Thursday, February 15, 2007


Living here has changed both the way I speak and the way I hear Spanish.

For now, just a little bit on the hearing part:

There is an exaggerated, mellifluous, lightly sing-song quality to the speech in Buenos Aires that makes you realize the extent to which Italian immigration shaped this place. You notice this especially in arguments, when people's voices rise and inflection changes.

Peninsular Spanish (which I still adore) sounds clipped and businesslike compared to the long, lingering vowels of porteño speech.

No amount of writing would do to this topic the justice that sound does.

There is a great podcast (iTunes link) focusing on the differences between Spanish as spoken in Argentina and other countries.

In different episodes, she talks about:

  • When she saw the Mexican movie Y tu mamá también, she had to put the subtitles on for the first 20 minutes because she couldn't understand a thing.
  • That she might have a short conversation with a Uruguayan and not realize the person was from outside Argentina; the dialect is that close. But it's not identical.
  • How culo (ass), can mean suerte (luck). So if you're playing poker with somebody here and they say, "Che ¡qué buen culo tenés!"or "¡Tenés un culo enorme!" they're just commenting on your lucky streak. Probably.
The woman who does the podcast is sharp. She has a beautiful voice, a lovely accent and my only complaint would be that her speech is a little too educated to give anyone an idea of what more vulgar (i.e., common) speech here sounds like. She is not the average person you would likely hear on the street.

I sometimes have to remind myself that nearly everyone around me is speaking their first language in a way that comes completely naturally to them. For me, even a brief conversation at the market might have a component of linguistic intrigue. For the person who's selling me cheese, probably not.

No comments: