Since its foundation 300 years ago, the RAE, as the Royal Spanish Academy is better known after its Spanish acronym, has been tasked with guarding the purity of the language.
As you will read in the Wikipedia hyperlink, “The RAE dedicates itself to language planning by applying linguistic prescription aimed at promoting linguistic unity within and between the various territories” where Spanish is spoken.
|The newest DRAE: Prescriptive to descriptive |
[Photo from RAE's website]
There is no such official entity in English and the other widely known equivalent of the RAE is the Académie Française, whose foundation in 1635 under Cardinal Richelieu makes the Spanish entity 78 years younger.
[While the Spanish and French academies are the better known and also probably the two oldest, those are not the only two language regulator bodies in the world.]
Back however to that bit about the sea-change at the RAE.
Late last week, Spanish media the world over were abuzz with news about the RAE’s long-awaited release of the 23rd edition of the Diccionario de la lengua española [Dictionary of the Spanish Language.]
It was frontpage news in newspapers such as Barcelona’s La Vanguardia. Also, on the day following the availability of the new dictionary at bookstores, the lead story in the cultural sections of dailies such as Madrid’s ABC.
Were you to visit the RAE’s own website you’d read a list of some of the news articles about the publication and also find a Press Dossier, in Spanish, about what’s in the new publication.
It was also a story that the BBC included in its Spanish coverage, though it apparently was not important enough to make it on their skedded news in English.
The scarcity of news in English about the DRAE’s release it’s more than likely the main reason for English-speakers being unaware of the story — not taking into account of course the probability that the latest news about the ebola virus outbreak or the more recent un-doings of Justin Bieber or the Kardashians may grab your attention better.
Even for Spanish-speakers, the magnitude of the change that the 23rd edition’s release signals has been lost in the retelling of figures.
What the new DRAE has done, in fact, is consolidate the process that the Academia started a few decades back, when just about everybody decried the increasing amount of inclusions from other languages.
Tasked with safeguarding the purity of the Spanish language, for example, until the release of the now outdated 22nd edition the Academia prescribed that “soporte lógico” [literally, logical support] was to be the appropriate translation for software — and “soporte físico” [physical support] the right way to refer to hardware.
While the definitions for both “~ lógico” and “~ físico” can still be found under “soporte,” software and hardware have been included in the DRAE since the 22nd edition and continue to be listed in the newly released one.
That, explains Álvarez de Miranda in the ABC interview hyperlinked above, is because:
“... the Dictionary must be more descriptive than prescriptive, even though many people consult it trusting its normative. There are some people that visualize the Dictionary as something magical, in the sense that whatever is not listed there does not exist. That is not the case. The Academy has a very clear prescriptive role in terms of the orthographic realm, because orthography is the more conventional facet of the language. In both the lexical and grammatical sense, however, things are completely different, those who speak the language are the ones that have the last word...”
How about that for sea-change?