The Significance of Slang
When we study another language, we often focus on proper grammar and formal speech. These skills are easy to teach in a classroom environment, however, it reduces that language being learned to one entity, when in fact there are many different dialects of that one language. Take Spanish for example. I’ve traveled to Central and South America, along with Spain, and at each of these “Spanish-speaking” countries I’ve heard accents, words, and phrases I never learned in the classroom. A country’s culture becomes quite prominent when you listen to the sayings and slang words used by the people there. If you want to be able to not just speak another language, but be able to communicate with a certain generation and appear “hip”, I would highly recommend listening to the slang used around the world.
The United States vs. Argentina
It’s hard to determine just how much informal language, or slang, we use in our everyday lives in the US. Younger generations are constantly referencing pop culture phenomenons and inventing new words such as “YOLO”, “swag”, “yeet”, and so much more. Just by listening to the structure of a sentence between two friends and what words and phrases are thrown around, you can learn a lot about a culture. Cultural values, relationship structures, and the formality of a culture shines through the use of slang.
Before going to Argentina I felt quite prepared to communicate in a language I had been studying for around five years, however upon arrival, that confidence wavered significantly. Accents I had never heard before were being used along with strange verb conjugations. For my fellow Speakers out there: remember the word “vosotros”? Remember how your Spanish teachers brushed that word aside telling you that you would never have to learn it’s proper conjugations? Well in Argentina, everything is conjugated in the “vos” form. For my non Spanish speakers, “vosotros” basically translates to the phrase “you all”, and is informal compared to the other forms of addressing a person or a group of people that we are usually taught in a classroom setting.
Nothing is too formal in Argentina, as I mentioned in my last post. Nothing ever happens on schedule, and no meeting is too formal. In general, South America as a whole is like this. The US’ high-strung, tight schedule way of life couldn’t be more opposite to the laid-back lifestyle to our southern neighbors. From the way we greet each other in the US to the formal tone and language we use, it’s evident that our culture holds different, more uptight, norms and values than Argentina.
Slang Words and Usage
My first experience with Argentine slang words was when I was hanging out with some high schoolers and kept hearing the word “boludo”. Finally I asked what the word meant and they explained in broken English that it was kind of like an endearing way to call someone an idiot. For example, if your friend were to trip and fall over themselves, you would probably say “¡Aye boludo!” The students went on to explain that if you actually were angry with someone and wanted to insult them, you would call them a “pelotudo”, which also meant idiot.
From that moment on, everywhere I went I noticed the usage of what seemed to be almost like another language. “Che” is used in place of “hey” when trying to get someone’s attention, and when you pass someone on the street you will often hear “¿Todo bien?”, meaning “whats up” or “everything good?” This phrase will be said to you by total strangers simply because that’s the proper etiquette in Argentine culture.
Other common slang words are:
“bajá un cambio!” and “tranquilo” = relax, calm down
“porteño” = resident of buenos aires (literally means “person of the port”)
“chabón” = man
pibe” = dude
“boliche” = dance club
“bondi/collectivo” = bus
“subte” = subway
“buena onda” = cool, good vibe
“un montón” = a lot
“rati” = the police
“chanta” = liar
“bueno” = okay/fine
Not only are there words essential to navigating Argentina, but when you learn these words and can use them, you truly feel assimilated into the new culture.
Argentines are extremely friendly people. When they greet anyone, whether it’s a stranger or their best friend, they kiss each other on both cheeks. When I met my host sister for the first time I stuck out my hand for a handshake, but she pulled me towards her and said “In Argentina, this is how we greet each other” and she kissed my cheek. Was I shocked? Yes. But it was also nice to feel so welcomed right away. The unwavering hospitality and generosity of an Argentine is evident in everything they do. Every person I met considered me an immediate friend, and this was particularly in the language they used with me.
Along with having their own spoken language, Argentines have hand gestures for EVERYTHING. How did I discover this? I played charades with Argentines. The word one Argentine was tying to guess was “police officer” and the other Argentine simply tapped a finger to his forehead like he was holding a cap and just like that, the word was guessed. When people speak in Argentina they almost always use their hands as well. In the US, we are less gesticulate which may be because we are less expressive both in terms of emotions and gestures. This also offers insight into a culture where certain formalities of a language, gestures, greetings, and topics of conversation are accepted.
Going beyond a language learned in a classroom and witnessing the application of that language in its native environment will give you a new sense of cultural awareness. Just by observing the body language, formality, and words used by the people in a certain place, you can learn a lot about their culture.