New Spelling System in Spanish

Federico Escobar federicoescobarcordoba at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 11 14:30:34 UTC 2010

Wilson, the comment you quoted was quite pertinent, but it turns out that
Microsoft's spell-check in Spanish is very accommodating. It is not wedded
to any particular system, so it tends to have both what the Academy
recommends and what other institutions (and tradition) suggest.

Paul, there was a discussion on this list about the possibilities of
reforming English spelling, sparked precisely because of spelling bees, a
few months ago. It starts here:

A language as decentralized as English (or at least as multipolar) will have
a hard time accepting a single spelling system. The further obstacles you
mentioned, Paul, are also formidable. If my life can be spared by sharing a
small anecdote, someone I know says that the ultimate proof that English
phonetics is mad comes in three simple words: bomb, comb, tomb. Historical
and linguistic reasons notwithstanding, this person argues it's madness for
the -omb part in these four-letter words to have such radically different
sounds. (Wait till this persons finds out about through, enough, and bough).

I agree with Michael that Spanish has a long history of reform, but it's
much more difficult to engage in those massive reforms now, especially since
the headquarters for reform, Spain, now accounts for just a small fraction
of Spanish speakers worldwide. In spite of the demographics, a significant
reform is under way, and people will more readily accept it than if, say,
the OED were to propose a new spelling system for 21st-century English. The
silent h is, in fact, one of Spanish’s small traps, and some communities,
despite admonitions coming from the Academy, have come to differentiate "b"
and "v." There's a further trap, when you’re outside non-Anadalusian Spain,
and it is the difference between s, z, and in some cases c.

FWIW, I do find ADS discussions very stimulating and fascinating, especially
when new words and new meanings are brought up.


On Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 5:38 PM, Michael Newman
<michael.newman at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Michael Newman <michael.newman at QC.CUNY.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: New Spelling System in Spanish
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> > 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:
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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