“We killed him for being chichipato”: Fernando Vallejo’s politics of linguistic standardization

by Aleksandra (Ola) Gocławska

Probably the most ill-famed Colombian writer, Fernando Vallejo, has laid the foundations for a genre often referred to as la sicaresca antioqueña [the ‘sicaresque’ novel from Antioquia] after the publication of his first novel, La virgen de los sicarios, in 1994. The term, used for the first time by Héctor Abad Faciolince, playfully subverts the meaning of the term picaresca –the Spanish picaresque novel– by substituting the word pícaro [rogue] by sicario [assassin]. While constituting a genre of its own, la sicaresca combines different genres: chronicles, novels or films that revolve around the figures of assassins at service of the drug mafia.

Apart from Vallejo’s novels, the first examples of the genre include Rosario Tijeras by Jorge Franco, films such as Rodrigo D or Le vendedora de rosas by Víctor Gaviria as well as chronicles or accounts, such as No nacimos pa' semilla by Alonso Salazar or Victor Gaviria's El pelaito que no duró nada.

Since the publication of Logoi: una gramática del lenguaje literario in 1983, Vallejo argues that the so called ‘literary language’ is in fact saturated with received ideas, common places and clichés. By mixing and adultering the standardized Spanish in his prose, Vallejo brings to light different dimensions of multilingualism, or internal heterogeneity, within the seemingly unitary Spanish used in Colombia. His gesture of underlining the social and class-related divisions rendered in language, turns out especially compelling in the light of the recent campaigns for the Peace Plebiscit in Colombia. Numerous representatives from the world of literature, culture and sport have endorsed the reconcilliation with FARC, in an attempt to unite the popular and the highbrow cultures and social environments in Colombia to support a common cause. Vallejo, however, has aggressively condemned the peace talks in la Habana.

Vallejo was one of the first writers to mix the street vernacular known as Parlache with the standard Spanish in literature, among other devices borrowed from oral tradition. El Parlache, born in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts of Medellín, was initially defined as a social dialect. Ignacio Henao and Luz Stella Castañeda consider el Parlache as an expression of social and economic exclusion. El Parlache is not a language of its own, it constitutes a variation of Spanish – Castañeda argues – given that all mechanisms of word formation and transformation follow the patterns of Spanish phonology, morphosyntax and semantization. As a social dialect it possesses, however, a set of particular ludic and cryptic functions, which play a significant role in consolidating the identity of a group.

While the purposefully dehumanizing and violent discourse that the writer applies can hardly be seen as a solution to the social conflicts in Colombia, it certainly emphasises the hypocrisy of the figure of 'el gramático': the grammarian who polices the linguistic purity in an otherwise divided society and linguistic community.


Castañeda Naranjo, L. S. 2005. Caracterización lexicológica y lexicográfica del parlache para la elaboración de un diccionario. Doctoral thesis. Instituto de Filología Clásica Francesa e Hispánica de la Facultad de Letras de la Universidad de Lleida. Link.

Castañeda Naranjo, L. S. 2005. Resultados de una investigación lexicográfica del parlache, Revista Forma y Función, No. 18. Bogotá: Departamento de Lingüístca, Facultad de Ciencias Humanas de Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Link.

Henao, I. Castañeda Naranjo, L. S. 2003. Expresiones culturales marginales, el lenguaje de la calle, Revista La Tadeo Vol. 68. Link.

Jácome, M. 2009. La novela sicaresca: testimonio, sensacionalismo y ficción. Medellín, Fondo Editorial EAFIT.

De la sicaresca a la narcoestética, „La Semana”, June 2009. Link.

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