POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IN BA (2nd edition)

If you have not read the introduction of the book “Che, boludo” yet, let me quote for you an excerpt:

Argentines love to talk. They comunicate directly, openly and often loudly. In Argentina, there’s no taboo in the use of foul language. A respectable old woman will swear like a sailor and no one bats an eye. Fools are not suffered lightly and anyone behaving in a pretentious or obnoxious manner will be sharply reprimended, sometimes with just a simple gesture of the hands. Political correctness does not exist on Argentina because it would only impede getting your point across. (…) It is evident when Argentines communicate with one another that their freedom of speech is real.

Well, sounds great… and it is even plausible at first sight. However, it is a little too much.

Getting your point across is important in Argentine speech. Yes. Of course with exceptions, it´s ok to call things by its name: avoiding this is making it shameful, something you should feel embarrassed about. Also, it´s true that we often use the imperative form instead of other periphrastic ways to ask for things such as “¿podría decirme?”. We do prefer “vos” instead of “usted”, we kiss sometimes even in a formal situation, etc.

Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that there is no political correctness. You can be really offensive.

I always remember a story told to me by an ex-student. She was at a disco and she had asked a man to take a picture of her and her friends. At some moment, he let her camera fall, and she said (trying to sound understanding) “Eh, boludo!” She could not understand why he got angry: she had heard so many times that “boludo” is a word that people use with their friends.

Here is the thing: “boludo” can be used (and it´s actually used) with your friends but it doesn´t make it nicer when you use it with someone you don´t know. Being extremely informal with people you just met feels rude in Buenos Aires too.

Here´s another excerpt:

If you are a little overweight your nickname might be “el gordo”, or if you have a dark complexion they might call you “el negro” or if you happen to be of Polish descent, “el polaco”. 

What the book doesn´t say is that if you are really overweight no one will call you “gordo”, or if you have Peruvian descent your nickname will not be for sure “Peruano”. As I wrote in another post, language is never about grammar. The control on the language is a result of a social situation. The more social prejudice against something, the more careful you have to be when talking about it. In Buenos Aires, having a dark complexion or being of Polish decent has no social implications and there is no prejudice formed against it.

So, in Buenos Aires, you can be extremely polite or rude just as in any other part in the world and it is not always clear for a foreigner whom you can talk to in a certain way and whom you can´t so ¡Ojo! with the use (and abuse) of slang because you might get involved in an uncomfortable situation.

When language determines human behaviour or on how to avoid waiting too much.

You have certainly heard, read or experienced yourself that if you want to call to have a party at 10, you better tell your Argentinian friends to come a few hours earlier. Although this might be true (here´s a former post on the subject), the worst cases are mostly due to the misuse of the word “fiesta”. Why is that?

Because, although no dictionary would hesitate in translating “party” as “fiesta”, there are certain things implied in “fiesta” that make it different from a “party”.

Spanish_tutor_buenos_aires_cena_tranqui

So lets say you want to plan something with your Argentinian friends on a Friday night, around 9 pm, but you would like to be done at 12 am. In this case, you should invite everyone to a “cena tranqui”. If it were a goodbye party, then it should be “una cena de despedida”. Of course, there should be food since no one would have had dinner by nine but it doesn´t have to be anything very elaborate: some empanadas or pizzas would make everyone happy.

If, instead, you would like to start a little later, sometime around 11 pm, with some drinks, snacks and chill music and you would like it to go on for a few hours then we are talking about a “reunión”. You could also call it a “previa” if the plan were to go to another place later, such as a disco, pub, etc.

Keep the word “fiesta” only for those nights you:

buy lots of drinks and no food; when you are planning to play music you can dance and you are ready to sacrifice your living room to the furious dancers from 12 am until the candles burn out.

Spanish_tutor_buenos_aires_fiesta

SPANISH in America: a succinct study.

Uncountable times I have heard that the way porteños speak is different from “the rest of America”. This is probably due to the (mistaken) belief that Argentina is the only country with voseo. The same happens when it comes to the pronunciation for “y” and “ll”. For many people there are only two ways to speak Spanish in America: like Buenos Aires inhabitants or like “the rest of America”.

This idea is so deep-rooted that, every time, I have a hard work convincing people (who, after all my attempts, will give me that suspicious look) that there is no such thing. There are more dialects coexisting in America than I will ever know. Each of them, different.

It would be an impossible task to give a complete report of what America dialectal situation is like. Instead, I will simply provide (without becoming punctitious at all) a few examples to prove the variety and complexity of American Spanish dialects.

1- Regarding pronunciation, I can easily think of:

– 6 different ways to pronounce “y”:

/ʃ/ – as in she

/ʒ/ – as in vision

/ʤ/ – as in June

/ʤi:/ – as the name for “g”

/ʧ/ – as in chin

/I:/ – as in see

– 3 for “r”

/l/ – as in leg

/ʒ/ – as in vision

/r/ – the most known pronunciationl.

– 3 for “b”

/b/ – as in bed

/u:/ – as in too

/g/ – as is got

– And 3 for “s”

/ʃ/ – as in she

/s/- as in so

/Ɵ/ – as in thin

Morphology:

The following map shows (as reliably as Wikipedia allows) those countries where vos is used.

In dark blue and blue, countries with voseo predominance (except for Chile where they use vos in a different way). In green, countries where vos is used in some regions. In sky blue, countries where is almost unused. In red, countries where only tuteo exists.

Technically, only Cuba and Spain don´t have “vos” among their available forms.

Another interesting nuance is the opposition “tú/vos” vs. “usted”. The most spread use says that “usted” is formal and “tú/vos” are informal. However, this ignores the fact that in Colombia people use “usted” as an intimate and familiar form. In Buenos Aires, instead, “usted” implies aging but not always formality; several times it´s used as a friendly form and not few times it´s a sign of “flirting”.

At the same time, in the places where both “tú” and “vos” are used, they are not interchangable. Each has its own context of usage.

Vocabulary:

I chose “remera” just to take a very common word. The following chart shows how many different words exist for the same object according to the countries.

I could continue for ever but I will stop here. Don´t panic.

Not even us, as native speakers, know (let alone use) every one of these variants. A common grammar (with this I am meaning syntaxis) let us understand each other in a very high percentage, high enough to leave vocabulary variation as the only one aspect to be learnt. We become more and more familiar with it as we are being in touch with movies, people, songs, news, places, etc: understanding other slang is a process that needs culture contact, ergo, time. However, even then, when we get to understand it, we don´t change our way to speak to talk to someone with a different dialect.

I, as porteño, am not expected to change “vos” to “tú” when talking to a Venezuelan guy, neither I expect a Peruvian to say “sho” as in Buenos Aires; Colombian people are free to use “usted” in a colloquial and familiar way, and so on and so forth…

So if we, native Spanish speakers, are not able, therefore, not requiered to know and to use every single existing form in America at a certain time, why should a student?