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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 18 (Mar.-Apr. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Northwest Argentine Spanish

Northwest Argentine Spanish

The north-western part of Argentina is regarded as the culturally "Andean" region of the country; although the Andean mountain range crosses the country from north to south, only its north-western portion was to be directly influenced by the Tawantinsuyu or "Inca Empire".

Even though the region was inhabited by a number of indigenous ethnic groups (Atacama, Diaguita, Omaguaca, etc.) as well as mitmaqkuna (large kinship groups, sometimes entire ethnic groups, who were transferred to a new location within the Inca realm; the mitma was a policy of forced resettlement), and it was visited by the dwellers of the neighbouring Bolivian Altiplano, none of their original languages is spoken today. Its present-day inhabitants speak a variety of Spanish strongly influenced by extinct native-American languages, by the Andean Spanish spoken in Bolivia and the north of Chile, by Aymara and Quechua, and by the Spanish primarily spoken by those who live along the Rio de la Plata in Argentina and Uruguay (known as Rioplatense Spanish), which is also the standard in audiovisual media in Argentina. This mixture of vocabularies, accents, and intonations is far from being homogeneous; each of the provinces that make up the NOA region (Northwest Argentina) has its own local variations in language usage, which depend on history, tradition, social features, etc. Generally speaking, it can be said that NOA Spanish is characterized by:

(a) A distinctive vocabulary strongly influenced by indigenous languages.

It includes a lot of Quechua words and quichuismos (Castilianized Quechua words). This is a common feature shared by all "Andean" varieties. Formal language prefers Standard Spanish while informal language uses many quichuismos (e.g. "pupo" instead of "ombligo" (navel);"yuyo" instead of "hierba" (grass)). In general, the terms for the region's flora and fauna and for certain elements of the indigenous cultural heritage are Quechua loan words. There are also some terms of Aymara origin, and a number of others come from ancient local languages, such as Kunza, which was spoken by the Atacama, or Kakán, which was used by the Diaguita peoples.

(b) A grammar that brings together native and colonial features.

From a grammatical point of view, Andean native forms (both Quechua and Aymara) are the ones preferred to make sentences, especially in rural areas. For instance. "A su casa de Antonio estoy yendo" instead of "Voy a casa de Antonio" (literally, "To his Antonio's house [I] am going", instead of "[I] go to Antonio's house").

Diminutives (-ito, -illo, -uelo) are very common, even with words that do not usually take them (are not accepted) in other Spanish varieties ("cerquita" instead of "cerca" (close/near), "lueguito" instead of "luego" (later), "apenitas" instead of "apenas" (hardly/only), "alguito" instead of "algo" (something), "ningunita" instead of "ninguna" (none), "estito" instead of "esto" (this), "yosito" istead of "yo" (I), "cualquierita" instead of "cualquiera" (anybody), "suyito" instead of "suyo" (his/hers/theirs)); this practice might well come from Quechua language, where affective suffixes and diminutives (such as –lla, -yá, -ri and –chan) are actually very common.

This variety is usually "laísta" and "loísta" (variations from standard Spanish involving the third person object pronouns "la" and "lo"), uses adjectives as adverbs ("él canta lindo", "he sings beautiful" instead of "beautifully"), and prefers the "voseo" (the use of the pronoun "vos" (you, second person of the singular), as in "vos sos", (you are)) to the "tuteo" (the use of the pronoun "tú" (you, second person of the singular), as in "tú eres" (you are)), though some speakers mix both patterns ("vos eres").

It also prefers gerund and past perfect (Spanish, pretérito pluscuamperfecto) to other verbal times and modes, and includes several old features (probably from Colonial Spanish) such as the use of the definite article before a person's name of the person (e.g. "el Juan") and the use of the preposition "de" when it is not required (known as "dequeísmo").

(c) A phonetics which mixes "Andean Spanish" with "Rioplatense Spanish".

Unlike other areas in the Andes (and in Argentina itself), in north-western Argentina the "yeísmo" (pronunciation of the "ll" as "y") is common use. In NOA Spanish syllable-final "s" undergoes aspiration (though there are a number of exceptions); "e" and "i" are interchangeable with each other as are "o" and "u"; "i" is used instead of the preposition "de"; some consonants are deleted in particular combinations of sounds ("doctor" becomes "dotor"); sometimes two adjacent vowels that are to be pronounced as a hiatus are articulated as a diphthong ("peor" (worse) becomes "pior").

Although regional varieties of American Spanish have usually been socially disapproved and, on many occasions, stigmatized as "uneducated", or "wrong" (especially in school contexts, where some teachers express their disapproval and correct students' language where necessary -and unnecessary), they still provide a common communication means, both in rural and urban areas, and continue being the vehicle for the community's popular songs and oral tradition: a tradition that would not have been handed on from generation to generation by virtue of Spanish language "correctness" or "standardization".

Andean Spanish, in Wikipedia.
Article. "Relación del español del NOA con el español andino", by Susana L. Martorell de Laconi. Cuadernos de la Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales, 16 (Universidad Nacional de Jujuy, Jujuy, Argentina, May 2001) [es].
Article. "El diminutivo en el noroeste argentino como fenómeno de convergencia lingüística", by Ana María Fernández Lávaque. Boletín de Filología de la Universidad de Chile, 37 (1998-1999), pp. 513-522 [es].
Article. "Lenguas en contacto. El substrato quechua en el noroeste argentino", by Ricardo L. Nardi. In ADILQ [es].
Article. "Bases para la construcción de una gramática dialectal del español de Catamarca", by A. Carranza, L. C. Arce and A. Arroyo [es].
Article. "El español de América", by Jesús Sánchez Lobato [es].
Article. "Variedades del español hablado en América", by Azucena Palacios Alcaine [es].
Article. "El español andino", in Lenguas de Colombia [es].

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