Monday, February 2, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Argentina

Slightly less than a month ago, our first country profile of the new year looked at the linguistic diversity of Colombia. This week we're returning to South America to explore the languages of Argentina, which is located in the southern part of the continent.

The "Official" Language

Unlike most other countries around the world, Argentina does not have an official language that was selected by its government. However, it does have Spanish, which is considered to be the de facto official language due to its extensive use throughout the country. In fact, Spanish is spoken by almost all Argentines.

The dialects of Spanish spoken in Argentina have several distinctive features. One prominent feature is the use of voseo, in which speakers use vos as the second person singular pronoun ("you") instead of , the traditional pronoun. The Argentine Spanish accent is also phonologically distinctive due to its use of yeísmo, in which the letters y and ll are pronounced using the phonemes [ʒ] or [ʃ] ("zh" or "sh").

The beautiful Iguazu Falls on the border
between Argentina and Brazil.
Other Languages

Argentina is also home to several other languages, most of which are the native languages of various immigrant populations that have settled in the country throughout recent history. For example, Italian is one of the most spoken languages in Argentina due to a large influx of Italian immigrants to the country between the mid-19th and early-20th centuries. Today there are over 1.5 million Italian speakers in Argentina. Some phonological quirks of Argentine Spanish are even thought to be due to the influence of local Italian speakers.

Arabic, particularly Levantine Arabic, is also spoken by a significant percentage of Argentina's population. There are approximately 1 million Arabic speakers in Argentina, primarily immigrants from countries such as Syria and Lebanon.

Other languages with large numbers of speakers include Quechua, German, and Yiddish. Local dialects of the Quechua indigenous language are spoken by approximately 800,000 people in Argentina, while German is spoken by nearly half a million people. There are also around 200,000 speakers of Yiddish, a Germanic language primarily spoken by Argentina's large Jewish population. 

While there are many more languages spoken in Argentina, we'll just mention a couple more. Chorote, an indigenous language belonging to the Matacoan language family, is spoken by around 1,500 people in the Chaco region. More surprisingly, there are 25,000 speakers of the Welsh language in Argentina, with over 5,000 of them living in Chubut Province. This means that Argentina is home to one of the world's largest Welsh-speaking populations outside of the UK!