Posted by: janecronin | March 12, 2017

The History of the Spanish Language (part four)

Before we leave this fascinating subject, we should look in more detail at an official organisation which has been of central importance to the Spanish language for the last 300 years.  This is the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy) usually referred to as the RAE.  This body was founded in 1713 by the 8th Marquis of Villena, during the reign of the first Borbon King of Spain, Felipe V.  It was created with the express purpose of establishing the norms of the Spanish language in order to preserve the purity, elegance and splendour that it had attained over the previous two centuries.   However, unlike its counterparts in France, Italy and Portugal which were started more as literary and academic institutions, the Spanish academy had an official mission to establish national linguistic unity.   At the time of its creation there were already French, Italian and Portuguese dictionaries whereas the first Spanish dictionary was published by the RAE in 1726.  By way of contrast, it is interesting to note that the first English dictionary was published by a single writer, Samuel Johnson, in 1775.

As the Spanish colonies gained their independence from Spain they established their own language academies, with the encouragement of the RAE, and in 1951 an association of Spanish language academies was founded with 21 member organisations.   The first woman was admitted to the academy in 1784, however further female candidates were rejected over the intervening 300 years until the acceptance of Carmen Conde en 1978.  Since then a grand total of ten other woman have been accepted into the RAE.   Posts are referred to as “sillas” (chairs) and are given for life.  Each chair corresponds to a letter of the alphabet with separate posts for capital and small letters.   Members meet on a weekly basis to propose, debate and vote for changes to the language.  These may be the introduction of new words, the elimination of obsolete words or changes to spelling, punctuation and accents.  These alterations are then published on a regular basis and incorporated into the next edition of the RAE dictionary.

In 1993 the definition of the RAE’s mission was changed: “to safeguard the changes which the Spanish language may undergo with its constant adaptation to the needs of its speakers so that they do not break the essential unity which exists in the Spanish speaking world”.   As well as seeking the unity of Spanish worldwide, one of their greatest modern challenges is the incorporation of new words, usually derived from English, related to technology and the internet.

The RAE published its most recent grammar book in 2011 and the 23rd edition of its dictionary in 2014.  Unlike English where differences of opinion occur and there is no single official standard, these publications set down the rules of right and wrong of the Spanish language.



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