I love Spanish–its sounds, expressions, exclamations, accents. I owe a great deal of my personal and professional growth to the Spanish language. Thanks to the language of Cervantes and Shakira, of Picasso and Piqué, I have traveled and studied abroad, met amazing people, earned an honest living and gained access to the works of some of the most enduring thinkers of our time.

As if all this were not enough, I met my wife while we were both studying abroad in Spain. Felicidades y fin de cuentas.

Now, if I’m allowed to praise the language, I can also bury it, ¿verdad?

The one that gets me–that always gets me–is the terrible habit the Real Academia Española has of changing the fundamental rules that govern the game. When you think you have a confident sense of spelling and syntax, someone from Silla X goes a flips the script.  

These linguistic landslides fall into four categories: 1) foreign/newly-coined words, 2) accent marks, 3) the very name of the language and, finally, 4) the letters in the alphabet. I’ll consider these categories in this order, moving from least to most discombobulating.

First off, we have foreign/newly-coined words. This one I get: it’s good to be thoughtful about what lands in the dictionary. What the RAE does for Spanish, the OED does for English. Languages are organic–they record changes in every sense, from taste to technology. Words like tuit, wifidron, precuela, serendipia, güisquiintranet and multiculturalidad all fit this category. Appropriately, so too does bloguero. In this area, the RAE seems to be taking appropriate measures to look into the crystal ball that is the linguistic crisol and makse sense of it for the modern Spanish-speaking population.

Moving from the first category to the second, accents, things begin to get slightly bothersome. Take a word like guion. For as long as I have studied and spoken Spanish, it was guión with an accented “o.” Now the accepted form is guion. Why? Well, it makes sense mostly. Some years ago, the RAE deemed that monosyllabic words need not be accented, except for the diacritical acents intu/tú, mi/mí, el/él, si/sí, etc. Ergo, verb forms like vi, vio, di and dio written without accents. Copecetic. Curiously enough, you’ll still see these fossilized as , vió, and dió in older printed texts.

So, I’ll give you the unaccented guion. The one that gets my guion–er, goat–is solo. Time was, sólo with an accent was the adverb “only,” while the unaccented solo was the adjective “only.” The RAE deemed that the ambiguity and potential for confusion no longer existed and therefore no longer warranted the accent mark. To this I say, ¿¡Cómo!? I’m not the only one. This one hurts. It’s not a monosyllable and there does exists a parallel palabra in the form of the adjective solo/a/os/as. It was simple and traightforward. So, why? ¿Por qué? I will do what I can to respect the new normal, but I won’t beat myself up and I won’t trouble my students with it. Truth is, English speaking students of Spanish have more trouble with the distinction between solo/único.

Now, before we lose too much sleep over poor Anglo learners and their troubles with the sólo/solo/único trio, we should remind ourselves that the entirety of the Spanish speaking world can’t agree on something more fundamental: the name of their language!

Now, before we lose too much sleep over poor Anglo learners and their troubles with the sólo/solo/único trio, we should remind ourselves that the entirety of the Spanish speaking world can’t agree on something more fundamental: the name of their language! Is it castellano or español? Is the answer a purely linguistic one or is answering the very question an inherent political act?

As I understand it and teach is, castellano is the language–we’ll one of them–spoken in Spain while español is the Spanish spoken in the Americas. The former is castizo and the latter is mestizo. (Note that English does not allow us to make any distincting with the singular “Spanish.”) Apparently, this is not the case. Now, as in the case with sólo/solo, this actually makes this easier: one word, two understandings, one less mark on the page. ¡Olé! I’d argue, however, that the perceived gain in efficiency is actually a loss–a loss of clarity, a loss of trust in the system and a loss of time for all the millions of speakers who have learn and unlearn the new norms. I’d also point to a more significant cultural concept: these words have personal and political charge beyond their (updated) dictionary definitions. Tell an argentina she speaks castellano. Tell a madrileña that her español is exquisite. Tell the thousands of Stateside Spanish teachers that they should label their courses Castellano 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. It’s just not right.

Tell an argentina she speaks castellano. Tell a madrileña that her español is exquisite. Tell the thousands of Stateside Spanish teachers that they should label their course content Castellano 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. It’s just not right.

So finally, speaking of things that aren’t right, ask anyone how many letters there are in Spanish? Should be easy, right? Yeah, not so much. (27.) While you’re at it, show them a few letters in their own alphabet and ask them what they are called. Again, should be easy, right? (A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.) Yeah, no. So, basically, in a quixotic effort to effort stamp out confusion that nobody sweated and elinate linguist nueance that didn’t impede intercontinental communication, the RAE has changed the alphabet. Repito, changed the alphabet. Think of that if you’re 5 or 75 year olds or if you’re a student in Spanish 5. Everything you know is wrong! It’s maddening…makes you want to go on a Joanna Rant

Letters are in or out. Letters that were lucky enough to stick around had their name changed. It’s all here.

Gone are ch and ll. ¡Chau, bellas! 

V, w and y all got an upgrade. Adiós ve, doble ve and i griega. Aló uve, uve doble and ye. This create some level of confusion and makes talking about websites a day-long project. Can we imagine any other language doing such a thing? Hey, German “ö” and “ü,” you’re “öüt.” 

Will we adapt? Probably. Will there be more changes? Likely. Will vida (ve de vaca, i latina, de, a…no, crap…uve, i, de, a) go on? Surely it will.


Now, in closing, I’ll say all languages are peculiar. Take English: odd and archaic spellings (“neighbor” and “weigh”), multiple spellings (“color” and “colour”) and syntax that will send chills down your spine. I take on Spanish here because I can and I care. I want it to endure and evolve. I want it to be a bridge between continents and local communities. 

Do you? Continue the conversation below.

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