To go to the main page, click on the URL:

web analytics


José Gobello, in his book Aproximación al lunfardo (1996), explains why he thinks that lunfardo is not a language, neither a dialect nor a jargon (for example, because of its lack of grammar and syntax). The user of lunfardo words thinks in Spanish, using the Spanish structures and grammar, and then replaces one or more words with their lunfardo synonymous. Thus, the ultimate meaning of the speech does not change, but it takes a different nuance. In Spanish, using a term or a synonymous changes lightly the intention of the speaker; but when we replace the Spanish word and we use a lunfardo synonymous, the change is more evident.

In his book, Gobello, the most prestigious specialist, offers a definition of lunfardo: "Vocabulary made up of words of different origin used by Buenos Aires' people in opposition to the orthodox Spanish words". Another major aspect is that the use of those terms is completely aware. Buenos Aires' people know the word mujer (woman), but sometimes decide to use mina; they know the word dinero (money), but every now and then choose guita. This could be a distinction between a lunfardo expression -a lunfardism- and an Argentinian one: sometimes, in Buenos Aires we use words with a meaning that is not the one given by the dictionary. When we use the word recova, we are not trying to give our speech a different, funny or interesting touch: simply, we don't know soportal (a type of construction).

However, the exact boundaries of lunfardo are debatable, depending on the researchers' point of view. We think it is alive and kicking, and their words are Argentinian and colloquial expressions, but not only that. There are many Argentine and colloquial terms and expressions: the lunfardo ones have a further nuance, and it can be interpreted by the speaker or by the listener as a mark of porteño identity. This happens although some words that we feel lunfardo are used in other American countries or despite the use of old and almost forgotten Spanish terms.

Gobello, unlike the first researchers said, asserts that lunfardo has an origin in the immigration, rather than a criminal root. The words of the early lunfardo (the one of the last two decades of the XIX century) referred to the crime are a minority opposite the ones referred to the everyday life. That mistake is due to the profession of those first researchers: they were policemen -or journalists specialized in police issues-, who listened some of those words to delinquents; but they did not pay attention to the terms circulating in the city's low classes. A few years later, lunfardo was spread across the whole society by the tango lyrics, the theater (fundamentally, the one-act farces, or sainetes), and the social mobility; these social changes took a lot of people from poverty to the society's middle and high strata.

Two major branches can be distinguished in the origins of lunfardo: the gauchesco (the words used by the gauchos until the XIX century in the pampas) and the words brought by the European immigration in the last 25 years of the XIX century and in the first two decades of the XX century. Among the gauchos' ones, we can find terms with indigenous origins (cancha, pucho); words of the negroes, who were almost a third of Argentine population in the XIX century (quilombo, mandinga), and Spanish archaisms (aguaitar, espichar). Most of the immigrants' terms are the ones brought by the Italians (especially, the Genoese), like amurar 'to quit' or biaba 'beating', along with some French words (a large number of them, referred to the nocturnal life) -garçonnière 'bachelor's flat', pris or prissé 'sniff of cocaine'-.

It also has words provided by another foreign communities (papirusa 'beautiful woman', from the Polish; bondi 'bus', from the Portuguese) and some ones from two Spanish dialects, although several of them belonged to the gauchesco: words of the caló (Spanish gipsies' dialect) as araca 'look out, watch out' or mangar 'to ask for', and germanía's (Spanish delinquents' dialect of the XVIII century) voices, as runfla 'bunch, group of people' and taita 'brave man'.

In addition to these two big tributaries, in lunfardo vocabulary there are Spanish words with changed meanings (azotea 'flat roof', but 'head' in lunfardo; marrón 'brown color', but 'anus' in lunfardo), and invented ones (trolo 'gay man'). These terms were a minority in the lunfardo's early years, but in the last decades they have become a considerable part of this vocabulary. Among the invented words, the ones created by alteration of the order of the syllables, procedure known as vesre, are caracteristc: from sánguche 'sandwich', we have chegusán; from café 'coffee', we make feca; from noche 'night', cheno.

Over the decades, some words have disappeared (asnaf 'gay man'), some ones have remained (cana 'the police, a policeman'), some ones have emerged (masa 'good-quality thing, interesting person'), another ones have changed their meanings (grela 'woman', and later 'dirt'), and a few lunfardo words (pibe 'boy') have been included into the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, because their use is not restricted to Buenos Aires or the River Plate area.

The Academia Porteña del Lunfardo is a private not for profit institution whose object is the linguistic research and, specifically, the study of the evolution of the colloquial Buenos Aires' way of talking. It was created in 1962 as a result of the ideas of José Gobello, Nicolás Olivari and Amaro Villanueva.

Gobello, Luis Soler Cañas and León Benarós (journalists and writers) called a group of colleagues to a meeting in order to consider the creation of an institution destined to study the popular language of Buenos Aires.

José Barcia, Buenos Aires' journalist of long and important career; Marcos Augusto Morínigo, linguist of renown, pupil of Joseph Vendryes and correspondent of the Real Academia Española; and Sebastián Piana, a very popular musician, who obtained a large fame with his songs –tangos and milongas–, were the first three presidents of the Academia. In 1995, Gobello, the most important specialist in lunfardo, was elected president of the institution.

The Academia is formed by members who live in Buenos Aires and its outskirts (Académicos de Número); by correspondents (Académicos Correspondientes), who live in the rest of the country or in foreign countries, and by retired members (Académicos Eméritos).