In a story on 20 Minutos, the on-line version of one of Spain’s free newspapers, The Secretary of the Real Academia Española, Darío Villanueva is quoted as having said:

“El Diccionario no puede ser políticamente correcto porque la lengua sirve para amar, pero también para insultar. No podemos suprimir las palabras que usamos cuando nos enfadamos o cuando somos injustos, arbitrarios o canallas.” *

I find this odd, as I thought the whole point of the RAE was prescription not description.

One of the joys of English is that there is no official overseer of what is right and what is wrong, which means we can invent new words or borrow from other languages, as well as being generally creative with the language. I thought, though, that Spanish was overseen by the RAE, and that there was a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ usage, even if people chose to ignore their rulings.

What is even odder about the news piece is the inclusion of the fact that in 2008 the RAE agreed to suprimir (‘omit’, rather than supress, I think) the second meaning of the word rural where it was defined as:

inculto, tosco, apegado a cosas lugareñas

It’s not 100% clear that they were moved to do so because of the complaints of ‘local yokels’, but it reads that way to me. Surely bowing to such complaints is precisely the kind of political correctness that Villanueva says the Dictionary shouldn’t be concerned with?

*The quotation is easy enough to understand, but not so easy to translate. The biggest difficulty for me is the the phrase “cuando somos injustos, arbitrarios o canallas.” This tests my vocabulary – it’s all too tempting to fall back on ‘unjust’ and ‘arbitrary’, but I think those can be improved on – and, although I know the sense of canalla, finding an English equivalent is tricky. The phrasing also raises problems because of the ease with which words slip between noun and adjective in Spanish. This will have to do:

The Dictionary can’t be politically correct because language is used to love, but also to insult. We can’t exclude the words we use when we get angry or when we are unfair, high-handed or caddish.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

2 thoughts on “contradictionary”

  1. Le encargaron a David Foster Wallace la reseña de un diccionario que se acababa de publicar en los EE.UU., y como le solía ocurrir, se le fue de las manos. Terminó convertido en un curioso y extenso pseudoensayo (“Authority and American Usage”) que aparece incluido en su libro en “Consider the Lobster and Other Essays”, 2005.

    Porque, ¿cómo se hace un diccionario? A partir de esta pregunta explica pormenorizadamente la disputa entre los lingüistas conservadores (normativistas o “prescriptivists”) y los lingüistas liberales (descriptivistas). Su lectura, si te interesan los temas relacionados con la lengua, es del todo recomendable. (El resto de los artículos del libro, también lo son).

    Nunca fue tan descacharrante la lingüística.


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