Translation Industry News | 17.12.2009

Grammar goes global

Last week the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) – the Spanish language’s overseeing body – launched its long-awaited new guide to Spanish grammar and usage. Over 11 years in the making, it replaces the 1931 edition in an attempt to record and unify a language which is spoken by more than 400 million people worldwide in over 20 different countries.

Spanish language and culture are worlds away from that of the 1930s and merely contemplating the thousands of new words which have developed through the mobile phone and computer industry alone, documenting the language’s variations and developments has been no mean feat. The new edition has been hailed as a ‘miracle’ which has succeeded in its premise of producing a world map of the Spanish language and has already become indispensable to native speakers and learners alike.

So what lies beneath the covers of such a groundbreaking publication? For the first two volumes, over 4,000 pages dedicated to morphology and syntax. The third volume, which is available in 2010, covers phonetics and phonology and comes with an accompanying CD guide to accents, rhythm and pronunciation. Such is the magnitude and scope of the project that even though the final text was agreed in 2007, it has taken a further two years to perfect and edit.

The previous edition had been criticized for focussing on Spanish spoken in Spain and for its insufficient coverage of Latin American Spanish – but this is a statement which certainly does not apply to the new volumes. A collaborative project between the 22 different Spanish Language academies worldwide, dealing with the intricacies of one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, ‘This book comes from the people and it is to the people that it reaches out’ said RAE president Victor García de la Concha (as reported by the BBC). At the launch it was emphasized that there is no one country that speaks ‘correct’ Spanish, because language belongs to the people who use it. It is the first time that such a comprehensive study of any language has been published as a single entity – one which takes into consideration the usage of more 400 million people and all the variations included therein. All forms and etymology are covered – including the influence of the Quecha language on Bolivian Spanish for example.

King Juan Carlos of Spain attended the launch and was presented with copies of the first two volumes. This is certainly a welcome addition to any Hispanist’s bookshelf – The Translation People’s included – but as the RAE president joked at the launch event: ‘At 5 kilograms – it’s not one to read on the metro!’ Nevertheless, there is no denying that this new chapter in the RAE’s history proves that people are no longer divided by a common language.


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