Do you know Spanish really well? If you saw the words “expresidente” or “futbol” would you feel the need to correct them? Does it annoy you that people today are lazy about using accents in their written Spanish? You may not be aware that the rules have changed….
Article written by Pablo Saavedra Silva and Javiera González Dinamarca
One of the main functions of the Real Academia de la Lengua (RAE) is to decide and disseminate the rules for the Spanish language. Although this organization is generally seen as authoritarian because it imposes rules, in fact its work is focussed on compiling and describing certain linguistic phenomena and including them in a user guide. While many consider these rules more an irritation than a help, for some professionals, including translators, they are really useful. It is therefore important to stay abreast of the latest innovations, as every once in a while the Real Academia compiles and publishes rules on behalf of Spanish speakers.
“B” and “V”
A number of important innovations were introduced into written Spanish in 2010. It used to be the case that in many Spanish-speaking countries, b was called be alta or be larga or be grande and v was known as ve corta. In 2010, these names were changed to b and uve, as they were already known in some countries.
Perhaps of greater importance for translators to Spanish was the suppression of the accent in the word solo when used to express only. It used to be that sólo meant only and solo meant alone. For instance the sentence “Juan quiere comer sólo” meant that Juan only wants to eat, nothing else. Whereas “Juan quiere comer solo” meant Juan wants to eat alone. Now that the word is used without an accent in both cases, the recommendation is to avoid ambiguity by rephrasing or using an alternative to “solo” like “solamente”.
Accents and new words
Another innovation is with Spanish demonstrative pronouns (este, esta, estos and estas). It used to be the case that when they were used in place of a noun, they took an accent on the first syllable. For instance, if you are in a shop and pointing at the thing you want, you might say “I want that” – this used to be translated as Quiero éste/ésta. Now the accent is no longer used.
Another change is that a compound word based on a single main word is now just one word. So where “former president” would have been translated as ex Presidente, now it is written expresidente. Other examples are exnovia (ex-girlfriend) and supermodelo (tall, skinny woman who gets her photo taken a lot).
On football and Twitter
2015 has brought a few new rules, though they are not as major as the loss of accents on commonly used words. Titles such as president and minister no longer need to begin with a capital letter. A space is now needed between a figure and a percentage symbol, eg 50 %. Furthermore, the words futbol, periodo and video no longer need an accent.
Meanwhile, new technologies have led to some changes in 2015: retuit and retuitear (retweet) have now been accepted by the RAE, although the organization still refuses to accept marketing and recommends the use of the word mercadotecnia. Other changes, such as the inclusion in the RAE dictionary of the word condoro (colloquial word for “blunder”), are for cultural reasons, although usage is always a factor taken into consideration.
While it takes time and patience to get used to these changes, it is always useful for professional translators to have a guide to help them resolve issues that arise in their work.
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