Thursday, July 29, 2010

Learning the language

"England and America are two countries separated by a common language" -- An overquoted witticism of George Bernard Shaw's that nonetheless rings true to me.

Of course, you could say the same of the Spanish spoken in Latin America as opposed to in Spain, the Portuguese of Brazil as opposed to that of Portugal or Angola, etc.  It is even more extreme in the Arab world, where very little is mutually intelligible between say, a Moroccan and a Saudi, if they are speaking in dialect.

Those of you who have learned another language know firsthand the difficulties, frustration, joy, hilarity, bewilderment and satisfaction that result!

Language was probably my primary motivation in going to South America, and definitely the main factor in choosing Argentina over Brazil, Spanish being my Moby Dick.  I had spent two years at university in Spain, but besides my Spanish being rustier than I liked, there was always the knowledge niggling at me that I hadn't really put in the effort to learn the language as well as I could have.  That I went to an American university there was not really a factor--I had chosen that beforehand.  But fate, circumstance and, most significantly complacency and comfort, saw me surround myself with English-speaking friends.

As much as I love Madrid, I never really felt a connection to Spaniards my age; those at St. Louis University kept to themselves and were probably not the best representatives, to be fair.  So despite leaving Spain fairly fluent and able to more or less communicate what I wanted to, I always felt I'd sold myself a bit short in that language experience, and I would never feel really good about it until I'd returned to the fray and harpooned the beast.

My linguistic foray into Argentine Spanish thus started with some trepidation, but rapidly turned into one of the most fun language-learning experiences I've had.  Rioplatense is the name given to the version of Spanish spoken by those living near the banks of the Rio de la Plata in Argentina and Uruguay, and what an expressive and exuberant little bugger it is!  Since there are so many people of Italian heritage, the cadence is much more noticeable than in other Spanish dialects.  And if you don't know how to use your hands, 'olvidalo, che!' ('forget it, maaan!')  Besides the sing-song tone and the wild gesticulations are the expressive sayings and vocabulary of lunfardo, as the slang of the capital is known.  I was fortunate enough to hear of Che boludo! which is an absolute must read if you are going to be in Buenos Aires for any significant length of time.  The phrase "Che boludo" roughly means "Hey, dude" and is ubiquitous.  Of course, it suffers from overuse by foreigners trying to fit in, but you will hear it aplenty if you spend time with Argentines.  Following are some of my favourite phrases, words, and expressions gleaned from the pages of Che boludo! and from many many conversations throughout the year.  The book also covers (if somewhat briefly), the differences between the standard Spanish 'Tu' and the very Rioplatense 'Vos'.

Che - Hey, man, dude, bro(seph), buddy, etc.

Boludo - Idiot [when used with friends, a term meaning dude, man, bro, etc.]

Viste? - You know? [literally Did you see? Not a word exclusive to Argentina, but this particular use is]

Tipo - 1. Guy [literally type]  2.  About/Like [E.g.  'Vamos al shopping tipo diez' - We're going to the mall at about/like 10]

Mina - Chick, girl

Quilombo - Mess [The normal Spanish word for mess is 'lío', so if you use 'quilombo' Argentines will love you for it.]

Chabón - Guy [used in reference, but not normally to get someone's attention]

Boncha - Chabon.  This is an example of a phenomenon in lunfardo where you reverse the syllables of a word to get the same meaning.  So feca = café (coffee) and sope = peso (their currency)

Bondi - Bus

Te parece? - How about it/You think?  [Once again, not exclusive to Argentina, but this use is. *This is not a sarcastic You think? like in English]

Re - Really

Fiaca - Laziness  [As in: 'Me da fiaca (hacer algo)' - I can't be bothered (to do something) OR 'Estoy haciendo fiaca nomás' - I'm just hanging out, not doing anything]

Nomás - Just (roughly translated)  Used for emphasis ['Pasá' - Come in.  'Pasá nomás' - Come on in.]

Pedo - Fart [literally, but used as in conjunction with different prepositions to mean a variety of things]:
            En pedo - Drunk
            Ni en pedo! - Not even drunk! [I.e. No way (am I doing that)!]
            Al pedo - Useless, Doing nothing ['Estoy al pedo' - I'm not doing anything]
            A los pedos - Very fast ['Ibamos a los pedos!' - We were booking it!]
            De pedo - By chance

Que garrón/embole/bajón - Bummer!/That sucks!

, eh? - Used to add meaning e.g. 'Gracias, eh?' - I appreciate it (as opposed to a simple thanks)

Me mataste - You've got me [when you don't know the answer to something.  Literally You killed me.]

No hinches, che! - Don't be a pain!  [Literally Don't bust my...well, you know.]

These words are powerful, my friends.  Use them wisely.  Suerte!


Pattybutterflies said...

Very nice! I had never stopped to think of the different uses of "pedo" even though I've used them all copiously, I'd just never stopped to enumerate and see how different they can be. Funny! :)

Andrew said...

Thanks. I know, it is comical the different uses they have for the same word, isn't it? I guess we have some in English too--I remember my students always got a kick out of some of the differences between meanings with the same word.

Sejla said...

I love to have stumbled upon your blog. Thanks for the book, will enjoy reading it! Argentinian Spanish is beautiful.

Rachel Cotterill said...

I don't speak Spanish well, but well enough to get confused in Cuba by the fact that they basically drop the endings. Which... um... is where all the morphology happens. I'm not sure whether that also happens in mainland South America, though, as I haven't been there yet.

Andrew said...

Yes, in some places more than in others. Venezuelans, I've noticed, have a very breathy pronunciation. Turn a lot of -s into -h. But Argentines do it too, just not as much. Colombian Spanish seems to be much more pronounced.