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

ABSTRACT

Viveza criollavivo 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.

KEY WORDS: Porteño Spanish, Viveza criolla, Vivo, Boludo, Natural Semantic Metalanguage