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"El castellano en revolución permanente" x ECR en el NY Times


New York Times



Published: January 29, 1987

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To many Hispanic New Yorkers, ''vacunar la carpeta'' means to vacuum the carpet. The phrase would baffle their Latin American counterparts, however, since by most dictionaries it translates into ''to vaccinate the portfolio.''

Spanglish, the literate cry. But members of the little known North American Academy of the Spanish Language say Spanglish does not exist. There is no separate language, they argue, merely people who speak Spanish and English badly.

The North American academy -one of 22 academies in the Spanish-speaking world that are keepers of the language - was formed quietly in New York in 1973. It is the youngest participant in a tradition that began in 1713 when King Philip V established the Royal Spanish Academy to ''cultivate and to set standards for the purity and elegance of the Castilian tongue.'' Formal Meetings Held

The 22 academies meet jointly every four years - the next meeting will be in 1988. Between these larger meetings, the North American academy, comprising 41 professors, linguists and authors, meets informally about six times a year to consider linguistic trends and to collect words for the Spanish dictionary.

Such meetings are held at different sites - usually at a building with which a member is affiliated - since the academy has no office of its own.

The North American academy represents the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country and the most diverse. Moreover, with much of the world's new technology being developed in the United States, the academy here has become useful in foreseeing the need for new words.

Although more tolerant of Anglicized Spanish than some of their Latin American colleagues, the academy members in the United States are far from liberal.

''Language is in continuous revolution, and we must recognize the changes imposed by the way people speak,'' said Eugenio Chang-Rodriguez, a professor of Spanish at Queens College and a member of the academy.

He noted, however, that ''carpeta'' to describe a carpet was unacceptable, because Spanish already has a word for it - alfombra.

Moreover, even after a word has permeated the Spanish-speaking world, the academy waits to see if the word will survive the test of time.

''It usually takes decades,'' Mr. Chang-Rodriguez said.

Often Anglicized words develop from necessity, said Theodore Beardsley, a member of the academy and president of the Hispanic Society of America.

It was not until 1956, Mr. Beardsley noted, that Spain included a word for steering wheel in its official dictionary. By then, he said, it was too late to impose ''volante'' over the handful of other words that had been created throughout the New World. Even the Educated Slip

While most of the most obvious aberrations of the language are heard on the street or seen in badly translated advertisements, Mr. Chang-Rodriguez said, he is most outraged when Anglicized words creep into the speech of educated people.

Lately, he said, at some of New York's most cultured Hispanic tables, he has heard, ''aplicacion,'' used to denote application instead of the Spanish word solicitud.

Another habit of the educated, he said, is what linguistic circles call code switching, or moving between Spanish and English in the same sentence.

While lamenting the habit, he comforted himself by recalling that Spanish speakers were not the only ones to resort to such violations. The Russians in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novels also felt compelled to demonstrate their knowledge of another language and often broke mid-sentence into French.

photo of Prof. Eugenio Chang-Rodriquez (NYT/Edward Hausner)

A version of this article appeared in print on January 29, 1987, on p

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