It is not usual for Muñoz Machado, the director of the Royal Spanish Academy, to give press conferences at the end of the institution’s plenary sessions. But there he was: alone in the face of danger. And it is that yesterday was not a normal plenary session. After the controversy of the tilde in ‘solo’, the clarifications of the profile on Twitter of the RAE and the anger of Pérez Revertethe expectation was maximum.
So much so that Muñoz Machado (after clarifying that there was indeed no change in the norm, but rather in the wording) acknowledged that he was concerned “for not knowing how it could affect the authority of the Academy and give the impression that we are dedicated to such small things”. . And no, he is right.
Because, after all, what is an academy for? Language academies played a very important role at that time, from 1600 to 1900, in which modern European states began to take shape in modern nation-states. A moment in which Latin was banished as an academic and administrative language and the different vernacular languages (which already had their own literary traditions) began to convey the civil life of their respective countries.
It is no coincidence that the birth of the French Academy, for example, was the work of Cardinal Richelieu, the great reformer of French political power and administration. Nor that the RAE arose during the reign of Felipe V and in full development of the great Bourbon reform of the Hispanic monarchy. In fact, even in languages/countries where there are none, such as England, the debates around its creation were constant and were only stopped by the delicate institutional balance that emerged after the English revolution.
The world has changed. The problem is that, with the passage of time, these institutions (and the speakers) realized that they had to be something more than clubs of authorities that are dedicated to “cleaning, polishing and splendor” the language (following their own judgment).
After all, languages are enormous metabolisms that receive all kinds of influences and change at dizzying speed: the work of registering, researching, clarifying and proposing standards seems so necessary that, once again, languages without this type of institutions have developed mechanisms to “self-regulate”: or rather, using the words of the Association of Spanish Language Academies, to “promote unity, integrity and development of the language”.
A governance problem. In other words, the issue is not whether there should be a series of organizations that are in charge of facilitating the unity and integrity of the language. The central issue has more to do with governance. Who makes those decisions and how?
After all, the Royal Academy is a private institution, whose governing body and composition are elected by its own members; but it has a huge social, governmental and political impact. So much so that it has its own allocation in the General State Budget and receives numerous public aid.
Solving this problem is complex. It does not seem reasonable to fall into a technocracy that leaves the standard of the language in the hands of technicians. But the question of how to fit in with an increasingly diverse Spaniard living in an institution with such serious ego problems has no answer. It must not be forgotten that academics such as Pérez Reverte claim for themselves the “authority to guide” to linguists and philologists (in tasks typical of linguists and philologists; and without solid arguments in between).
And I’m not just talking internally. That also. It is that looking with perspective, the same idea that in a plenary session of the Royal Spanish Academy a norm approved by all the Language Academies around the world can be modified without any justification other than the will of a very specific group of academics is deeply problematic. To the point that it goes against the very idea of promoting the unity and integrity of the language.
Much to do. When Muñoz Machado said yesterday that the RAE had much more important things to think about, he was surely referring to the New historical dictionary of Spanish (NDHE), the equivalent in Spanish to the Oxford English Dictionary: a project in which the Academy has been stuck for a century and a half and its great electoral promise.
But the work of the academy goes much further. The work necessary to update and update dictionaries, grammars and spellings; coordination with the rest of the academies; the lexicographical, philological, informative work… These are just examples of the enormous work of the institution. A task so great and important that cases like this make one doubt whether it is in the best hands.
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Image | A certain Francisco de Goya