Stabilizing the language: the RAE’s graphic standardization of sibilants

In 1713 with the creation of the Royal Spanish Academy, abbreviated RAE, and its later publications of the Dictionary of Authorities, DRAE (1726-39),

Orthography (1741) and Grammar (1771), a strong effort emerged to standardize the language according to the Castile-Madrid norm as the prestige variety. The RAE started as a royal institution responsible for overseeing the Spanish language with their motto: “to clean, fix and give splendor.” Its main purpose was to maintain the voices and vocabularies of the Castilian language with propriety, elegance and purity. The RAE began by establishing orthographic rules, which have undergone continued adjustments and several reforms since the eighteenth century.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the graphic system was basically the same as Alfonso X’s, with oppositions such as or

and and <-ss-, x> and , even though such pairs had been reduced to one phoneme in the pronunciation. One of the first rules, in 1726, was to eliminate the cedilla, <<;>, and distribute the use of > and as in modern Spanish. This letter was kept in French and Portuguese; nevertheless, in proper names such as Azores, Curasao or Alen^on, the Spanish spellings are Azores, Curasao and Alenzdn. In 1763, the double <-ss-> disappeared, being replaced by the single <,v> as in esse “that” > ese, tuviesse “had” > tuviese. In 1815, the letter was allocated to the sound combinations [ks] and [gs], as in Latin, (i.e. examen, exencion); the new velar sound [x] is written with as in caxa “box” > caja, lexos “far” > lejos, together with the letters for those cases with etymological Latin ge, gi, as gente “people,”genera “gender,” and so on. Words such as Mexico, Oaxaca, versus Mejico, Oajaca, and so on, accept both spellings for complex historic-political reasons.67 This was the last graphic change to end the distinction between voiced and unvoiced sibilants, which stopped being a common practice in speech two centuries before (Lapesa 1981:423).

This spelling reform in the eighteenth century eliminated ss> and (for [x]); however, the orthography has never differentiated between the Castilian system and the seseo and ceceo variants. Because the graphic distinction between and does not have a phonemic contrast in seseo dialects, misspellings are common. On the other hand, writers who want to parody rural ceceo speakers will use an orthographic г instead of s to indicate the interdental articulation as in zi, zehor [0i 0ejior] instead of si, sehor [si sejior] “yes, sir.” See Table 1.23.

By 1815 the orthography became fixed as in modern Spanish. Later changes have been reduced to accentuation and minor instances. Throughout its history, RAE has mostly kept a conservative approach with a faithful respect

Table 1.23 Examples of distincion, ceceo and seseo

orthography

dis tine ion [6)~[s]

ceceo [в]

seseo [s]

cocer ‘to boil’

[ковёг]

[ковёг]

[ковёг]

coser ‘to sew’

[ковёг]

[ковёг]

[ковёг]

censura ‘censure’

[вепвйга]

[вепвйга]

[вепвйга]

sincero ‘sincere’

[sin вето]

[втвёго]

[втвёго]

for etymology and unity. Still, since 2012, RAE has shown some incipient flexibility in keeping up with the times and accepting estadounidismos as part of the Spanish lexicon. Including the Spanish of the United States as one of the Spanish-speaking varieties and giving the country its own Language Academy in 1973 came after a long-fought battle against RAE traditionalism. This accommodation is an important recognition for the country that will soon have the most Spanish speakers.

Although its origins were based on Castile Spanish, today the RAE works to guarantee a common standard across many countries in accordance with its founding goal: making sure that the changes do not break the essential unity it enjoys throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Since 1992, the RAE and the other 21 language Academies have collaborated in producing the Dictionary of the Spanish Language, adding, deleting or modifying words according to language changes in all geographical varieties of Spanish.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >