There are different visions of lunfardo but most people would agree the most of it comes from what immigrants brought to the River Plate from the mid-19th Century to the start of World War I. Traditionally, “lunfardo” is considered as slang used by criminals in jail so as to communicate amongst themselves safely and secretly. The fact is that lunfardo was born in the poor districts where immigrants and natives intermingled.
Some lyrics are “lunfardescas” because authors knew the language and the environment well even they did not belong to that world. The structure of lunfardo is the change of meaning of the word by using terms that come from German, Italian or their dialects, French, Portuguese, English, indigenous languages like Quechua, Guarani or Mapuche and Spanish words which have nothing whatever to do with the original meaning.
Words are pronounced round the other way ( “al vesre “ ) changing the order of the syllables, e.g. Tango becomes “gotan”, “bacan” becomes “canba”, “viejo” is “jovie” ,”cabeza” is “zabeca” and so on. It is extremely dynamic and has no fixed rules whatsoever.
It was on 21 December 1962, the Porteña Academy of Lunfardo was created in order to preserve this cultural treasure. At the beginning the Tango lyrics used to be quite obscene.
Later on, cultured writers changed this as they were not a part of the underground world of crime which had given birth to Tango. Some lyrics by Caledonio Flores talk about the people’s problems and the morals of suburbia by using the lunfardo people speak in everyday life. Some good examples of this are Tangos such as “Corrientes y Esmeralda”, “La Mariposa”, “Mano a Mano”, “Muchacho”, etc.
Some examples of this are Tangos like “Corrientes y Esmeralda”, “La Mariposa”, “Mano a Mano”, “Muchacho”, etc.