Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Communicating in Argentine Globish

There are countless variations on the aphorism that “An Argentine is an Italian who speaks Spanish, wishes he were English, and behaves as if he were French.” The Italian influence, of course, shows itself in the population - by some accounts more Argentines have Italian than Spanish surnames - and in the diet. Despite Argentines’ notorious affinity for beef, the abundance of pasta and pizza means the daily diet is often Italo-Argentine. The British presence shows itself in the railway heritage (despite their nationalization by Juan Domingo Perón), the popularity of polo, many place names (such as Banfield, Hurlingham and Temperley), and the venerable daily Buenos Aires Herald, while the cliché calls the Argentine capital the “Paris of the South.”

Spanish, though, is a universal - well, almost. Even if we disregard for the moment the dozens of indigenous languages that existed at the time of the Spanish invasion - several of those languages are still in vigorous use - Argentine Spanish is losing ground to English in a manner that must horrify Madrid’s Real Academia Española, the self-appointed arbiter of Castilian correctness around the world.

Today, though, it shows up in the Argentine language, in the direct adoption of English-language words and phrases, with barely a Spanish inflection in them. The proliferation of English in Buenos Aires, in particular, is to some degree a reflection of what Robert McCrum has recently analyzed as “Globish,” which the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner characterizes as a pidgin of the kind that has “facilitated basic communication among disparate parties but didn’t keep anyone from speaking his own language.”

Precisely when this started in Buenos Aires, I don’t know, but the city’s popularity with foreign tourists has certainly contributed to it. On the one hand, it communicates with foreigners whose command of Spanish is limited or even nil. On the other, it implies that savvy locals can share in a perceived exclusivity.

It’s most widespread in, but not unique to, tourist-friendly dining and shopping destinations such as Palermo, where sophisticated restaurants and fashion/design businesses have popped up on countless corners and in between over the past decade. Thus it’s common to see phrases such as “15% off” instead of the standard Spanish “15 por ciento de descuento.”

Likewise, you might see “summer sale” in lieu of “ofertas de temporada.” “Sale” is a particularly interesting term because, standing alone in Spanish, it can be interpreted as “get out of here,” but not in Rioplatense Spanish - because Argentines use the personal pronoun “vos” and its verb forms instead of the more common “tú,” an irritated Argentine who wanted you to leave would say “salí” instead.

In dining, the practice is more widespread, though it’s a little disconcerting to see that a pizzeria claiming to follow a “receta tradicional” (traditional recipe) boasts that it’s been in the same location “since 1935” (instead of “desde 1935”). At least, though, they’re not trumpeting “our specials,” as another nearby restaurant has done instead of the standard “especialidades del día.”

First-time visitors to Buenos Aires find, often to their surprise, that home delivery of meals is not just a matter of Chinese food or, more frequently, pizza - rather, it’s an everyday occurrence even for some upscale restaurants, not to mention ice creameries. Especially for those who rent apartments, it’s a convenient and rather cheaper alternative to dining out, as it avoids the “cubierto” (a “cover charge” per diner) and big tips (though the delivery man gets a small gratuity). Even more conveniently, you no longer have to ask for “entrega a domicilio” - the simple English word “delivery” has become almost universal.

While the use of Globish is most common in the tourism and service sector, it’s not unique to it. Few foreign visitors are likely to drive in the city, because public transportation is good and cheap, and will not need to park. Not so long ago, though, city employees strolled the sidewalks to sell “boletas” (tickets) directly to drivers, for a certain period of on-street parking. That’s no long true, as they’ve been replaced by automated “tickeadoras” such as the one shown here in the barrio of Recoleta (the English word “ticket,” by the way, can also refer to a restaurant receipt).

In at least one case, the use of Globish is almost exclusively for locals. As the accompanying photo shows, a large events center has eschewed the Spanish “diviértense” (“enjoy yourselves”) for the more monosyllabical English equivalent. In any event, if you find an equally or even more amusing usage of Globish in Buenos Aires or elsewhere, please let me know via the email address in the header above. And have fun doing so.


SaltShaker said...

In the vein of the "tickets", they are putting the finishing touches on a "BsAs Tickets" booth on the diagonal norte right off of Corrientes, a la TKTS booth on Broadway in NYC. Right down to the fenced in area around it to queue people up for those discount "tickets".

Brian Barker said...

Globish reminds me of a failed project called "Basic English" which failed, because native English speakers could not remember which words not to use :)

So it's time to move forward and adopt a neutral non-national language, taught universally in schools worldwide,in all nations.

As a native English speaker, I would prefer Esperanto

Your readers may be interested in the following video at Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Brian, the idea of communicating in a universal language is appealingly idealistic but, in reality, English is the closest thing to a universal language that there is. Even though its imperial origins may bother some people, it's almost infinitely adaptable. Esperanto is a failed experiment that has no literature, and an insufficient vocabulary to deal with scientific and technical issues. It is, essentially, another pidgin.

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