Argentina and its Indigenous Languages

November 15th, 2015

Argentina’s official language is Spanish, however one of the reasons Argentina is such a fascinating country is because it’s been enriched by so many different languages.

Argentina and its Indigenous Languages | One Hour Translation

Argentina’s official language is Spanish, however one of the reasons Argentina is such a fascinating country is because it’s been enriched by so many different languages. Currently there are 35 known indigenous languages in Argentina of which only 13 of these are officially listed. These include – Mapuche, Tehuelche, Quichua Santiagueño, Mocoví, Nivaclé, Toba, Ava-Chiriguano, Pilagá, Guaraní, Wichí, Mbya, and Chorote.

Two indigenous languages of Argentina are now completely extinct and these are Abipón and Yaghan.

Interestingly, most of the indigenous languages of Argentina are not exclusive to the towns in which they are based, but they do have geographical boundaries. For instance, Chechua is spoken in north-eastern Argentina just as it is spoken in Bolivia; Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, is spoken in Patagonia, just as it is spoken in Chile.

Today there are no real or official censuses which might reveal the exact number of speakers of these languages, so as far as the socio linguistic situation is concerned, these figures are unknown. However, these speakers can be divided into groups of monolinguals, bilinguals and receptive bilinguals. The first group consists mainly of elderly people for whom an indigenous language is their mother tongue; whereas the young people that belong to this group are considered monolingual because the influence of the Spanish language has been greater on them. Receptive bilinguals don’t fluently speak the indigenous language, but understand it very well. In these cases, their education level is relevant.

The Many Languages of Argentina

As we mentioned before, Argentina's official language is Spanish, but Argentinian Spanish is quite different to the Spanish spoken in Spain. It actually sounds more like Italian than Spanish. Besides Argentinian Spanish and the many indigenous languages spoken, you’ll also hear German, Italian, English and French spoken in Argentina.

An interesting fact is that in the Chubut Valley in Patagonia, a Welsh settlement was founded in 1865. For four generations the people in this settlement spoke Welsh, but today the language is dying out in this area.

 It’s quite easy to distinguish Argentinians from other Latin Americans by the use of ‘che’. ‘Che’ means ‘man’ and comes from the language used by the Mapuche. Another big difference between the Argentinian way of speaking Spanish and the Spanish language spoken in Spain is the use of ‘vos’ instead of’ ‘tu’ (you) and the strong pronunciation of ‘y’ and ‘ll’ as ‘sh’.

What is Lunfardo?

Lunfardo is a slang which originated in the 19th century in Buenos Aires, in the slum neighbourhoods. Still today, the majority of Argentinians know a spattering of Lunfardo words. In the Lunfardo language there are elements of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages; all with a distinctive twist. One of the more common ways to change a word is to reverse the symbols, and in Lunfardo the word ‘tango’ becomes ‘gotan’.

Many Languages on the Verge of Extinction

As we saw in the article published in the Rosetta Project, many languages spoken around the world are today on the verge of disappearing. The longevity of indigenous languages heading toward global extinction is of great concern, because it affects many countries regardless of their official language. Indigenous languages are important because they reveal a country’s culture, society, and its belief system.

The translation industry is playing a very important part in ensuring that the indigenous languages on the verge of extinction of Argentina and other countries are being recorded and protected for future generations, ensuring they’ll never be forgotten.

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