Paris, France, and Buenos Aires, Argentina: Two forms of slang with striking similarities, Verlan and Lunfardo
I recently came across a couple of interesting posts on a blog called “transpanish” about the Linguistic features of Rioplatense Spanish from Buenos Aires, more specifically the use of Lunfardo slang.
One of the features I found most interesting about Lunfardo was the fact that it uses vesre, which is the reversal of the order of syllables in a word. An example was given with “café” that then becomes “feca” in Lunfardo.
-That immediately rang home to me, as in French we do have a similar form of slang called “Verlan” (reversal of “ l’envers”, which means reverse).
-The other similarity between Lunfardo and Verlan is their origin: Both slangs appeared first among the lower classes, more specifically were used by criminals as a code language.
Through reading that article and doing a little bit of research I found out that Lunfardo developed in the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century and had its roots in the wave of European immigration to Argentina from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. (Post on Lexiophiles, “Behind Verlan”, Oct 24, 2009). Those immigrants came from Spain, Italy, and France. Tiens, tiens, France!
Verlan interestingly followed a similar evolution pattern:
French Verlan’s first appearance can actually be dated back to the 12th century in the book “Tristan and Iseult” Tristan used the name “Tantris” to conceal his identity. But a wider use of Verlan appeared in French prisons in the 19th century. Later on French resistants also used it as part of their code.
Since the 1980’s, Verlan has spread in usage in the French suburbs first, then also via popular singers and hip-hop music among the general population and has now become common usage in informal speech.
Here is a short video animation (in English) about Verlan and how it works, with a few examples.
To have a better idea of what Verlan sounds like, a funny video of some of the most commonly used Verlan words and expression.
An example of Lunfardo slang explained in English, with spelling and right pronunciation
Article in English about Lunfardo in transpanish blog.
And an article in English about Verlan in lexiophiles.