Voseo: How to Interpret and Speak Argentine Rioplatense

There's a special group of dialects in Argentina, the largest Spanish-speaking country in South America, and its neighbor Uruguay, called Rioplatense [ri-o-pla-'ten-se]. There are a few distinctions between textbook Castellano and Rioplatense that are imp

When planning a trip to Argentina or Uruguay (which is surrounded by Argentina and Brazil), an enthusiastic student of Castellano (what north Americans tend to call Spanish) will want to know what to expect to hear while there, and how to respond.

There's a special group of dialects in Argentina, the largest Spanish-speaking country in South America, and its neighbor Uruguay, called Rioplatense [ri-o-pla-'ten-se]. The name comes from the Río de Plata, or silver river, for which the country Argentina is named. The Río de Plata mouths into the Atlantic where Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay are, so the related dialects are named for the river as well. The reader should remember one's periodic table: what is silver? Ag, from the latin argentum, and hence Argentina.

There are a few distinctions between textbook Castellano and Rioplatense that are important to know. Besides some extensive variation in vocabulary, which is thankfully shared in part with Mexican dialects,with which this writer was educated, there is an important difference in how we commonly say the second person singular ("you"). Most speakers of Spanish as a second language would say "" without skipping a beat, but in Rioplatense we use "vos," adapted from the vosotros used in Castellano for the second person plural informal. The porteños (what folks in Buenos Aires call themselves) know that some Spaniards consider this low class, and they do not care.

What's more, when using voseo, verbs get slightly different endings. Instead of saying "quieres" (you want), we say "querés," which is pronounced without the initial /i/, and also without the final /s/. Following is a list of examples:

Tienes = tenés (this writer has also seen tenís)

Pides = pedís

Encuentras = encontrás (this works as a rule of thumb for -ar verbs)

Eres = sos

Vas = vas

Haces = hacés

Notice that stem-changing verbs don't get their stems changed in voseo.

Other Hints:

What's funny is that the object pronoun for vos remains "te," the possessives "tu" and "tuyo," etc.

In Rioplatense, the palatalized /l/ that sounds like "y" comes out like "sh." So we don't write ensayos for school, but "ensashos." And that without the /s/ at the end. At least the spelling isn't changed.

As in Mexicano, second person plural informal changes from Castellano vosotros to ustedes. Notice, therefore, that vos is not the same as vosotros. Vos, as the reader will have noticed by now, is missing the diphthong component /i/, as in the difference between vos "hablás" and vosotros "habláis."

Anyone wanting to get a good dose of vos is encouraged to begin reading Mario Benedetti (an uruguayano), Julio Cortázar (a porteño) and Ariel Dorfman (a chileno). Plus these writers' work is good for the spirit, and people in South America will be nicer to a traveler who has some culture and some awareness.

There is a good source of more information on voseo at http://www.livingspanish.com/Spanish_Spoken_Argentina.html, and the (English) Wikipedia article isn't bad either.

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