Last week’s post was my own translation of an interview that Professor Salvador Gutiérrez, member of the Real Academia Española, and Professor of General Linguistics at the University of León in Spain, gave to the Spanish newspaper “La Razón” in May (¿Sabemos escribir?). There has been a lot of discussion about education in general this year in Spain because of a proposed new curriculum law – “la ley Wert” – named after the current Minister of Education.
Spanish is often held up as a model that English should follow in its orthography, and yet here is someone complaining about the low standard of spelling by Spaniards. This link is to an article, also published in “La Razón”, pointing out that a tweet sent by opponents of the new law itself contained four errors (three of spelling, one, more doubtful, of vocabulary).
It is true that any written Spanish can be read correctly straight off the page, but spoken Spanish cannot be automatically spelled correctly: there are several points of ambiguity – the letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ are always identically pronounced (phonetically they may be [b] or [β], but these are allophones of a single phoneme, and so contextually determined); ‘h’ is always silent, so that there can often be doubt as to its presence or absence as part of the spelling of a word; ‘g’ is pronounced /x/ before ‘e’ or ‘i’, but there are words in which ‘j’, which is always pronounced /x/, may occur before ‘e’ (e.g. Jerez) ot ‘i’ (‘jinete’). These are difficulties that all Spanish speakers face. In addition there are those caused by the neutralization of ‘ll’ and ‘y’ in certain dialects, to anything from approximant /j/ to palatal plosive /ɟ/. So it goes on.
Even languages which supposedly have regular orthographies turn out to be rather more complicated when examined more closely.