By: Anthony Garbarino


Contact languages have been an integral aspect of the development and progression of the spanish language throughout the history of colonialism. Contact languages come about when there are two different languages spoken within a society and a resulting, simplified language is born. This natural sequence of language development is more commonly referred to as a pidgin language. Pidgins can be changed and do not have any specific order; also pidgins usually have a low prestige level compared to the host language (Bakker). The focus pidgin language is Cocoliche, a contact language between Spanish speakers in Argentina and Italian speaking immigrants coming from Europe.

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Italian Immigration

After Argentina gained their independence from Spain in the early 19th century, Argentina adopted an open immigration policy promoting foreigners to embrace the country as their own. The Argentinian government went to great lengths attempting to gain citizens; for a short time during the 1880's the government subsidized European immigrant boat passages (Jachimowicz). It is estimated that Argentina received around 7 million European immigrants between 1870 and 1930 predominately from Italy and Spain. These children exemplify how willing European families were to leave their homeland in search of a new life in the Americas.

Argentina was an attractive option for many Europeans who were confronted with rough economic times within their homeland. Most of the Italians who immigrates were poor townsfolk with little education and no Spanish language training. These Italians were drawn in by the new world with an underpopulated country full of natural resources and job opportunities ranging from agriculture to factory work (Jachimowicz). The prime era of immigration began to decline around World War I, but Argentina had already received an enormous amount of immigrants and began to make legislation to dampen the flow of immigrants.

Resident Reaction

The people who inhabited Argentina before the arrival o
f the Italian immigrants were set in place by the Spanish colonial system. Spaniards had a caste system, and the highest caste was the Iberian Peninuslares, or those who were permanently resident colonists born in Spain (Donghi & Chasteen). Colonial Spaniards set up the second most prestigious cast within their colonies and these individuals were known as Criollos (Donghi & Chasteen). In the 19th century, the explosion of mostly poor, uneducated Italian immigrants led to a language crisis; the Italians could not communicate with the higher prestige Criollos through the Spanish language. Since both Spanish and Italian are romance languages, the pidgin language
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cocoliche was formed for simple communication between Spanish and Italian speakers. The term cocoliche itself is a derogatory term that was coined by Argentine locals who did not want to conform to the Italian speaking immigrants. The Argentines were generally a higher prestige than the Italians, so Spanish was seen as the more predominant language within Argentine society (Donghi & Chasteen).

Further Usage & Extinction

Italian never took hold in Argentina primarily because most immigrants used their local dialect when communicating with each other, and used the contact language cocoliche to communicate with other Argentines. Since the Italian language began to die out with the immigrants, there was no chance for an Italian-language culture within Argentina. In 1884, Law 1420 in Argentina granted a free, universal, non-religious education to all children (Moreno). All education in Argentina was taught in Spanish, so children who immigrated and children of immigrants heard Spanish all day in school. The story is even similar for adult Italians who would be surrounded by Spanish throughout their daily lives whether it be at work, any government institution, and even the military service.

Cocoliche was mostly used within the confines of Italian homes, or also known as diglossia. As covered in class, the language of immigrants usually does not last past the first generation and this holds true with the speaking of Italian and the simpler cocoliche within Argentina. Although cocoliche fell out of use around 1950, the one major effect on Argentina is the Italian culture and even accent that was brought over by the millions of immigrants. About half of the immigrants and families who immigrated during the initial boom returned to Europe in the decades that followed due to the slow industrialization and desire to be united with family (Jachimowicz).


Bakker, Peter (1994). “Pidgins”, in Jacques Arends; Pieter Muysken; Norval Smithh, Pidgins and Creoles: An Introfuction, John Benjamins, pp. 26-39

Halperín, Donghi Tulio., and John Charles Chasteen. The Contemporary History of Latin America. Durham [N.C.: Duke UP, 1993. Print.

Moreno, Ruiz. "Las Relaciones Entre La Argentina Y El Vaticano. La Oposición Del Nuncio Papalmonseñor Mattera a La Ley 1420 De Educación Común, Laica Y Obligatoria." Las Relaciones Entre La Argentina Y El Vaticano. La Oposición Del Nuncio Papalmonseñor Mattera a La Ley 1420 De Educación Común, Laica Y Obligatoria. N.p., 2000. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <>.

Jachimowicz, Maia. "Migration Information Source - Argentina: A New Era of Migration and Migration Policy." The Migration Information Source. N.p., Feb. 2006. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <>.