The Personal Web Pages of
First of all, I'm not really an expert on the topic. I learned Spanish on my own by reading textbooks when I was 31. Despite living in California, I didn't have any contact with Spanish speaking people until I traveled to Argentina. My Spanish wasn't and still isn't outstandingly impressive, but that forced me to pay very close attention to the many regional idiosyncracies when I was in Argentina. The way Argentines speak, known as Castellano Rioplatense, is not specifically taught in textbooks. It is not easily learned except by growing up there.
My way of thinking seeks explanations for mysterious things. Argentine Spanish was indeed mysterious and I was as observant as possible in order to shed some light on it. The things I have learned are not matters of linguistic fact. They are simply my observations and beliefs about how people speak in Argentina (and Uruguay). Some things may be completely wrong. I am very prone to making ordinary grammar and spelling errors in Spanish. Nevertheless, I am almost always able to better understand Argentine Spanish by appling the principles I have formulated. Whether I'm conversing with a Porteña or listening to a tango, I feel I have a better understanding of Castellano Rioplatense. The purpose of this text is to make available my ideas about the language which have been helpful to me so that others might benefit from them.
I fully expect that I have made errors. I expect that others will disagree with some of my thinking. I invite corrections and discussion about these things since I'm always interested in improving my understanding of the topic.
Throughout this text, I have referred to miscellaneous examples, and also to a particular song whose lyrics I have included. This song is the tango, "Por Una Cabeza" by Carlos Gardel. It was popularized in the film, "Scent of a Woman". I included it because it is full of classic Argentinisms. Listening to the song can, in some cases, help illustrate what I'm trying to explain. Often I use references to the line numbers of the song like this .
buzz, cause, is, those, example, valve, exist
Notice too, how the plurals of all of the nouns listed are formed by adding a buzzing s.
Spanish does not do this. In fact, a fun game to play with your Spanish speaking friend who is trying to learn English is to have him read sentences like "The missles fizzled." Spanish speakers have a hard time with buzzing when trying to learn English. Totally getting rid of your buzz when learning Spanish is a good thing and relatively easy.
However, there is one peculiar exception and it is only found in Castillano Rioplatense. That is the case of the "LL" or "Y" sound. In North American Spanish, this sound is about the same as the "Y" in English. Therefore in Mexico, we find tortillas which are prounouced "tor-tee-yuhs". Unfortunately, they don't have Mexican food in Argentina, but it's just as well since you'll never train a Porteño to order a "quesadilla" the way we all know and love in this hemisphere. Their ll sound is very French, sounding like the second "g" in garage or the s in vision. For example, if you wrote "villan", you could get an Argentine to read it as "vision" (sort of). A Mexican would read it as "vee-yawn". Examples of common tango words that begin with "LL" include "llegar" (to arrive), "llorar" (to cry), "lluvia" (rain), and "llanto" (weeping). Since these sorts of cheery words pop up in Argentine tangos with dire frequency, you can hear this idiosyncracy quite often. It is also the most easily recognizable special feature of Argentine Spanish and therefore the easiest to learn and get comfortable with. In fact, this effect is so noticeable, that it is a sure and instant tipoff as to the speaker's origin. It is easy to notice in news broadcasts, heated arugments, and songs. The only time this effect isn't made by an Argentine is when it is being faked, something that, on this level at least, is surprisingly easy to do. Lines , , , , and  contain "ll" examples.
The "LL" is one of the easiest idiosycracies to get used to in Argentine Spanish. The "Y" is almost as easy. Basically, anytime you see a "Y" in a word, it has the same effect as the aforementioned "LL". I've even seen spelling errors confusing the two. A good example that illustrates the "Y" nicely is "yigoló".
Notice I previously used the phrase "in a word". If the "Y" ends the word, then the rule chages back to ordinary Spanish and a "Y" is a "Y" which to us English speakers is equivalent to our "ee". This is most important in the word "y" itself which is the Spanish conjunction "and". It is pronounced "ee" as in "feet". Some Spanish words that end it "Y" which don't have any connection to the aforementioned "LL" effect include, "voy", "hoy", "hay", and "estoy". Another interesting example is "rey". This is pronounced close enough to the English word "ray". However when it is plural, the "y" is within the word and it is pronounced with the "LL" effect. Therefore "reyes" starts off very similar to the first syllable of "regime". This duality effect is also present with the important Rioplatense word "Uruguay" where the "y" rhymes with "why". Someone from Uruguay is "un uruguayo" which would be pronounced the same by an Uruguayo if it was written "uruguallo".
There is a very interesting effect in Argentine Spanish specifically with respect to a few English cognates (words that are pretty much the same in both languages). Words like "proyecto", "inyecion", "mayor", and "trayectoria" become very close to their English equivalents "project", "injection", "major", and "trajectory". These are interesting cases where Mexican pronounciation would sound rather foreign, but the River Plate pronounciation is obvious to the English speaker.
That pretty much covers the simple topic of the special Argentine "LL" sound, however, there is another aspect of Spanish in general that could be mentioned in the buzz section. One of the easiest things to get right in any Spanish is something that English speakers easily forget. That is the Spanish "V". The main rule for for this is to just treat it like a "B". So when you see a word like "volver", start seeing "bolber". So "vez" is best pronounced like the English word "best" but without a "t". If you take out the buzz that comes with our English "V", you pretty much get a "B". Spanish speakers often have trouble telling the two apart, so you'll sound just fine simplifying every "V" to "B".
12 todas las locuras
it sounds like "toda la locura" as if every "s" has been left completely ignored!
What's going on? It turns out that there is an "s". See it? It's right there in the written form and that's good enough for Argentines. They know it's there. The crazy thing is when you confront them about it and point out that they forgot to actually say it, they swear that they didn't forget and that it was, in fact, pronounced. The problem is really one of sensitivity. In English (and Mexican Spanish) we are accustomed to hearing strong "s". The Argentine dialect is one of the many Spanish dialects that allow for the "s" to almost disappear in certain cases. But it's there. It's just not what you'd expect an "s" to be. Indeed, it's not quite the "s" that you'd find in other contexts within the same dialect.
Think of the English word "mints". If you you think about the normal (American) way to say this word, you'd have to admit that to a foreigner, it would seem to be pronounced the same as the word "mince". The foreigner could ask why you don't pronounce the "t". Well, we do, it's just very sublte. And in the singular, "mint", we definitely pronounce the "t" illustrating that our laziness with certain letters is very much dependent on the context of the other letters. Argentine Spanish is exactly the same way with regard to the "s". Sometimes it's there as you'd expect and in certain circumstances, it gets almost completely dropped.
The point here is to use your ears and don't always trust native speakers to know their own language and speech mannerisms. Sometimes an outside perspective can best describe what's going on. Native speakers take everything in their language for granted and hear all of the implied sounds that aren't actually produced.
This business with the missing "s" is actually a complex issue and although not universal among Spanish speakers, it is not specific to the River Plate region. Miscellaneous other groups of Spanish speakers have this idiosyncracy, so learning it can also pay off in the hill country of Ecuador too, for example. When I first got to Argentina, I was amazed at how poorly I understood the language there. Sure, my Spanish was very weak, but it seemed like I was getting only half of the words clearly into my head (whether I knew the meaning was a different issue). Only after being in enough situations where I knew what should have been said did I start to realize that something was very strange about how it was being said. I guess the first thing one notices are the generic greetings. "Buenas tardes" becomes "buena tarde...." and "buenos dias" gets drastically cut to "buendia". (It's best to learn "buendia" as a separate phenomena since it is a very common and useful thing, but it only hints at the "s" issue since it is a very special case and actually goes a little beyond the rules I've worked out.)
The good thing about the weak "s" is that it isn't completely arbitrary. Just like the "t" of "pants", "mints", and "hits" can be pronounced differently to the singular form of these words, there is a method to the madness with the "s". Fortunately, unlike the crazy pronounciations of English, it's quite easy to learn these rules and from there start to hear the missing "s" yourself.
When an instance of the missing "s" occurs, there is normally a blank space where the "s" would have been. Imagine taking the first "p" out of the English word "tapping". You'd get "taping", a totally different word. We wouldn't think to get "ta ping", two different words. This is, however, more like what happens with the Porteño "s". Not only is there a blank space like a rest in music where the "s" should have been, but there is also a very subtle sound which is close enough to our "h" to go ahead an think of it like that. Here's that line of the tango written again in a way that would help follow along with the song easier:
12 todaH laH locuraH
Of course in any Spanish (as with French) you should mentally discard every "h" you see. The only thing the letter "h" does in Spanish is signal that a "c" will sound like our "ch" as in "Chile". What I'm proposing is that for native English speakers, the "h" sound that makes an "at" turn into a "hat", is very similar to the subtle pronounciation of the seemingly missing "s".
This brings up an interesting point. If I say "The catcher's at is on backwards.", nobody would be confused. In fact, you could slip that sort of thing into conversation every once in a while and nobody would notice. The faster you say it, the less noticable it is. Does it mean that the "h" normally disappears when we say this sentance fast? No, it's still there and an important part of our language. The parallel to the missing Spanish "s" is strong. I've noticed that you can totally drop the "s" and nobody gets upset, but you're then straying from perfect pronounciation. And as with English, context is critical with these subtle things. "Arm me!" is quite different from "Harm me!". The less clear your context, the more you need to make that weak "s" heard.
I've discussed the specific form the missing "s" takes, but the next challenge is to understand where the weak "s" occurs since it's obvious that there is no shortage of normal "s" sounds. For example, "Buenos Aires" has full "s" sounds. Nothing unusual there. Why does "La Cumparsita" have an ordinary hissing "s" while in "Desde El Alma", the "s" is weak? I actually have no idea why exactly any of this happens, but I have learned to predict where it happens.
The basic rule as far as I can tell is that an "s" before another consonant is made weak. A combination of two letters which produce a particular sound is called a diphthong and, not surprisingly, they are not the same in Spanish and English. An English word like "star" causes an "s" sound, then the "tar" part. Spanish speakers don't like to do this instant consonant sound change. That is why the verb "estar" has the weak "s".
In any Spanish, the format is almost always consonant then vowel for each and every syllable. Where this is not the case, sometimes there are some things done to try and force it. In a word like "nunca", there is a consonant combination of "nc". The first syllable is "nun" and the second is "ca". But since the first syllable ends in a consonant, that "n" is not as strong as the first "n" of the word. Nowhere does this phenomena show itself more than with the "s".
The next important idea to start to accept about Spanish in general is word division. I have noticed that in all languages, the natural division between words is sometimes blurred when spoken, but Spanish seems especially prone to this. In the speech formation part of a Spanish speaker's brain, the key reference points in a spoken phrase are not where the spaces occur in the written format, but rather between syllables. I believe that this is what gives Spanish its staccato sound and, among English speaking listeners, the impression that it is impossibly fast. English rises and falls with words or syllables. The syllables of English are frequently unusual or of foreign origin, giving the language its character. Spanish has a much smaller sound library. This makes learning it actually much easier, but it does sound as if it is spoken incredibly fast. It's like Morse Code. It sounds incomprehensible to the untrained ear, but to someone who knows it, it only has simple dots and dashes.
Here's the interesting part that really opens up an understanding of the mystery "s". Spanish speakers will completely ignore word divisions to get the right sound. They are naturally inclined to have short simple syllables and they'll do what it takes to get them. Looking at the example line:
12 todas las locuras
We see that each missing "s" is at the end of a word. But this doesn't matter. Spanish is effectively all one big word broken by syllables. If I write this sentance as one word "todaslaslocuras", then it's easier to see the "s" as being in a weak position. That is precisely why it gets softened to the point of almost disappearing.
This ability to span word divisions doesn't just make the "s" weak. It can do the opposite and ensure that it is a full-bodied "s". For example, "Los Angeles" has at least one full "s". This is true because if we break it up by syllables in the consonant/vowel way that Spanish defaults to, we get: lo - san - ge - les. If the phrase was "Los Angeles Dodgers" then notice that the second "s" would be weak because it is followed by a "d".
I think that the general tendency is for the Argentine speaker to leave the "s" weak when it comes at the end of a syllable. If the next syllable begins with a vowel, then the "s" at the end of the last syllable is borrowed to make a strong consonant sound for the current one. Examples of this are found in this line:
06 No olvides, hermano, vos sabés, no hay que jugar...
Which could be effectively rearranged to be:
In this line, the word "hermano" isn't pronounced anything like the English name "Herman". The "h" is, of course, silent and the "s" from "olvides" is borrowed.
On the "s" topic, it's important to fully accept some simplifications that Spanish affords us. As far as I know, every letter "z" can be substituted with the letter "s". This also means that a "z" will have the same weak form as the "s" as previously described. The word "mezcla" is an example of this. The "z" can be weak across word boundaries as is the case in :
24 su boca de fuego, otra vez, quiero besar.
The letter "c" in Spanish is either identical to an "s", or like an English "k", a letter Spanish never uses. The "c" only takes on the "s" form when it preceeds certain vowels (namely "e" and "i"). Since it only has an "s" sound when it preceeds these vowels, then it follows that the "c" will never have a weak "s" sound.
If you've followed along with my theory of how Spanish is actually pronounced in the wild, you'll be annoyed that exceptions exist. The one that really bugs me is "mismo". This is one where Argentines seem to pronounce the "s" even though it is in a weak position. There may be other standing exceptions, but this one is the one that I have noticed.
Something to keep in mind about the usage of "vos" is that the special verb form is only for the present tense. This means that it is only if you're talking to somebody about the current state of affairs. If you're talking to them about the past or future, then the standard Spanish "tu" conjugations are used even with the pronoun "vos". For non present tenses, Argentinos do use the "tu" verbs, but they never use "tu" as a pronoun. Of course, pronouns are often left out of Spanish altogether, but when an Argentine feels the need to use the informal second person pronoun explicitly, "vos" is always used.
A big problem that I've never quite overcome is a lack of information. Even a verb conjugation book printed in Argentina failed to reveal the mysteries of "vos". I do, however, know the commonly known general rule: the verb suffix ("-ar") is changed so the vowel is accented and the "r" changes to an "s". This is the general rule and it works pretty well for verbs that end in "-ar" such as "mirar" which becomes "vos mirás". I believe that this subtitution also works for verbs ending in "-er", so that, for example, "tener" becomes "vos tenés". The most obscure one is the "-ir" ending verbs. I am not certain, but I beleive that these verbs also generally follow the rule so that "pedir" becomes "vos pedís".
Do be careful with this form since the entire "vos" form is thought of as a regional dialect. This has some ramifications for the student. Since any serious work of text will be edited so that it uses orthodox Spanish, this leaves vos to be found mostly in non-serious works. As such, I've noticed a very annoying tendency for authors to leave out the accent mark over the suffix vowel. This generally makes the word quite incorrect and perhaps even unintelligible when spoken, but it does nonetheless seem to be a very common source of errors. I find that Argentine plays and comic books are excellent ways to see "vos" in action correctly, while web pages and email tend to be very prone to error and character set problems.
The most important verb to know the "vos" conjugation for is "ser". In ordinary Spanish this verb is conjugated to the informal second person singular as "eres". In Argentina, it's "sos". So instead of being asked "Where are you from?" with "¿De donde eres?" as you would find in Mexico, in Argentina, you're likely to hear, "¿De donde sos?".
There is a tango called "Sos Vos? Qué Cambiada Estás!" meaning, "Is that you? My, how you are different!". That neatly shows off the two "be" verbs in the vos form. Another example of the vos form comes up in the sample text in this line:
06 No olvidés, hermano, vos sabés, no hay que jugar...
Here is a list of common verbs and what I believe are their vos forms:
|servir||servís ("vos no servís para nada" is a fun phrase)|
I may have made a mistake with some of these, but if I did, well, it would be par for the course since spelling the vos form incorrectly seems almost as common as doing it right sometimes.
In Argentina and even most other places, however, they never use this form. Thankfully they don't introduce another strange renaissance-era form like "vos" either. They simply don't really have a distinction between formal and informal when it comes to more than one person. That works out to be a big relief when it comes to composing dialog directed at multiple people. In the example above, the "Ustedes" form is used like this, "Miran el futuro". This is also conveniently the same form as the third person plural too, so you really get a lot of mileage out of this one.
I suppose if you really wanted to show politeness in Argentina to a group of people, you would say something like, "Miran ustedes el futuro." to let them know that you haven't forgotten that, compared to them, you're an obsequious little person.
My strategy has been to totally ignore the "vosotros" form when studying verb conjugations and grammar technicalities. When I see the "vosotros" form in books, it is almost always obvious by the context what is going on. Composing that form myself is something I just don't ever need to do. Sure they might laugh at you when you speak this way in Spain, but if they were so smart, then everyone would be conversing with you in English. And if you had friends (plural) in Spain, then you'd probably start to get the hang of it naturally anyway.
Here's a very small collection of special Argentine words that I can remember. This isn't Lunfardo or old-fashioned words. These are words that I actually heard being used. If you know of any more, let me know!
|bondi||bus, also called collectivo (autobus elsewhere)|
|castellano||Spanish (espanol elsewhere)|
|frutilla||strawberry (fresa elsewhere)|
|mangos||a peso (like bucks in the US)|
|manteca||butter, in Mexico, this is lard (mantequilla elsewhere)|
|remera||t-shirt (camesita elsewhere)|
01 POR UNA CABEZA 02 Musica:Carlos Gardel Letra:Alfredo Le Pera. 03 Por una cabeza de un noble potrillo 04 que Justo en la raya afloja al llegar 05 y que al regresar parece decir: 06 No olvidés, hermano, vos sabés, no hay que jugar... 07 Por una cabeza, metejon de un dia, 08 de aquella coqueta y risueña mujer 09 que al jurar sonriendo, el amor que esta mintiendo 10 quema en una hoguera todo mi querer. 11 Por una cabeza 12 todas las locuras 13 su boca que besa 14 borra la tristeza, 15 calma la amargura. 16 Por una cabeza 17 si ella me olvida 18 que importa perderme, 19 mil veces la vida 20 para que vivir... 21 Cuantos desengaños, por una cabeza, 22 yo jure mil veces no vuelvo a insistir 23 pero si un mirar me hiere al pasar, 24 su boca de fuego, otra vez, quiero besar. 25 Basta de carreras, se acabo la timba, 26 un final reñido yo no vuelvo a ver, 27 pero si algun pingo llega a ser fija el domingo, 28 yo me juego entero, que le voy a hacer.
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