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The issue of language: a history of cultural exchange and stereotyping

In Argentina, discussions about the language spoken in the country have been taking place for more than 100 years. As this is a multicultural and highly diverse country, this particular issue has been relevant in different contexts throughout the history of the nation. The wide linguistic diversity that exists in Argentina can be understood taking into account the importance of immigration, as well as that of different languages spoken by Native Peoples and their descendants. While the official language of the country is Spanish and most of the population use it in their day to day lives, the language used in different areas of the country shows important variations.

A lot of the merging of different linguistic features occurs in the Province of Córdoba. At the School of Languages, National University of Córdoba, María Teresa Toniolo has spent the better part of her life researching the different ways of speaking in the region. According to her, a combination of historical and geographical factors account for the heterogeneity of ways of speaking in Córdoba. Among those factors, María Teresa Toniolo mentions the influence of different Native People’s languages and other European languages spoken by immigrants that reached the country between the last decades of the 19th century and the beginnings of the 20th century.

Many of today’s most important cities on the Cordobese portion of the Pampean grasslands were originally founded by Italian immigrants coming from northern Piedmont. As we have discussed in previous steps, the Province of Córdoba owes much of its early growth to immigrant waves consisting mainly of Italians, who founded new towns focused on agriculture. At that point, a cultural and linguistic divide took place in the province: there was the urbanized Córdoba home to the inner-city aristocracy; but there was also another Córdoba, where white immigrants worked from sunup to sundown on the fertile soil of the Pampean grasslands, speaking different foreign languages.

Although the most common language spoken by immigrants was Italian, each smaller region was dominated by different dialects. Piedmontese was the most widespread of all of them. Most people were able to use the language, which was a popular tool for communication in an area with such linguistic diversity. Foreign languages were spoken in immigrant households, causing a clash when the time came for children to start school –so much so, that teachers would complain about immigrants’ children poor diction and general inability to use language correctly.

The way of speaking of people living in Córdoba and its surrounding areas is characterised by a distinctive accent that is widely known on a national scale and is a recurrent topic in Argentine humour. The Cordobese accent substantially differs from the accent typical of certain surrounding provinces. This accent is seemingly unrelated to neighbouring accents, and it is supposedly traceable to the linguistic influence of comechingones, the group of natives indigenous to the area.

The Cordobese accent has both positive and negative implications. According to research carried out in 2015 at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), Cordobese people –mainly because of their accent– are perceived, on the one hand, as fun, humorous and caring; and, on the other hand, as uncultured and narrow-minded. Following this research, we can say that this dialect has been described as funny and has not to be associated with concepts such as cultured and serious. It is also worth highlighting that people do not tend to associate the Cordobese accent with selfishness, which accounts for the fact that Cordobese people are perceived as especially caring and generous by the rest of the country. This study provides evidence supporting the common stereotype that links Cordobese people to humour and jokes.

When reading the short story Oliva in step 1.3, we catch a glimpse of María Teresa Andruetto’s relationship with language in her writing when she writes “a Spanish that began to rise slowly from my shame of speaking ‘bad Spanish’”. This story is a good example of the widespread bias against rural ways of speaking, which tend to be associated with a lack of education and culture. In Oliva, we can make out the tension between the language of the common people and the language of the cultured people, in constant interaction with the cultural phenomenon that defined Argentina’s history: the Great Immigration.

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This article is from the free online course:

An ABC for Enjoying Argentine Literature

Universidad Nacional de Córdoba