Argentina, or the Argentine Republic as it’s officially called, is the eighth largest country in the world. It comprises an enormous chunk of land in the southern region of South America bordered by the Andes Mountains to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. You may have already known many of these geographical nuggets, but did you know that Italian is the second most spoken language in Argentina? Or that there’s a large contingent of Jewish immigrants — many of whom speak Yiddish? Read on to learn more about the languages in Argentina.
Spanish: 42 Million Speakers
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Spanish is the most spoken language in Argentina. It is, after all, the country’s official language. Approximately 41.7 million people in Argentina speak Spanish as their native language, and an additional million speak it as a second language. This is a huge percentage of the country’s population, which sits at around 43.8 million people.
It’s worth noting that there are some distinct differences between Argentine Spanish and the Spanish spoken in, say, Spain or Mexico. Although the Spanish spoken in Argentina is mutually comprehensible with the Spanish spoken in other countries, a number of articles and blogs highlight the differences, which include variations in grammar, pronunciation and slang.
Immigrant Languages: 3 to 4 Million Speakers
Despite the predominance of the Spanish language there, Argentina is truly a nation of immigrants. More than 4 million people came to Argentina from overseas between 1881 and 1914, primarily from Europe. Since then, immigration has shifted, so most immigrants are coming from neighboring countries rather than from overseas.
The most spoken immigrant language, and the second most spoken language after Spanish, is Italian. About 1.5 million people in Argentina speak Italian as their first language. At least 25 million Argentines are said to have some Italian ancestry. Most of the Italian immigrants came to Argentina during the immigration wave in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s unclear why so many Italians made Argentina their destination, but one reason may have been the growing economy and abundance of work opportunities there.
Levantine Arabic, a broad dialect of Arabic spoken along the eastern Mediterranean coast (in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel), is the second most spoken immigrant language in Argentina, with approximately 1 million native speakers. A significant number of immigrants came to Argentina from Syria and Lebanon in the 19th century, primarily because they were fleeing the region after the 1860 Mount Lebanon civil war.
The other immigrant languages of note are German (400,000 speakers), Yiddish (200,000 speakers) and Catalan (174,000 speakers). Interestingly, Argentina has the largest community of Jewish people in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world. There were a few waves of Jewish immigration to Argentina, largely driven by anti-semitism and persecution, throughout the 1800s and the early 1900s. Though it may not entirely overlap, the approximate number of Jewish people living in Argentina (200,000) is close to the number of Yiddish speakers in the country.
Indigenous Languages: 1.2 Million Speakers
Fifteen different indigenous languages are spoken throughout Argentina, but most of them only have a couple thousand speakers or fewer. Some of them are endangered, spoken by only a handful of older people whose children don’t speak the language. But there are three indigenous languages that are alive and well, with populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
The most spoken indigenous language in Argentina is Quechua (specifically Southern Bolivian Quechua), which has about 800,000 native speakers, many of whom are recent immigrants from Bolivia. In Argentina, the language is sometimes called Colla.
Another relatively popular indigenous language is Guaraní, spoken by 200,000 people who mostly live in Argentina’s northern provinces. It’s also one of the official languages of Paraguay.
The third major indigenous language is Mapudungun, which is spoken by approximately 100,000 Mapuchi people — a group that lives in southwestern Argentina and parts of Chile.