It’s a great time to be alive if you are, like I am, a baseball fan and a Spanish teacher. Pennant races are heating up, there are some amazing storylines and matchups, students are back in school, and the #ponleacento movement is making a huge impact on baseball culture.

You may ask, “Perdón, ¿#Ponleacento?” Put an accent on it. It is a hashtag that began to circulate in the spring and now can be seen displayed prominently in Spanish and English media outlets. The movement grew out of players desire to include an accent mark on their jerseys and make sure the lineup cards, jumbo screen and fantasy sites included the accent marks where they belong. Key among these players was Dodger first baseman Adrián González. Now, accents belong!

The third person singular indirect object pronoun “le” can refer to a many different things. It can mean the word béisbol specifically. Put an accent on the word. (There is an irony, one I will describe in the note at the end of the post.) “Le” can mean the game of baseball itself. Make sure it has the right accent and that things are where they should be. It can mean the month from September 15-October 15, Hispanic Heritage Month in this case, or really the whole baseball season.

“Why worry? Why push?” one might ask. Students of Spanish may ask, “Isn’t it mostly witchcraft and window dressing anyway, señor?” The answer is: accents matter. They matter because they tell us how to pronounce a word. They matter because they are integral to the meaning of words. They matter because they distinguish a declarative (Que…) from an interrogative (¿Qué…?) from an exclamation (¡Qué…!). Accents matter because they connect a name to a family and a family to a culture. They matter because they show the highest level of attention to language and lineage.

Accents matter because they connect a name to a family and a family to a culture. They matter because they show the highest level of attention to language and lineage.

Let’s consider consider a few examples. For a quick review on accent rules in Spanish, click here:

  • Adrian Gonzalez. As written, and pronounced in Anglo parlance, it’s A-drian gon-ZA-lez. In Spanish, however, the same word in proper Spanish parlance is A-drian gon-za-LEZ. As an elementary school teacher once told me: “You have the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LLA-ble.” So what’s the right way? Adrián González is a-DRIAN gon-ZA-lez.
  • Bartolo Colon is not bar-TO-lo CO-lon, but rather Bartolo Colón, bar-TO-lo co-LON.
  • Carlos Beltran is not CAR-los BEL-tran, but rather Carlos Beltrán: CAR-los bel-TRAN.
  • Adrian Beltre is not A-drian BEL-tre, but rather Adrián Beltré: a-DRIAN bel-TRE.
  • The dynamic duo from the Red Sox 2004 World Series team are not Martinez and Ramirez, they are Martínez and Ramírez…mar-TI-nez and ra-MI-rez.
  • There are particularly pesky names with diphthongs, combinations of weak and strong vowels. These give us one syllable names like Luis and Ruiz, while breaking the diphthong by accenting the “i” or “u” give us names like Raúl and Rentería. 

This movement puts identity and culture–not to mention language–out in the open, under the lights. I love this! Baseball has it’s quirks and of the major sports in the US it’s had the hardest time connecting with young and international crowds. That work is still in progress, but this is an area where they’ve done well.

This is not the first time that the Major League Baseball community has done well in this area. Recently clubs have done a better job making translators available for players. Many clubs have Spanish-language sites and social media accounts. MLB has an active web and social media presence en español. Many clubs have rolled out alternate jerseys with the team name in Spanish, clubs like the Marineros have done this for close to a decade. In the late 1990s, when Pedro Martínez was at the height of his Dominican dominance, The Boston Globe would run stand-alone Spanish language reports after games he pitched. All of this is improving the dialog around the game and allowing these players to express themselves as the dynamic personalities they are.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the plaques commemorating many Latino greats in Cooperstown preserve the accent right in the bronze. This is the case for PEDRO JAIME MARTÍNEZ, ATANASIO PÉREZ RIGAL, JOSÉ DE LA CARIDAD MÉNDEZ BAEZ and CRISTÓBAL TORRIENTE. There are some cases, like with ALFONSO RAMON LOPEZ, where the the bronze is a bust…a linguistic bust, not a Canton-NFL-Hall-of-Fame bust. This could be a line of inquiry for future baseball historians. Overall, the trend seems to be towards getting the accent right.

So what does this mean? I’d suggest that it is fundamentally strong for baseball, make that béisbol, to include players and fans in the game. It empowers both and it allows them to identify themselves on their terms, if only when the lights are on. I’d also suggest it gives individuals and families an occasion to consider the meaning connected to their name. What does including it or omitting an accent mean, and who gets to decide? I’d also suggest that it gives Spanish teachers and baseball fans a reason to get excited, so back to where we began.

So get pumped, practice your Spanish and ponle acento!

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In an interesting twist, there are two officially accepted ways to write and pronounce the word for “baseball”: béisbol (BEIS-bol) and beisbol (beis-BOL). The campaign works best with the former accepted form.

Additionally, some people get agitated about accents on capitalized letters. The Real Academic Española states that accent marks should always be included on capitalized letters. My layman’s understanding was that there was a time when typography made this difficult, so rules were adapted. The accents are back for the digital age.

 

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