Rebelling Against Spain, This Time With Words

The Gershwin brothers likely never imagined that “You like tomato, I like tomahto” would appear in a New York Times article on Spanish orthographic changes, but apparently the Royal Spanish Academy’s (RSA) decision to eliminate two letters from the Spanish alphabet has prompted folks to don their roller skates like Fred and Ginger and burst into song. The explanation for this change, among other spelling updates, can be found in an 800-page document that has sparked significant controversy for imposing change from above, though not unilaterally, as the author notes:

“To its credit, the academy takes pains to emphasize that it works collaboratively with its associated academies in 21 other Spanish-speaking countries, including in the United States.”

The decisions of the Madrid-based RSA (founded in 1713) influence Spanish grammar across the globe, though the world’s 450 million Spanish-speaker may choose not to pay attention – citing George and Ira Gershwin or other reasons. It’s no easy task to oversee a language spoken by so many – and even rule changes that would ultimately simplify the language may be rejected. A language in the mouths of its speakers is a living, changing thing that often prefers to follow its own path than align itself with the rules established across the ocean.