New Spelling System in Spanish

Damien Hall damien.hall at YORK.AC.UK
Wed Dec 1 10:38:11 UTC 2010

Tom said:

> It's interesting to see the spelling of other languages evolving.

The thing is that, if the French experience is anything to go by, no
lasting evolution is likely to result from this. In 1990 the Académie
Française proposed a simplifying spelling reform to bring certain aspects
of spelling more into line with pronunciation: the aspects that spring to
mind immediately are that:

- certain diacritics as a whole were made optional (circumflexes over <i>
and <u> where etymology had previously prescribed them, because they now
make no difference to pronunciation)

- some diacritics in individual words were changed (I believe that the word
for 'event' was previously prescriptively spelt <événement>, with acute
accents on each of the first two <e>s. Modern pronunciation of the first
two syllables is /evE-/; /e/ is usually spelt with an e-acute and /E/ with
an e-grave, so the Academy's prescriptive spelling became <évènement>, with
e-acute in the first syllable and e-grave in the second.

- individual letters were changed in some words where they are no longer
pronounced; for example, the word for 'onion' used to be prescriptively
spelt <oignon>, but the Academy's prescribed spelling is now <ognon>, given
that the <i> has not been pronounced for some time.

These new spellings are now ignored by many people who care about correct
spelling. ('People who care about correct spelling' of course excludes
people who may use the new spellings not because they are recommended by
the Academy but because they are closer to pronunciation, and these people
didn't know the traditional spellings to begin with.) I believe that some
newspapers may have adopted the proposed reforms, but reverted in the face
of readers' bad reactions. I now seem to recall a similar thing happening
in Germany.

The point is that, though reformed spellings are usually more in line with
pronunciation when the reform happens, it's another thing entirely to get
people to use them, and the people who would have most influence to ensure
that the proposed changes became permanent are often exactly the people who
reject them in the strongest way.


Damien Hall

Accent and Identity on the Scottish-English Border
Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 322665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
Fax  +44 (0)1904 322673

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list