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The Lunfardo is a variety of Spanish language , which in the second half of the 19th century in Buenos Aires ( Argentina originated) and the informal language in Argentina (and also in today Uruguay is to be found). The variety is made up of a vocabulary that cannot be found in standard Spanish language dictionaries.

The origin of the Lunfardo is difficult to grasp. One can assume, however, that it had its roots in the interplay of European immigrants, gauchos , Indios and Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) in the lower social classes, although the Lunfardo is still equated with a rogue language .

The Lunfardo is researched primarily through the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo .

Historical background

Since Argentina had a very small population, the government sought immigrants very much. Around 1853 measures were taken to populate the vast country with people of European origin in order to “... work the earth, support industries and introduce the sciences and arts” (from Article 25 of the Constitution of 1853), so the number The population at the beginning of the First World War , which stopped the wave of immigration, had grown from 1,300,000 in 1859 to 7,885,237. The immigrants came mainly from Italy, Spain, France, but also numerous from other countries such as Poland and Portugal. Due to the agrarian reform, there was also a shift within Argentina itself: unemployed gauchos and indigenous people migrated to the capital.

Not only the hoped-for intellectuals, academics and industrialists came, but people, mostly men, from farming professions and unskilled workers, for whom there was no place and no work in the feudal system of large landowners in Argentina. Most of them stayed near the port of Buenos Aires, where they had arrived, for lack of alternatives. Unemployment, homesickness, poverty, desperation, extreme lack of women and communication problems formed the common features of the new lower class, in which the gauchos also belonged.

The poor position of the immigrants and gauchos was the basis for the creation of the Lunfardos. Spanish was often only poorly mastered, so that, for the sake of simplicity, words were taken from one's own mother tongue and adapted to the Spanish language ( loanwords ) if expressions were missing in linguistic usage. At that time, this variety had the position of an only slightly widespread sociolect , as it was only used in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. It was also more of a man's language.

From 1918 the immigration flow ceased, whereby the meaning of the loanwords decreased. From 1924 onwards, Lunfardisms were exported to other parts of Argentina through the radio and the tango song, and they were also used in the language of women and young people.

Since around 1950 the language phenomenon has spread more and more through the mass media radio, television and later also through the Internet. With the upswing of the Argentine tango since the 80s, this spread has been accelerated again - but now with the possibility of delimitation from the outside, and loanwords are no longer included.

Other origin thesis

The Lunfardo is still often viewed as a rogue language or argot . According to this thesis, it is assumed that the Lunfardo found its origin as a secret language in prisons. The assumption was probably made through the first recording of the Lunfardolexik in police documentation. The president of the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo , José Gobello , and Mario Teruggi , another leading Lunfardoautor, agree that this is doubtful. It is true that the way of speaking can also be linked to the crime, but this link stems more from the fact that the immigrants lived in the lower milieus, in which one did not obey the law in all areas of life. A certain similarity cannot be denied, however: In a variant of the French argot, the Verlan , as in the Lunfardo, the syllables of the everyday terms are often exchanged.

Formation and composition of the Lunfardo vocabulary

The vocabulary consists of approx. 5000 to 6000 words. It is based on Spanish grammar, syntax and spelling . Lunfardisms can be nouns , verbs, or adjectives . Lunfard terms are used as synonyms to recognized Spanish words. The lexic was created and is based on loan words from other languages (1) , word creations (2) , morphological changes (3) of an already existing word and the Vesre (4) .

  1. Many expressions come from the languages ​​of the various immigrants (Italian, English, Portuguese, Polish, etc.), with the mixed Italian-Spanish language Cocoliche in particular contributing elements. Others come from the vocabulary of the gauchos or the black population of Argentina and the Indians.
  2. Many already existing words get a new meaning through specialization , generalization and change of gender . In many cases it is also a question of metaphors .
  3. Morphological changes are caused by shortening or lengthening the word that is already being created, e.g. B. lunfa instead of lunfardo or tano instead of napolitano.
  4. Another typical source of new words is the Vesre. The order of the syllables is reversed here. This play on words can also be found in the colloquial French language as Verlan . Some of these words are used so skillfully that they can be understood with and without syllable reversal and result in an ambiguous text. For example sacar (to take away) and casar (to marry).

Distribution and topicality of the Lunfardo

From the origin of the Lunfardo until today, its distribution and use has increased significantly. Initially, the dissemination took place orally. Then the theme of the amalgamation of different cultures was also used in literature and thus also the new language of the lower social class. The sainete criollo appeared in Argentina at the end of the 19th century . The sainete had its greatest distribution in the 1930s. The sainetes often portrayed the immigrant in a caricature manner and thus also his expression, which is permeated with Lunfardisms.

The Argentine tango also has a very special meaning for the Lunfardo . It has the same roots as the special language. In it, the lower class, in which the immigrants lived, sang about daily life. The lunfardo gives the tango texts a wicked tone today as then and is better suited than the educated, “decent” language to represent the milieu. Through the tango, the Lunfardo also found its way into other musical genres, such as the cumbia villera . From around 1965, Argentinian rock music emerged as a musical means of expression for young people, into which Lunfardic expressions were gradually adapted. At the same time, Lunfardisms flowed into the youth language. The Lunfardo is currently one of the most important means of expression in the Argentine youth language .

The Lunfardo is still as relevant today as it was when it began. But he has made a great leap in development. It has gone from being a sociolect spoken by only a small minority in Buenos Aires to a language phenomenon throughout Argentina and Uruguay. In doing so, he constantly adapts to his time, as certain terms disappear from language, change or are added.


  • Loan words from other languages
    • Italian mangiare (to eat) → manyar
    • english sandwich → sánguche
    • English off side → orsai
  • Loan words and metaphors:
    • French canne (stick) → cana (policeman / prison)
    • Polish papiros (cigarette) → Papirusa → Papusa (pretty young woman)
    • Italian funghi (mushrooms) → funyi (hat, sombrero)
    • Italian vento (wind) → vento (money because it "blows in the wind")
  • Vesre:
    • revés (reverse) → vesre
    • tango → gotán
    • calor (heat) → lorca
    • noche (night) → cheno
    • café con leche (milk coffee) → feca con chele
    • hotel → telo ( hour hotel )
    • muchachos → chochamus


  • Mario E. Teruggi: Panorama del lunfardo. Génesis y esencia de las hablas coloquiales urbanas. 2. Edición ampliada y corregida. Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires 1978.
  • Carmen Pérez Gauli: El Lunfardo. In: Kerstin Störl: Romance languages ​​in America. Festschrift for Hans-Dieter Paufler on his 65th birthday. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2002, ISBN 3-631-35842-3 , pp. 555-570 ( Studies on Romance Linguistics and Intercultural Communication 8).
  • Rolf Kailuweit: Hybridity, example: Lunfardo. In: Volker Noll, Haralambos Symeonides (Ed.): Language in Ibero America. Festschrift for Wolf Dietrich on his 65th birthday. Buske, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-87548-406-1 , pp. 291–311 ( Romance Studies in Past and Present Supplement 12).
  • José Gobello: Nuevo diccionario lunfardo. 1a edición. 8a reimpresión. Ediciones Corregidor, Buenos Aires 2008, ISBN 978-950-05-0565-9 .
  • Silvia Ivanuscha-Gómez: The Argentine Lunfardo. "Entre cafetines, timbas y percantas". Giessen 2010, ISBN 978-3-937983-28-8 .

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