Has the Spanish Language Become an American Language?

Manuel Blecua, the director of the Spanish Royal Academy (Real Academia Española, or RAE), said recently that today’s Spanish language is an American language “with a European appendix.” The philologist was referring to the fact that Spaniards do not constitute even 10% of the language’s total speakers. In the United States, where Spanish is the second most used language, there are 53.3 million Spanish-speakers – 6 million more than on the Iberian Peninsula.

A Brief Note on History

Since the arrival of the Spanish language in America we have seen different traditions spring forth in different locales and from different groups of people, giving way to a polycentric language model. The RAE was founded in 1713 by the Duke of Escalona “to assure that Spanish speakers will always be able to read Cervantes.” In 1844, a royal decree made the proposals of the Academy into the official norm in Spain, and they were also gradually adopted in parts of the Americas.

Pan-Hispanic Language Policies    

When the Spanish colonies of the Americas gained independence, various other academies emerged nationally. Eventually, all existing Spanish language academies made the decision to work side by side in affiliation with the Association of Spanish Language Academy. The First Congress of Academies took place in Mexico in 1951, and Spain has been a regular participant since 1956. Today, the American academies have a growing influence, and starting with its 22nd edition in 2001, they have worked with the RAE to co-author The Dictionary of Spanish Language.

Americanisms in The New Dictionary

The 300th edition of the dictionary, presented in Madrid on October 17, collects among its 93,111 entries a total of some 19,000 americanisms. In the new dictionary, the Association of Spanish Language Academies includes only those words which were in use in at least three countries, so that the lexicon would be as representative as possible. The new work expands on the 73,000 terms gathered by the 2010 “Dictionary of Americanisms.”

What Is Neutral Spanish?

Translation companies are often asked for advice on how to choose a Spanish variant that is acceptable throughout the hispanophone world. Neutral Spanish is an attempt made by linguists and translators to select terms that sound natural to the majority of Spanish speakers. This style is especially common when people translate website content that is intended for a wide array of consumers. Translators may find words that are appropriate and understandable for a multinational audience when the text is highly cultural or academic. However, in cases where the content is more casual, taking local expressions away from language may lead into a loss of style and effectiveness. Fortunately, Berna Pérez de Ayala, director of the Panamanian Academy of Language, is still willing to bring good news for translation clients: “We cannot talk anymore of words in Spain Spanish or American Spanish. Thanks to the new technologies the Spanish language is completely globalized.”