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Cultural Keywords in Porteño Spanish: Viveza Criolla, Vivo and Boludo

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Abstract

Viveza criolla, vivo and boludo are three interrelated cultural keywords in Porteño Spanish, the variety of Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They have been loosely translated as “native wit and cunning”, “clever, vivacious” and “moron”, respectively. However, these translations fail to capture the exact meanings and implied logic that guide Porteños—the residents of Buenos Aires—when they use these words. In this paper, I first look at the historical context that saw the emergence of viveza criolla in Buenos Aires, pointing out its link to local criollo culture. Then, I study how the three words have been defined in a varied sample of monolingual and bilingual dictionaries. I claim that, besides issues of ethnocentric framing and circularity, viveza is not sufficiently described as an expression of local culture and sociality, and neither vivo nor boludo are appropriately captured as social categories. Finally, I use the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach to capture and explore the keywords’ meanings in simple, cross-translatable terms. Semantic explications are supported with discursive evidence from common sayings, fixed expressions, news articles, tango lyrics and tweets.

Keywords

  • Porteño Spanish
  • Viveza criolla
  • Vivo
  • Boludo
  • Natural Semantic Metalanguage

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The word criollo/a had enjoyed a wide range of senses across Spanish America throughout the colonial period. Primarily, it had been used to describe a person as born in the New World from European or African parents, and as therefore belonging to a lower rank. The term was also applied to animals or plants of European origin that thrived on American soil. With the emergence of Latin-American states in the 1800s, criollo/a became a way of saying that someone or something is national (Cara 2011; Pite 2016: 101–102).

  2. 2.

    The original Spanish reads as follows: “Ante esa opresión social y económica los hombres de aquí tenían que reaccionar de algún modo y reaccionaron a través de la viveza. Al quedar fuera de competencia, el nativo recurrió a la viveza criolla como arma de lucha contra los que venían mas allá del charco grande, que es el océano. Esto explica también el por qué la reacción psicológica se expresó con toda su violencia en Buenos Aires, donde el nuevo tipo de vida fue mas total y la lucha por la existencia mas aguda. […] [La viveza criolla] tampoco casi tuvo vigencia en las zonas del interior. Todavía hoy en las provincias del interior la llaman viveza porteña y no criolla por considerarla peculiar de la capital.” Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.

  3. 3.

    Original Spanish version: “Lo hacían impelidos por una necesidad intrínseca: en sus espaldas se iban quemando las naves que los vinculaban con sus padres. Sin nada detrás y empedrado de vacíos su adelante, tenían que conquistar a codazos su espacio vital. Entonces, no pensaban en los medios. Ni tampoco en las formas. La viveza siempre era el camino que los entubaba más rápido hacia su fin. En última instancia, la viveza los ponía en pie de igualdad con los otros y no los inferiorizaba. Ser vivo era la mejor forma de acriollarse y adquirir prestigio.”

  4. 4.

    Original Spanish version: “Se la conoce como viveza criolla, pero es la viveza argentina frecuentada por todas las capas psicosociales y extendida a la totalidad del territorio nacional, aunque en sus comienzos haya predominado en Buenos Aires. Resulta una expresión incomprensible para quien no la haya experimentado—o sufrido—. Refleja o encumbre habilidades y miserias. Juega con los equívocos, hace reír y hace llorar, por un lado eleva y por el otro humilla.”

  5. 5.

    http://www.rae.es. Accessed 28 February 2018.

  6. 6.

    http://www.asale.org. Accessed 28 February 2018.

  7. 7.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all newspaper examples were taken from https://www.lanacion.com.ar/ and accessed on 26 November 2018.

  8. 8.

    The full interview is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPO-T9xImko (posted on 30 November 2016).

  9. 9.

    http://www.todotango.com. Accessed 26 November 2018.

  10. 10.

    https://twitter.com/diadelboludo/status/2332789279. Posted 25 June 2009, 2:46 p.m.

  11. 11.

    https://twitter.com/diadelboludo/status/879712439801085952. Posted 27 June 2017, 7:46 a.m.

  12. 12.

    Original Spanish version: “El vivo necesita de la barra. Barra es el auditorio que le festeja sus gracias. Actúa para que lo vean y lo aplaudan, para que lo festejen con asombro.”

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Hein, J. (2020). Cultural Keywords in Porteño Spanish: Viveza Criolla, Vivo and Boludo. In: Peeters, B., Mullan, K., Sadow, L. (eds) Studies in Ethnopragmatics, Cultural Semantics, and Intercultural Communication. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-32-9975-7_3

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