So you’ve been listening to your Spanish lessons as you drive to work or as you exercise at the gym. You practice rolling your r’s in the mirror every morning. You’ve stuck stick-it notes on the items in your house to help build your vocabulary. As you open the refrigerator, you mouthe out the items: leche, agua, huevos, queso, jamon, yogur, uvas, manzanas. You make it a point to say “Hola” and “gracias” to your Latino neighbors. And then you land in Buenos Aires and realize they don’t speak Spanish here.
It’s Castellano, or Rioplatense Spanish, a dialect of Spanish spoken in the areas of the River Plate, and it can be quite different. Mostly the pronunciation is different, but there are different words too. To me, Castellano has an Italian rhythm with a Brazilian Portuguese softness. Overly romanticized? That’s very possible, after all, we are talking about language, which ranks up there in my top three favorite topics.
So how can you prepare? Maybe we can help.
Vos vs Tú
In most Spanish-speaking countries, the pronoun for you (informal) is tú. In Argentina, they use vos. Whether the vos comes from Brazil’s você or from Spain’s vosotros isn’t clear.
Don’t worry if you use tú, Argentines will still understand you. You only need to know that when they use vos, they’re talking to you.
Conjugating with Vos
It would be much easier if all one had to do to speak Castellano were change the tú to vos. But as luck would have it, the verbs are also different. For example, in most Spanish-speaking countries to ask where a person is from you would say “¿De donde eres tu?” In Castellano it’s “¿De donde sos vos?” Notice that the two verbs–eres and sos–are completely different.
There aren’t too many verbs that change so drastically. In most cases, it’s the accent and maybe a missing vowel that accounts for the difference between tú verb forms and vos verb forms. Actually, the vos verb forms are easier. Drop the final -r on the verb, add an -s, and put the accent on the final syllable. Simple.
Verb Vos Tú
ser (to be) vos sos tú eres
estar (to be) vos estás tú estás
tener (to have) vos tenés tú tienes
querer (to want) vos querés tú quieres
venir (to come) vos venís tú vienes
decir (to say) vos decís tú dices
pensar (to think) vos pensás tú piensas
Castellano a los Pedos
In our next blog post will cover the major pronunciation differences, but to have a little fun before getting serious again, let’s talk about the colloquialisms.
Argentines have a very particular slang and they absolutely love to use it. Slang makes for some hilarious misunderstandings and that’s half the fun of learning another language.
For example, a friend of mine got a new job. I called her after her first day to see how it went. She said it was fine, she spent the entire day al pedo. Pedo literally means fart. I had an image of my friend sitting at her new desk with nothing to do and farting all day. People would walk in and think, “boy, the new girl really stinks” or “I wonder what she had for dinner last night.”
She’s a close friend, so felt I could ask her if her job was so dull that she spent the day forcing farts out to make the time pass faster. She explained that al pedo means something was a waste of time or effort. I still kind of like the image of her there in her new job farting away. In the end, I wasn’t that far off.
Other Pedo Expressions
- ni en pedo – no way
“Hey, want to come with me to the laundromat?”
“Ni en pedo.”
- de pedo – by chance
“So how did a guy like that get a girl like her?”
- a los pedos – very fast (literally it means to the farts which gives a nice visual)
“He’s a crazy driver.”
“Siempre a los pedos.”
- cagar a pedos – to lecture or chew out (literally it means to shit farts, another visual but not so nice)
“Did he yell at you when he fired you for farting all day?”
“Si, me cago a pedos.”
- al pedo – something that is a waste of time, money or effort
“That guy just doesn’t get that you aren’t into him. What’s up with all the gifts?”
“Si, el está al pedo.”
“Want to come with me to Uruguay tomorrow?”
“Si, se estoy al pedo.”