In January 2000, I returned from Argentina on crutches and with a cast on my left leg, with no desire to retain my recently acquired Argentine accent in Spanish. After spending a year in the country, I wanted no traces of the Argentine “sh” sound for the double “ll” and “y” letters in Spanish. (Most Spanish speakers have a light “yuh” sounds for these letters.) Since most Spanish speaking countries did not use or recognize the “vos” second person singular pronoun typically used in Argentina, Uruguay and some other Latin American countries, I wanted it to disappear from my Spanish as well. (Most countries use the word “tu” in the second person singular. The “vos” is conjugated differently than “tu” and sounds strange to those who are not used to it.) I didn’t make a concerted effort to have the accent go away, but the more I spoke in Spanish with Mexicans and Spaniards, the less my argentismos came out.
See (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_Spanish) for more information about the particularities of Argentine Spanish.
At least that’s what I thought.
When I got angry or very enthusiastic about something, my melodramatic Argentine accent came out loud and clear and often surprised those used to hearing me speak in my strange Mexican-Castillian Spanish. If I spoke to someone from Argentina or Uruguay, the accent came back as well as did the particular vocabulary for the region.
Two years ago, I went to Guadalajara, Mexico to visit my friend Elvira whom I’d met while working there in April 2003. Elvira told me that I had lost more of my Argentine accent. She remarked that I was using less of the “vos”. I didn’t realize that in 2003, my argentinismos were still appearing in my Spanish. I really thought I’d closed the Argentine chapter of my life.
In August 2007, I returned to Buenos Aires to reconcile myself with the city that had so pained me. I wanted to stop the rancor that was inside of me every time I heard an Argentine accent, even my own. After five days in Buenos Aires, the rancor went away. I rediscovered the beauty of the city.
My accent came back, in a mild form. My sh sounds for the “ll” and y” reappeared.
A month ago, I was revising an essay about my year in Argentina. I was nostalgic for the country. A week or two later, I was listening to Argentine folk music by Los Nocheros (www.losnocheros.net) on You Tube and I could smell Argentine asado (barbeque) in the comfort on my own home. This strong flashback was not unique. I had other gastronomic and geographical flashbacks that overwhelmed me. I felt ungrounded, like I was floating in between countries. I was traveling in my mind. Thousands of miles away from Argentina, the distinctive smell of grilled meat came to me. Mind you, I was a vegetarian for most of my stay in the country, so I was not a huge fan of their bovine-centered diet!
Ever since rewriting the essay in early April, my accent has become stronger. I am using the ‘vos’ more than before. I dream of being on the streets of Buenos Aires — the same streets I was so happy to leave in January 2000. I dream of eating empanadas (Argentine turnovers).
I don’t know what’s going on with me. But, I do know that no matter how closed I think past chapters are in my life, my accents and speaking patterns may still reflect my past international living experiences.