New Spelling System in Spanish

Michael Newman michael.newman at QC.CUNY.EDU
Wed Nov 10 21:38:39 UTC 2010

There's a history of reforms in Spanish for example to align the language with 17th Century voiced/voiceless fricative mergers. However, the <h> and distinction between <b> and. <v> are just diabolical pedantic gotcha traps, and for some reason persist.

Michael Newman
Associate Professor of Linguistics
Queens College/CUNY
michael.newman at

On Nov 10, 2010, at 8:21 PM, Paul Frank wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Paul Frank <paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: New Spelling System in Spanish
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> How come languages with very phonetic spelling systems, such as
> Portuguese, German and Spanish have recently undergone spelling
> reforms (Portuguese in 2008-2009, German in 1996 and since then, and
> Spanish now), whereas languages with much less phonetic spelling
> systems, such as English and French, are much more resistant to
> spelling reform? I know that English spelling is more phonetic than is
> often claimed but, still, it takes American kids longer to learn to
> spell their language properly than it takes German kids to learn to
> spell theirs. My 10-year-old daughter, for example, rarely makes
> spelling mistakes in German or Spanish, but often in English, though
> her English is better than her German and Spanish (her native language
> and the language she's been schooled in is French and she makes more
> spelling mistakes in French than in German.) French spelling is
> notoriously difficult, much more so than English spelling, because of
> the grammatical information it incorporates. It's the reason why the
> French have spelling bees not just for kids but for college-educated
> adults (most famously the dictée de Pivot). I wish the French would
> reform their spelling system. I work for the Swiss government and
> always have to reread everything I write in French two or three times
> before hitting the send button; I feel much more confident writing
> German or Italian because German and Italian orthography is much
> easier.
> Then again, there are good arguments against reforming the spelling of
> English and French: historical, financial and also linguistic and
> phonetic (whose pronunciation should be privileged?). Nor am I sure
> that the recent German spelling reform made things easier for people.
> And the mainland Chinese simplification of their characters was not
> only an act of state-sponsored vandalism, but it didn't make it easier
> for Chinese people to learn to write their own language.
> Paul
> Paul Frank
> Translator
> Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
> Espace de l'Europe 16
> Neuchâtel, Switzerland
> paulfrank at
> paulfrank at
> On Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 7:56 PM, Federico Escobar
> <federicoescobarcordoba at> wrote:
>> If anyone is interested in tracking how speakers react to massive changes in
>> the rules that are understood to govern normative language, then I would
>> eagerly suggest following up on what's happening with Spanish these days.
>> There are 22 Spanish-language Academies, one per Spanish-speaking country
>> --including the US and the Philippines--, and all of them tend to huddle
>> around the Royal Academy in Spain. These Academies are putting together a "New
>> Orthography", which has proposed to overhaul many aspects of the spelling
>> rules used in Spanish. Some letters will officially change their names, some
>> accent marks will officially be dropped, some traditional spellings will
>> officially be changed.
>> Of course, I've emphasized the "official" part in this process because many
>> people are resisting these changes fiercely, in a Roe v. Wade climate that
>> turns the decisions taken by the Academies into something akin to a Supreme
>> Court ruling. And that is precisely what has been very interesting. Across
>> the board, newspapers reporting on the changes rank that story as their most
>> read item. People have written scores of angry comments on the Internet,
>> arguing, say, that they're not prepared to give in to the Academies and
>> rename letters they've always called by another name. (Some have timidly
>> said they'll just have to learn the new names in order to forge a
>> transnational language.) I've been getting incensed emails from people who
>> are normally oblivious to anything language-related. And so on.
>> Some people have suggested these are all publicity stunts used by the
>> Academies to promote the "New Orthography", which of course people are going
>> to flock to the stores to buy just in time for Christmas. In case someone is
>> interested, here is one of the widely circulated stories, published by the
>> most renowned newspaper of the Spanish-speaking world:
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