The Spanish of Río de la Plata

Discover the Spanish that makes it difficult to distinguish between someone from Buenos Aires and someone who lives in Montevideo.

Buenos Aires, the largest Spanish-speaking city (1948) by AmuncoOriginal Source: AECID

The Spanish of Río de la Plata is one of the largest dialectal groups in South America, spoken in the Río de la Plata basin, which covers a vast area of Argentina and the entirety of Uruguay.

Río de la Plata (1736) by Mount & PageOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

A little history

The large estuary formed by the confluence of the Rivers Paraná and Uruguay was named Río de la Plata (Silver River) due to the belief that there were large deposits of silver upstream. A scattering of indigenous people lived on the plains, and they spoke Guaraní and Quechua.

Foundation of Buenos Aires (1950) by José Lacoste y BordeOriginal Source: Prado Museum

Buenos Aires was founded in 1536 by Pedro de Mendoza. However, the indigenous communities of the pampas later forced the evacuation of the city, and its citizens relocated to Asunción. In 1580, Buenos Aires was refounded by colonists from Spain and other colonies.

Tierra de Fuego (1779) by William WattsOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

In the early 17th century, Argentinian cowboys moved to the Eastern Bank (Banda Oriental), where they established a thriving market in leather and meat. Some traders opened businesses in Uruguay. In 1680, the Portuguese established their first capital on the Uruguayan coast.

Engraving of attack on Buenos Aires (1801) by José María CardanoOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

Buenos Aires was established as the provincial capital of Río de la Plata, the importance of which grew with the route across the Atlantic. It was from this city that the colonists left in 1726 to found Montevideo, in response to Portuguese advances. In 1776, the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata was created.

Buenos Aires 1900 (1900)Original Source: AECID

Following the independence movements in the early 19th century, Uruguay was annexed to Brazil for a time. Midway through the century, Argentina also became home to millions of European immigrants, the majority of them Italian.

The steamer Alfonso XIII (1887)Original Source: National Library of Spain

La Nacion (1916) by La NaciónOriginal Source: AECID

Argentina and Uruguay: A similar Spanish

If you meet someone from Buenos Aires and someone from Montevideo, from a similar socioeconomic background, it might be difficult to tell the Argentinian from the Uruguayan from a linguistic point of view.

Edificio en Uruguay (2021) by Charlotte HilliarFundación Antonio de Nebrija

More than two thirds of the Uruguayan population live in Montevideo. In many ways, Uruguayan Spanish is a partial extension of the language spoken in Buenos Aires. However, the Portuguese influence is also discernible in some of the dialects of the northern region.

Monumental tower (2022) by Lucas VimieiroFundación Antonio de Nebrija

Argentina is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world and, although many dialects can be found across its territory, these are all overshadowed by the Buenos Aires vernacular, which has been heavily influenced by Italian immigration. This fusion also produced a contact language known as Cocoliche.

Aerial view of Punta del Este (2022) by Pedro SlingerFundación Antonio de Nebrija

Uruguayan Spanish shares almost all its vocabulary with the variant spoken in Buenos Aires, including much of its Lunfardo vernacular, the jargon used by young people, professionals, and in sports. On the other side, the Brazilian border has brought about a particular dialect known as "Fronterizo".

Niño de la provincia Jujuy (2019) by tiago tinsFundación Antonio de Nebrija

The Argentinian lexicon has a rich variety of regionalisms, but it is the Buenos Aires dialect which has the widest reach. Italian elements are limited to colloquial language, and are mixed with Lunfardo. Chau, from the Italian ciao, is used as a general form of saying goodbye.

Credits: Story

With information from Latin American Spanish (El Español de América) by John M. Lipski


Curator: Rodrigo Díaz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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