Señora V required us to sing the alphabet song in our high school Spanish class, and more’s the marvel, we all complied. (ah, bay, say, che…) I understood there were four additional letters beyond the English 26: ch for chocolate, ll for tortilla, ñ for piñata, and rr for burrito. Well, I wasn’t correct about rr; it is not an “official” letter of the alphabet. Despite that, we gringos practiced our trills enthusiastically, singing, “errrrrrre.”
1994 was a new dividing line between traditional and modern Spanish, when the Real Academia Española decreed that ch and ll were sounds, not letters. When I miss the letters of the alphabet the Spanish Royal Academy demoted, I look at my dog-eared, New World Spanish/English Dictionary that Señora V required we purchase for class. In its yellowed pages, I find friends under the letter ch; chihuahua, chicharrón (fried pork rinds) and chinchilla. Or, at times I look under c from canoa to cuchara (canoe to spoon) for the word chiflada (silly) before I remember to search with my old friend ch.
Similar to Pluto’s change in status, I wonder why ch and ll no longer qualify as letters, although their sounds are heard around the world. My solar system en español feels imbalanced. I possess newer dictionaries, but the yellow and orange mini-tome covered in tape, with Spanish first then English, is my compact travel friend. The book and I set out together on a language journey years ago with 29 Spanish letters. We were an adventure team in Spain and the Americas. Since 1994, the two expired letters find sanctuary with us. Traveling, we found words already discovered, which cast unexpected light on our pages.
An Academy of the English Language has a ring to it. I’ve wondered why France and Spain have official organizations to make language decisions, but English does not. A fair number of people agree we’d be better off nixing a few antiquated rules. But, who would decide? Would it be the Oxford English Dictionary editors, Webster’s, or a plebiscite by each English-speaking country? US spelling already differs from the Queen’s English; what would it look lyk without silent e’s?
Although I suggested a variation, I would not weather spelling revisions well, I imagine. For why, you can get a hint by looking at my favorite dictionary above. As Billy Crystal says in Forget Paris, I can be “an ironing board.” What about you? Ready for change?
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