English sources, Italian renaissance, Spanish rebellion

The online version of the Oxford English Dictionary has just had a makeover. One of the new features is a list of 1,000 sources for English words and expressions. These tend to be authors  (Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain) or publications (Chambers’s Cyclopaedia, Geographical Journal, New York Times). This is a historical list; there is no room for, to name but one modern linguistic innovator, André 3000.

My favorite entries are for people or publications I haven’t heard of: Helkiah Crooke — what a name!– a 17th century physician and anatomist; Anne Baker, a 19th century philologist; the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.

With budgets tight at American schools and colleges, and with a growing interest in Chinese, what happens to a language like Italian?

Once a heritage language, Italian is now more of a lifestyle choice. At Eataly — a new food emporium in New York City — TV chef Lidia Bastianich offers cooking and language classes. A latte just tastes better when you can order it in the original language, or so the thinking goes. Meantime, Italian has been canceled at SUNY-Albany, and appears imperiled elsewhere, at colleges and grade schools. It’s only through the rearguard action of people like Margaret Cuomo of the Italian Language Foundation that the language is still studied in the United States.

Also in the pod this week: Latin America is livid with the Royal Spanish Academy. That’s nothing new — there’s always been tension over how Spanish should, if at all, be regulated. But now, the academy wants to reduce the alphabet from 29 to 27 letters. The victims are a couple of couples: ch and ll, both beloved in the Americas. These sounds — or spellings — aren’t disappearing. They just will no longer have their special place in the dictionary. Those dictionary publishers will no doubt put out new editions, which will help their bottom line: they must love the Royal Spanish Academy!

Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez must like the academy too: it’s given him something else to rail about. Now that ch is no longer recognized, he has proclaimed that he will henceforward be referred to Ávez. Sounds kind of cockney.

Helping us wade through the inter-Spanish linguistic warfare is Ilan Stavans, author of Spanglish, the Making of the New American Language. Listen to an interview with him on that subject here.

Listen to the podcast in iTunes or here.


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4 responses to “English sources, Italian renaissance, Spanish rebellion

  1. Richard Voos

    I’m not sure that the report on the changes proposed by the Academia Real to Spanish spelling and usage is particularly accurate. The changes don’t seem to be a diktat from Madrid – as suggested by the report – but result from the collaboration of the Academias Reales across all of the Spanish-speaking world.

    See this commentary from El Pais, for example: “Hoy mismo, en el marco de la Feria del Libro de Guadalajara (México), las 22 academias de la lengua española debaten, por última vez antes de su publicación el mes que viene, la propuesta de nueva Ortografía.” (http://www.elpais.com/articulo/portada/Muerte/Resurreccion/letra/yeye/elpepusoceps/20101128elpepspor_6/Tes .) Rodriguez Marcos goes on to note that some of the proposed changes represent adopting usage in Spain to that of the Latin American world and vice versa.

  2. I agree with Richard: the report on the recommendations by the Academy is very inaccurate. The new recommendations have nothing to do with Latinamerica. The ch and ll are obviously used in Spain too (even though your interviewee gave chiefly examples of Latinamerican words). Some years ago, ch was placed in dictionaries after cz and before d, as a different letter, but that had been changed some years ago; the consideration as special letter until now was merely symbolic, and now they are considered digraphs.

    The new changes have very little importance. For instance, it was customary to write sólo with an accent when it means only, and solo when it means alone, but now it’s recommended never to use the accent. It has nothing to do with Latinamerican words, and it has been highly criticized in Spain too.

    The British and American viewpoint towards the Language Academy is often misguided (I wrote about this some months ago at http://www.delbarrio.eu/blo/2010/08/academias/). This institution makes recommendations about the cultivated register, which are generally followed because they are considered as a unifying force, but it’s not unusual that people don’t care about some recommendations, both in Spain and in America, specially those with a conservative bias. In the informal register nobody cares about the Academy, of course.

  3. Adrianna

    I’m an Intercultural Communications student at Northern Virginia Community College and I’m also half Mexican. The portion of the podcast about the Royal Spanish Academy’s decision to remove the “ch” and the “ll” from the alphabet was very interesting to me, considering my dad and I had just been discussing the Academy and how much stock their rule changes and declarations really have. My father is from Chihuahua, Mexico and he told me that even though the RSA makes the rules, whether or not they are followed is dependent on the educators. Since each Spanish speaking country has its own dialect-unique from all of the others and all completely different from the Spanish spoken in Spain-individual countries take it as more of a suggestion.
    I can see where Spanish speakers in the United States (students and educators most of all) would be more likely to be perturbed with the RSA’s decisions. The English language has no one dictating how it’s spoken or written, so when people find out that the Spanish language has an organization changing the rules when they deem it necessary, it is a bit of a culture shock. And yes, it does seem tyrannical because Spain’s Spanish is already so completely different from say, Mexican Spanish. Who are they to say what changes would be necessary for all countries? From my own knowledge of it, they can’t do much to change the way the language evolves. I do think that the tension between Spanish speakers on this side of the Atlantic comes from the RSA’s refusal to include regional words. For people in those countries, it may seem as though they’re being ignored and excluded.

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