself has such a conflicting reputation in Argentina.