The Royal Spanish Academy has spoken. From now on, there will be only 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet. Not 29. Why? Because the Royal Spanish Academy said so. But that is not sitting well with some of the world’s 450 million Spanish speakers. They like the alphabet just the way it is, including the separate marquee status for “ch” and “ll” that the academy wants to do away with. Ilan Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, discusses the issue with host Katy Clark. Download MP3
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KATY CLARK: I’m Katy Clark. This is the world. The Royal Spanish Academy has spoken. From now on there will be only twenty-seven letters in the Spanish alphabet, not twenty-nine. Why? Because the Royal Spanish Academy said so. That’s not sitting well with some of the world’s 450 million Spanish speakers. They like the alphabet just the way it is, including the separate marquis status for CH and LL that the Academy wants to do away with. Ilan Stavans is professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, and just to make clear to our listeners just what letters and sounds we’re talking about, can you give us some examples of the CH words and the double L words?
ILAN STAVANS: Sure. CH words include chicharon, is a Mexican word or chunga a Peruvian word. And double L meaning ‘ay-yay,’ words include lluvia, rain or llave, key. Those are the two letters that are going to be eliminated from the Spanish alphabet. That doesn’t mean that the sounds disappear. It just means that rather than having in a dictionary words like lluvia and chicharon listed under the CH or the double L they will now appear under the letter L or C.
CLARK: So I mean that seems like it’s simplifying things a little bit, but I mean has the Royal Spanish Academy been up front about why it wants to drop the CH and double L?
STAVANS: I think that they have stated that their mission is indeed to simplify, but as you know language, and the delicious aspects of it are about complication.
CLARK: You are quoted in today’s New York Times saying that this whole episode is a relic of colonial times, and Latin Americans we have to wait for Spain to say how we speak. Is that what’s really irking some Spanish speakers about this?
STAVANS: Absolutely, this is an academy, the Royal Academy of the Spanish language that is almost 300 years old. It is based in Madrid, and often takes very tyrannical dictatorial approaches to the language mostly spoken in Latin America, that is by the former colonies. Although in Latin America there are a number of branches of the Royal Academy, as far as I understand they have little to no influence whatsoever in what the academy in Spain decides. It strikes me that in English the second most important most popular language in the world, we don’t have an equivalent. We don’t have a Royal academy of the English language in England or the United States, that is a federally funded institution that dictates how we the people should speak, should use the language. In Spanish unfortunately we do, and we still have a very submissive approach. What is said and done and ordered in Spain most often is just followed by Latin Americans even when we are unhappy about it.
CLARK : Ilan Stavans teaches Latin American and Latino studies at Amherst College in Amherst Massachusetts. Professor Stavans, enjoy the rest of your holiday.
STAVINS: Thank you. And you do as well.
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