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Where does the term “che” come from?

Few words distinguish both Argentines and “che”. But where does it come from? We tell you the different theories.
How we talk
| 06 February, 2020 |

If there is a word that characterizes Argentines (and Uruguayans too, of course) is the che. The RAE defines it as an interjection “to call, stop, or ask attention to someone, or to denote amazement or surprise”, but the reality is that we also use it as vocative (that is, with appelatory function instead of the name of the person we’re talking to).

Leaving the formalities behind, the that interests us is where this very particular word and our own came from. The ones linguists have several theories to determine their origin. We tell you the most outstanding ones.

The Valencian Theory

The first theory says that che would derive from interjection in the Valencian language to attract attention: “cé”, whose sound would be similar to that of che . However, those who disagree with this theory say that — in the evolution of languages— it is unlikely that an interjection will become a vocative, since the latter are born of names and pronouns.

The Mapuche Theory

There are those who believe that the term arises of Araucano, the language of the indigenous Mapuche, indigenous of the Chilean and Argentine territory. In that language, it means “people” (Mapuche is “land people”). The theory also has its detractors, because it is it is difficult that the transfer of the Araucano to the Spanish, first, and of its original sense (“people”) to be transformed into pronoun after. Also, no there are traces of che in Chile, where also inhabited these Aboriginal people.

The Guarani Theory

Perhaps the most valid is the Guaranitheory. In this language, che means “me” (possessive pronoun). From this way, the linguists say, the passage of this word from possessive pronoun to vocative is highly likely.

In turn, it must be remembered that many of these aborigines participated in the wars of Independence. Thus, if the Spanish soldiers addressed their superiors with terms such as “my Colonel” or “my sergeant”, it’s likely that the Guarani did it by saying “che Colonel” or “che sergeant”. And hence the subsequent transformation.

Whatever the origin, the reality is that the word che is a constituent part of our DNA Argentine.

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