written by: Audrey Alleyne
• edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch
• updated: 7/12/2012
Spanish is the official language of Argentina, but there are several other languages spoken by this melting pot of people. Find out here the many dialects spoken in Argentina to help study for your next test!
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Argentina's Indigenous Roots
If you ask anyone what is the native language of Argentina, that person would probably hesitate or quickly respond with “Spanish." Spanish, however, is the language which was brought to Argentina by the Spanish conquistadors. It has become the official language of Argentina. Following the Spanish conquistadors, there were various waves of immigration into Argentina during the late 19th to early 20th century. The input of languages from these various immigrants has enriched the country’s vocabulary and differentiated it from Spanish spoken in other Spanish-speaking countries. Argentina’s dialect has its roots in the many indigenous people of the country; nevertheless, it is easily recognizable as Spanish.
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Languages Of The Native Indians
Over the decades of conquest and immigration by other people, the chiefs of the indigenous native Indians were militarily defeated and the indigenous nations were subjugated and forced to adopt a foreign religion and way of life. The majority of these people have since died, but according to surveys, many of their descendants still exist; and despite being subjected to hiding their identity or being assimilated into western civilization, there are those who have maintained their native language. In the south of the country, there is one group of about 200,000 native Indians called Mapuche who speak Mapudungun. In the north-east, there is an Amerindian population that speaks Guarani; and in the province of Santiago del Estero, there is yet another group of native Indians who speak Quechua. Most of the indigenous people live in rural communities. They are said to represent between three and five percent of the country’s total population; and in some provinces they account for as much as 17 to 25 percent of the population.
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Italian is the second most spoken language in Argentina with as many as 1.5 million speakers. This is followed by half a million to one million German speakers. In addition to these languages, there are speakers of Portuguese, Arabic, English, French and Welsh. There are small communities of Russians and Poles who also continue to speak their own native languages.
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Argentinians speak their own variety of Spanish as influenced by the local aboriginal language and that of the language of immigrants from different nations. There is some Spanish which is spoken in the capital city of Buenos Aires that uses an Italian-based slang with hundreds of words. It is called the lunfardo form.
Some of the main differences between Spanish spoken in Argentina and that in other South or Latin American countries are those relating to accent, forms of address and the pronunciation of certain letters. In regard to accent, RioPlatense is a specific variation of Spanish spoken only in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The most significant difference about Argentina’s Spanish in regard to form of address compared to that of other Latin American countries, is the use of vos instead of tu. Whereas Latin American Spanish uses tu to address relatives and friends and children, the Argentinians RioPlatenese Spanish uses vos. For example, instead of tu vives, they would say vos vivis.Usted remains as the polite form for strangers. Ecuador is one other country where vos is becoming popular, but not as much as in Argentina.
Another remarkable difference is in the pronunciation. Argentinians pronounce “ll" like a ‘sh’ instead of a ‘y,’ as is heard in many other South American countries. For example, the word paella– pa-ay-ya (for the popular Spanish meat rice and seafood dish) – would be pronounced pa-ay-sha.
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Spanish Is Essentially the Same
While traveling through other Latin and South American countries, the visitor would be wise to be aware of these variants of the Spanish language; especially where one word in one country means something different in another. In Chile, molleja (moh-yeh -Hah), and in Mexico contre (kohn-treh) are both known as chicken gizzard. In Argentina, it is called molleja but pronounced (moh-lyeh-Hah), and means the thyroid gland of a cow. When you think about the native language of Argentina, it does not rule out the fact that Spanish is essentially the same in all Spanish-speaking countries despite the presence of dialects, and will be understood by those who have studied it and have a good working knowledge of it.