Argentine Tango series part 12

Lidia and Hector Legrand

As we mentioned in part three of this series, Argentine Tango was born in the late nineteenth century on the river shores of Buenos Aires, densely populated by massive waves of immigrants from Europe and similar in many ways to the immigration we experienced here in the United States during those years.

These immigrants adapted some of the words from their native language into the Spanish spoken at that time (Castellano) and became a different form of Spanish labeled Lunfardo, pronounced loon-far-doh. Many sources classify Lunfardo as a dialect, but this is not correct. Linguists have never considered Lunfardo to be a dialect.

Originally, Lunfardo was spoken only by immigrants; one of the poorest and least educated segments of Argentine society. As Argentine Tango was accepted by all levels of society in the early twentieth century, Lunfardo blended into the Spanish (Castellano) language. Nowadays you can tell if a person is from the Greater Buenos Aires area (or from Montevideo, Uruguay), because their colloquial Spanish includes words that at one time were strictly Lunfardo.

A majority of the lyrics of Argentine Tango songs were originally poems that had music composed for them and most, if not all, have some Lunfardo in them.

Most of the Lunfardo words incorporated into Buenos Aires Spanish were of Italian origin, but Lunfardo also has words from French, English and other Eastern European countries.

Many sources foreign to the local culture label Lunfardo as the language of criminals, but this is not the case. All immigrants spoke Lunfardo, and the majority of them were honest people like the ones that came to the U.S.

Frustrated by the fact that Buenos Aires did not become the paradise many immigrants had dreamed of, Lunfardo was further modified by the poor so it would become unintelligible to the middle and upper classes as a mild form of rebellion. The main modification consisted of reversing the order of syllables in words. For instance, the word Tango would become Gotán.

Now you know more about Lunfardo than the average resident of Buenos Aires under 30 years of age. If you’d like to learn more about Lunfardo, please send us an email to [email protected].

About the authors: Lidia and Hector are Argentina born U.S. citizens and SaddleBrooke residents founding members of SATS, chartered in both HOAs. They travel to Buenos Aires often to dance Argentine Tango, to participate in International Argentine Tango Festivals and to further refine their Argentine Tango teaching skills. 2014 is Lidia and Hector’s eleventh year as SaddleBrooke Argentine Tango Dance Instructors of both group and private students. They have been teaching Argentine Tango dancing for sixteen years. They also offer seminars and workshops on Argentine Tango music, history, culture and cuisine. Hector has authored a book on Porteño Cuisine associated with Argentine Tango available at Please visit their website