The Spanish Language Blog

Spanish Language Rules

The Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española or RAE in Spanish) was created in Spain in 1713 to regulate the Spanish language. The academy’s existence today, still based in Spain, often seems to generate more questions than answers.  Should Spanish speakers outside of Spain adhere to the language rules dictated by the Spanish academy? How do academicians decide what words and grammar rules to accept? Why have only 8 women been elected to seats in its 300 year history?

The RAE’s dictionary (DRAE) currently includes over 88,000 entries of accepted words, and its members continue accepting, often outraging Spanish speakers around the world. The REA recently approved the word Cederrón as the accepted Spanish translation of CD Rom, a move that has received heavy criticism and lead many observers to wonder if the Spanish Academy’s royal members have run out of relevant matters to tend to. They also decided to guillotine the letters ch and ll from the Spanish alphabet and oust accent marks from certain words like solo and este. Other recent additions to the dictionary include friki, which refers to a strange or eccentric person, presumably from the English “freak”, peñazo meaning a person or thing that is boring or annoying, and pepero, a member of the PP (Spain’s main conservative party).

Although often criticized for being overly conservative, the RAE has made progressive changes to the definitions of certain words like matrimonio (marriage), which is now not only defined as a union between a man and a woman, but one that can also be between two people of the same sex. They’ve also updated their entry for the word memoria to not only include meanings related to human memory, but also electronic devices designed to store information. Tableta is now not only a “flat, rectangular piece of chocolate”, but also “a multi-beneficial, touch screen portable electronic device”. 

The DREA also allows a number of curious alternatives to common words. The royal preservers of proper Castilian have given the nod to Murciégalo instead of the more standard murciélago for bat, almóndiga instead of albóndiga to refer to meatballs, and toballa instead of toalla for towel. Perhaps more surprisingly is agora, an acceptable alternative to ahora to mean “now” and dotor instead of doctor.

Properly expressed onomatopoeia

Ox according to the DREA means “a sound to scare away chickens”. Za means a sound to scare off dogs "and other animals". These words, along with ño and lle are valuable to know during Spanish language Scrabble competition, but probably not during everyday conversation. The Fundéu BBVA’s style book, created in collaboration with the RAE, offers 95 onomatopoeias, which detail appropriate ways to describe sounds as specific as those made by the springs of a mattress (¡ñeeec, ñeeec!), silk being rubbed on silk (frufrú), wind (sss sss sss), and buzzing bees (zzzzzzzz [8 z's, one more or one less and I think it would technically be a spelling error]).

The DRAE and the The Fundéu BBVA’s style book are not the only reference resources for standardized Spanish. The Associated Press’ Spanish language style book considers language in the DRAE, but it also accepts a more liberal helping of English loan words, such as picop for pick-up truck.

Besides the Royal Spanish Academy, there are 21 other Spanish language academies around the world including the US’s Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (although called North American, it is a US institution, Mexico has its own academy of language), and the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española

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