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Language issues are extremely sensitive. What language do Argentines speak? I first wrote on this subject in 1938 in "The linguistic unity of the Spanish-speaking world" (Hispania, May, 1938). Nationalists claimed that Argentines spoke "the national language of the Argentines", based partly on "lunfardo". What is "lunfardo"? Natacha Poggi has posted a definition taken from José Gobello, Nuevo Diccionario Lunfardo (Ediciones Corregidor, 1990). The fact that this dictionary came out in 1990 means that the subject is still alive. Natacha must tell us if both she and Gobello are of Italian origin and if that influences their attitude toward the problem. Gobello speaks hesitatingly, and says that lunfardo was the result of mass immigration before and after 1900, and that it became mixed with rural expressions, quechua, and Portuguese (from Brazil). He says that lunfardo vocabulary now circulates on all social levels of the River Plate republics: This presumably means Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Is lunfardo spoken in all three countries by people of all social levels? In the old days it was restricted to the lower classes of the port district of Buenos Aires.

Natacha goes on to quote from the Grijalbo encyclopedia (1997), which says that the word comes from "lombard", since the Lombards (Milanese) had a bad reputatuion as tradesmen. (I have never heard that). Lunfardo originally meant a thief; Grijalbo says it meant the slang of the criminal class, and that it differs from Castilian (see below) only in vocabulary. Grijalbo asserts that it has acquired a literary character, and that there is in Buenos a Lunfardo Academy. I am astonished by this, and would like more details.

I consulted the Larousse Universal, which has a long article on the subject. I was surprised when I consulted the great authority on the Spanish vocabulary, Joan Corominas, Diccionario Crítico Etimológico de la lengua castellana (4 vols, Bern, Switzerland, 1954). It is curious that this monumental work was written by a Catalan, a member of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans in Barcelona, where I studied in 1932. I knew Corominas at the University of Chicago, where he spent most of his career. His exhaustive dictionary does not even mention the word lunfardo. Notice that it is a dictionary of the Castilian language, and that raises another controversial issue: Spanish or Castilian? Most Latin Americans prefer "Spanish". Do Argentines? The Royal Spanish Academy is simply that, with no reference to the Spanish or Castilian languages, but it publishes the Dictionary of the Spanish Language. I have the 1925 edition. The task of the Academy was to "fix, clean up, and give splendor". It therefore does not mention "lunfardo".

In recent decades there has been in Latin America a movement hostile to the Spanish Academy and its dictionary, as symbols of cultural imperialism. Some prominent writers led the movement. In response the Academy founded corresponding academies in American countries, including the US, or which I am a corresponding member. These academies collect local words which are then considered for incorporation in the dictionary. I do not know what it is doing about lunfardo. The dictionary is now on line. I will check it out to see what i says about lunfardo.

Meanwhile, we would be grateful for any comments Argentines have on this matter, and I imagine that Natacha would be too. The problem is I think unique in America. The Brazilians do not doubt that they speak Portuguese and the Americans that they speak English.

LUNFARDO (del francés lombard, 'lombardo', por la mala fama mercantil de los de dicha nación) adj. y m. Jerga delincuente de Buenos Aires; sus diferencias con el castellano son meramente léxicas, con aportaciones del Ingles, francés, Italiano y de Germanías españolas; otras palabras surgieron por inversión, metáforas, etc. Popularizado por el tango, ha perdido parte de su función original y , en cambio, ha adquirido cierto carácter literario; existe una academia del lunfardo en Buenos Aires. || Ladrón, rufián.

Gran diccionario Enciclopedico Ilustrado Grijalbo, 1997.

Ronald Hilton - 6/8/02