Thursday, May 1, 2014

Argentine v. Argentinian

What to call them? There are numerous options but, as a matter of English-language style, I’ve always preferred “Argentine” over “Argentinian” (occasional variant “Argentinean”), partly because it consists of nine letters and three syllables, rather than 11 letters and five syllables. Even if space is not the issue in digital media that it still is in print, less can be more.

“Argentinian” also sounds clumsy to me – to use another example, I have heard a handful of English speakers use “Chilenian” instead of “Chilean,” but that really offends my ears. That’s even though, when I first visited Chile in the late 1970s, I used an equally painful hyper-correction chileño in lieu of chileno when my Spanish was still primitive. My new Chilean friends must have cringed, but they were far too polite to correct me.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of how to pronounce “Argentine”: with a long i (“Argentyne”) or a short i (“Argenteen”)? I prefer the latter because it more closely approximates the Spanish argentino but, in Britain, the former was also a way to refer to the country (as in “the Argentine”). I would never use that, as it sounds a bit archaic, even colonialist, but it has a certain cachet nevertheless.
That said, I don’t claim to be an authority in lexicology, so I turned to Andrew Graham-Yooll  (pictured above) for his opinion. Andrew, editor of the Buenos Aires Herald during some of its most illustrious (and harrowing) times, is (along with Chile’s Argentine-born Ariel Dorfman) among the most thoroughly bilingual individuals I’ve ever met. He is not just an accomplished journalist (A State of Fear), but also writes history (The Forgotten Colony), fiction (Goodbye Buenos Aires) and even poetry (Se Habla Spanglés), which he even translates between the two languages.

Andrew’s email response to my question follows (lightly edited for punctuation and the odd typo):

“I always use/used the word Argentine, because I like it best. And second to that, an ancient and I think now deceased Anglo-Argie years ago recommended that ‘why don't we call people what they would like to be called.’ I know that Argentinian was always around, but I never liked it and its use grew during the Falklinas war, but I assimilated it with the kind of usage that when used in conflict has a derogatory note. It probably does not, but that is my feeling. So I am an Anglo-Argentine and that is what I use. And the final, non-emotional explanation: Argentine is a word with nine letters. If you are working for years on an English-language daily in Argentina, you inevitably have to use the word frequently. When headlining stories in the days of lead on a small paper it always made better usage if you could use words with fewer letters.”

One supporting personal anecdote: When my wife learned English from a Cambridge-trained Italo-Argentine instructor, “Argentine” was the usage of preference, and I’ll stick with that (though she pronounced it with the long i, which I will continue to ignore).


dbuck said...

Wayne, now that that's settled -- I prefer Argentine also -- let's move on to the annoying tic some Americans have while speaking English of pronouncing in Spanish with great emphasis a South American country's name, which often leads to bilingual malapropisms such as "when I was in Chilé." Dan

Wayne Bernhardson said...

There is such a thing as overdoing it, Dan, as my own hyper-correction blunder with "chilenos" suggests. When speaking English, I attempt to pronounce Spanish words or phrases without sounding pretentious; if we tried to pronounce every word adapted or adopted from other languages with the original sounds, it would be incomprehensible.

Marcia Taams said...

I think it's pronounced Argentinian, although both forms go. And I agree with Wayne!

Noruega en Argentina said...

Very interesting! I have wondered about this, and I remember some friends from Argentina living in the US said they preferred Argentinian, that Argentine seemed very British and archaic and somehow hostile... Not sure why! I, therefore, usually use Argentinian but I do think Argentine flows better in the English language. Great post!

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Thank you for the compliment. I'm looking forward to seeing Oslo for the first time in a little over a week, then will go to Lillehammer and Trysil (my grandmother's birthplace) before continuing into Sweden.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Thanks for the feedback. I don't think any of these is really wrong, but I prefer the short version with the latter pronunciation.

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