Curtis Draves
     Curtis Draves, Certified Spanish Interpreter and Translator  

Wally's Dictionary of Argentine Colloquialism and Culture

A Collaborative Work in Progress


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Argentine Pronunciation
Notes  To avoid confusion, any examples that should be pronounced with Spanish pronunciation are given in italics (e.g. ejemplo). Examples that are references to our native English, and therefore meant to be pronounced with your normal English pronunciation, are given in double quotation marks (e.g. "example"). Any references to other parts of the dictionary are live links with "see".
Brief Review of Spanish Phonetics  Spanish is very convenient when it comes to phonetics. The pronunciation and the spelling have a virtually one-to-one relationship—in other words, if you see it written, you know how to say it (and vice versa). For this reason, I highly recommend you learn pronunciation based on Spanish spelling, in which case you’ll never have to bother with Americanized pronunciation guides (guydz, gaidz, gah-eedz...), and you’ll be much better off in Argentina, where very few written communiqués are acompanied by such hints.
Vowels  We Americans love vowels. We say ‘em long and loud, and we’ve got more than twice as many different vowel sounds as Spanish (I bet you didn’t know that!). Spanish vowels are always the same, and they are always short. Remember that. Short.
 
a = as in "water"
e = as in "end"
i = as in "keen"
o = as in "home"
u = as in "choose"
‘a’, ‘e’, and ‘o’ are strong vowels, whereas ‘i’ and ‘u’ are weak. Two strong vowels together maintain two separate syllables and do not form a dipthong.
eo = e then o, e.g. correo (3 syllables)
ao = a then o, e.g. Arraoz (3 syllables)
One strong and one weak (or two weak) vowels combine to form one blended syllable, called a dipthong.
ua = u + a = "wa" as in "water", e.g. agua
ai = a + i = as in "Saigon", e.g. faina
ie = i + e = "ye" as in "yellow", e.g. bien
Consonants  Here it gets a little tricky. Many consonants are the same as english. The following are different...
 
v = b as in "boy"
Both b and v usually (when not starting a word) have a slightly softer sound, the lips not really touching.
d = th as in "the"
When starting a word, d is closer to the American sound (as in "doubt"). In all other cases it is like the hard "th" as in "the", and perhaps a little bit harder still (pun intended). Ask any Argentine to say nada slowly, and you’ll see (well, hear) what I mean.
c = (before e or i) soft "s", same as the letter s
z = s
If someone pronounces a soft z or c like a soft "th" as in "thin", then they are either from Spain or making fun of a nearby Spaniard. (See Fuzzy Foreign Pronunciation).
c = (before a, o, or u) normal hard "k" as in "kitten"
When words change due to conjugations, etc. the replacement for c used to keep the sound is...
qu = "k"
k = "k"
The letter k oficially doesn’t exist in Spanish, but occasionally you’ll see it used in signs (see kiosko).
cc = "x" as in "exit" (acción)
ch = "ch" as in "cheat" (pucho)
x = also "x", as in "exactly the same" (éxito)
g = (before a, o, or u) hard "g" as in "go"
g = (before e or i) a soft gutteral sound like in the Hebrew "l’giam" ("to life!") which I’m sure you’ve heard in some Woody Allen movie, or which, if you are Jewish, needs no further explanation. The Argentine sound tends to be softer than the more harsh version used in middle eastern languages.
j = the soft gutteral ‘g’ sound described above
h = silent
This letter is always silent, and therefore only useful to differentiate words in spelling. But since Spanish is phonetic, it’s really quite a useless letter, and I’ve heard talk of abolishing the h from the Spanish language altogether.
ñ = "ni" as in "opinion"
ñ = "ni" as in "opinion"
rr = that famous trill, produced by vibrating the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth
r = (beginning a word) trilled rr
r = (beginning a word) trilled rr
r = a single repetition of the aforementioned trill
This is, in my opiñon, the single most difficult sound to pronounce correctly in Spanish. You may have a rough time getting the double rr’, but once you get it, it’s simply a question of exagerated self-confidence. The single r, on the other hand, is a subtle, light flick of the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth—-somewhere in between the l and the n. If you can pronounce querido (or querida) correctly to your new Argentine lover, you’ll win his or her heart. Guaranteed.
t = ‘t’ as in "trick"
And there is a trick. You must always, but always, pronounce the t like that. In American English our t’s all too often become d’s (e.g. "water" becomes "wadder"). You cannot ever be so lackadaisical with the Spanish t.
w = does not exist
gu = (beginning a word, before strong vowels) basically our "w" (guacho)
gü = (before weak vowels) same as gu (güemes)
Although the written w is not native to Spanish, the sound is achieved through gu/gü, in which the hard "g" sound almost entirely disappears at the beginning of a word. For this reason, Argentines have difficulty pronouncing "would" without a slight "g" sound.
Argentine Pronunciation  The following are specific to the River Plate region (Argentina and Uruguay).
 
y = ll = a soft yet slightly vibratory sound somewhere in between "sh" as in "ship" and the "s" of "pleasure". This sound may vary depending on who you talk to, with the more up-scale (snobby) version tending towards the "sh" of "ship". This pronunciation form is referred to in Argentina as yeísmo, and when spoken Argentine Spanish is written (grab a newspaper and check out the comics) you will see the ll frequently replaced by the y. Furthermore, the letter y, whose standard name is i-griega, is usually referred to as ye in spoken Argentine. They’re proud of their yeísmo.
v = b = as described in the standard Spanish pronunciation above. In some Spanish-speaking countries the v is like the English sound (as in "very"). In Argentina it most definitely is not, with one exception: when someone is spelling a word they may pronounce it as in "very" for clarification (see Spelling It Out).
s = (ending a word or before a consonant) a soft airy sound pretty much like the hard American English "h" as in "hardware". This is a colloquial pronunciation that varies depending on who’s talking, how fast, etc. (see vo' me matá', Juan).
Backwards English  Often the most difficult thing to understand coming from the mouth of an Argentine isn’t Argentine Spanish, it’s Argentine English. When they use English words or proper names they will usually say them with Argentine pronunciation. And you will go crazy trying to figure out what Spanish word they are saying, only to finally discover that it’s an English word. The following is a list of how Argentines pronounce specific letter formations from English...
 
th = t, "Mirtha" = Mirta
j = y, "Jimmy" = Yimi
h = j, "heavy" = jevi, "hello" = jelo
s = (beginning a word, in combination with another consonant) es, "Stones" = estons
Everything else is pronounced with phonetic Argentine pronunciation as explained above.


Last updated 11/14/2005
Copyright Curtis Draves 2005. All rights reserved.