Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Tango Twang

The English speaking world, despite differing to a limited extent with regard to accent, spelling and diverse regional colloquial, amazingly does not face significant barriers to communication. This perhaps can be attributed in large part due to the stretch of Hollywood cinema, the far reaching BBC, as well of course as the relative similarity of these western societies.

The same cannot be said however of Argentina, which being typically Argentine, unsurprisingly has quite a different accent and language usage from all other Castilian speaking nations. Thus, already happily distinct in most respects from both Spain and the rest of the Latin world to which they themselves belong, Argentines are most easily identifiable by their flamboyant Italian accented Spanish elocution. The most notable characteristic in this respect is undoubtedly the pronunciation (when within a word) of the letters "LL" and "Y", which they vocalize no different to the "Z" in Azure or even Zha Zha Gabore for that matter. Meanwhile the diction of all other Castellano speakers would be no different to the typical English enunciation of the "Y" in words such as Yes or Mayonnaise.

It therefore also goes without saying that there exists in the territory, an extensive repertoire of authentic Argentine vocabulary. As a result it was essential that I carefully chose my words at all times and of course educated myself adequately on the true PorteƱo street talk. If not, speaking to the natives would have been a verbal minefield as what might have a harmless meaning in far away Spain sometimes turns out to be a vulgar sexual connotation in Argentina. This local jargon is known as Lunfardo and replaces many Iberian-Castellano terms with very different sounding replacements. For example; Guapa (beautiful) is ditched for the Argentine word Lindo, while Autobus (bus) becomes Collectivo and Estadio (stadium) is universally substituted by Cancha. These are of course the simpler and mild variations that one will encounter, and many are naturally not exclusive per se to Argentina, but common also to South America in general.

What surprised me most was the lack of knowledge amongst the Argentines of the lexicon used by their European cousins. Often I would unconsciously and carelessly revert to my Gallego dialect only to realize that people had not followed my words very well. It felt odd that I, an Irishman, was explaining the slang and variations of the Spanish terminology. Furthermore, it took some time before I became accustomed to addressing people in the “polite/formal form” as opposed to the “second person informal” that is used in Madrid.

Despite such obstacles and ignoring my natural bias from having an Argentine girlfriend, I must say that I much prefer the colourful intonation and distinct sound of the Argentine language. I found it a lot easier on the ear and now that I am back in Madrid, often crave for the energetic verbal sounds from those proud Buenos Aires mouths.

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