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The Times

Spanish Take English To Book

By David Sharrock

8 November 2004
Copyright © 2004 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. 

ACADEMICS infuriated by the supremacy of the English language have written a definitive dictionary for the world's 400 million Spanish-speakers.

The Spanish experts hope that the Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Doubts, to be published this week and which took scholars from twenty-two linguistic academies five years to compile, will establish norms in Spanish and act as a bulwark against the inexorable spread of English.

Humberto Lopez Morales, secretary-general of the Association of the Academies of Spanish Language, said: "The dictionary will act as a brake on the invasion of English into the Spanish language."

About 130 English words are in popular use by Spanish-speakers, although this is far fewer than the number of English words used in French. Many, such as "camping" and "jazz", have been fully accepted, while others have evolved, as is the case with "futbol".

Pedro Luis Barcia, president of the Argentine Academy of Letters, said that new words entering the language would be given a universal standard. This would avoid what has happened, for example, to the word for computer -which in Spain is ordenador but is computador in Latin America.

The new dictionary, which has more than 4,000 entries, is in four sections, dealing with phonetics, spelling, syntax and vocabulary. Some individual entries run to more than four pages, particularly those concerning the use of accents, capitalisation and object pronouns.

The final draft was decided last month at a monastery in the medieval town of San Millan de la Cogolla, about 60 miles (100km) south of Bilbao, which is considered to be the cradle of the Spanish tongue.

The dictionary will be launched at the weekend at the International Congress of the Spanish Language in Rosario, Argentina, amid a flurry of publicity and Hispanic pride.

King Juan Carlos of Spain will host the conference, which will also be attended by the presidents of Argentina, Colombia and Mexico and prominent Spanish-language writers such as Carlos Fuentes.

The language conference, organised by the Spanish Royal Academy (RAE), has been beset by controversy, including reports that the Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez was not invited because he had suggested at a previous meeting that spelling should be scrapped.

It marks an important new stage in the global advance of the Spanish language, with its recognition that Spain, the country from which Castilian, the main Spanish dialect, sprang, was now only a tiny piece of the linguistic jigsaw.

It is estimated that more than a quarter of the population of the United States will be native Spanish-speakers by 2050.

The Cervantes Institute, the Spanish equivalent of the British Council, said recently that it considered Spain to be one of the countries where the Spanish language is spoken worst. Colombia and Puerto Rico are countries where the language is regarded to have reached its greatest level.

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