Paloma is Delighted to be Offered a Chair

This autumn the twelfth woman in over four hundred years will be part of the Spanish academy that decides how Spanish is spoken. Dr. Paloma Díaz-Mas is an accomplished professor who has taught in Spain and the United States, published sixteen books and created a website for Sephardic language and culture (Spanish Jewish diaspora). Despite her long list of academic credentials, she is humble and quite funny. I was lucky enough to see her speak in a Ladino community association Zoom meeting this past weekend. The wonderful Rachel Bortnick of Ladinocomunita organized the talk. Ladino, also called Djudeo-espanyol, is the language conserved and elaborated by the Jewish diaspora expelled from Spain in 1492. Although the professor is not Jewish, she has been fascinated with Sephardic language and stories since her days studying in university. (Ditto for me.) The talk was her first in Ladino, as it was my first time listening to a lecture in Ladino. It was really fun.

Spanish Royal Academy of the Language Chair Photo: RAE

What about the chair, you may ask?

Well, in exciting news, this year Dr. Díaz Mas has been offered a chair in the most elite Spanish language ruling body; the Spanish Royal Academy. (RAE: Real Academia Española) This is the group that decides what is and what is not Spanish. The French have a similar tradition, they began in 1635, which inspired the Spanish. In the RAE up until 1979, only men had the power to decide. That 266th year a female representative was offered the “K” chair, author Carmen Conde.

The chair bit is quite literal, A-V, and X-Z all have a chair with the letter carved into it. These upper case letters are the oldest chairs, there since the start in 1713. More recently, there are lower case letter chairs a-u as well. Another writer, Elena Quiroga, received the “a” chair in 1984. It was not until 1998 that the third woman joined, Ana María Matute. However, the previous two women authors with chairs had passed on. To date, 11 women have served on the RAE, Dr. Díaz-Mas will be the twelfth when she enters this autumn. She, Dolores Corbella, and Asunción Gómez-Pérez, recently elected will join seven seated in the organization. (10 women of 46 total seats is almost 22%!) RAE appointments are life long.

Dr. Díaz-Mas made several jokes during her talk. She said in Ladino, “At least I have a chair, so I can sit down.” We all laughed. Later she said, “Yes, I have the “I” chair, but it’s a lower case “i”.

I wonder if the new academy configuration will bring changes in language policy.

¡Graciiiiiiiiias! ¡Bravo, Paloma!

¡Olé! –Rebecca

[En español bajo las fotos.]

Paloma se felicita por la oferta de una silla

Dra. Paloma Díaz-Mas es una profesora destacada, quien enseño en universidades en España y en los Estados Unidos. Publicó 16 libros y creó un sitio web para la lengua y cultura sefardí (Diáspora judio español). Aunque tiene muchos honores, es una persona con humildad y bastante cómica. Tuve la suerte de verla hacer un charla para la asociación Ladino el fin de semana pasado por Zoom. La fabulosa Rachel Bortnick de Ladinokomunita organizó la charla. Ladino, también llamado judeoespanyol, es el idioma conservado y elaborado por las personas de la diáspora judía expulsada de España en 1492. Aunque la profesora no es judía, se ha fascinado por el idioma y las historias de la cultura sefardí desde sus días estudiando en la universidad. (Lo mismo yo.) Esta charla fue su primera en Ladino, tal como era mi primera escuchando una lectura en Ladino. Me divertí mucho.

Pero, ¿qué pasa con la silla?

Bueno, en noticias emocionantes, la ofrecieron este año a Dra. Díaz-Mas una silla en el cuerpo más élite del idioma en español; la Real Academia Española: RAE. Este es el grupo que decide lo que es y lo que no es el español (castellano). Los franceses tienen una tradición parecida, que empezaron en 1635, que inspiró a los españoles. En la RAE, hasta 1979, sólo eligieron a hombres. En el ducentésimo sexagésimo sexto año, ofrecieron a una representante femenina la silla “K”, la autora Carmen Conde.

Cuando hablamos de la silla, significa silla literalmente, A-V y X-Z, hay una silla de madera con la letra tallada, como en la foto. Estas letras mayúsculas son las más antiguas, allí desde el principio en 1713. Más recientement, hay letras minúsculas a-u también. Otra escritora, Elena Quiroga, recibió la silla “a” en 1984. No fue hasta 1998 que la tercera mujer se juntó, Ana María Matute. Desafortunadamente, las autoras previas se habían fallecido antes de esta fecha. Hasta ahora 11 mujeres han servido en la RAE. Dra. Díaz-Mas será la duodécima cuando entra en el otoño. Ella, Dolores Corbella, y Asunción Gómez-Pérez, también recientemente elegidas se juntarán con siete más ya sentadas en la organización. (10 mujeres de 46 puestos ¡es casí 22%!) Los puestos de la RAE son para toda la vida.

Dr. Díaz-Mas nos contaba varias bromas durante su charla. Nos dijo, “Por lo menos, tengo una silla. Así puedo sentarme.” Nos reímos mucho. Después nos contó, “Así, tengo la silla de “i”, pero es la “i” minúscula.”

Estoy muy curiosa para ver los cambios que trae la configuración nueva.

¡Graciiiiiiiiias! ¡Bravo, Paloma!

¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

33 thoughts on “Paloma is Delighted to be Offered a Chair

      1. Language is continually expanding and changing, I agree. I meant that we don’t have the “brakes” or institution that decides what is English, except for dictionaries. That can be beneficial or detrimental, but I think it contributes to the flexibility of English.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Margaret. Fantastic question. I am revising an early post I made about Ladino to post next month. Great idea to make a contrast post as well. In short, Ladino or Djudeo-espanyol is Sephardic Spanish, Latino is an ethnicity descriptor used in the United States where the word Hispanic might also be used, someone in the US whose family comes from a Spanish speaking country in the Americas.


      1. Interesting stuff. Yes, I pretty much knew about latino, and made a vague – very vague – stab at ladino from the context of your post. But I’d love to know more, so yes please! Post welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Fascinating! Definitely breaking barriers not only in feminism, but also in academia with the Spanish language! I’m sure Dr. Paloma Díaz-Mas will contribute loads to the rich language itself. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it is! I can read and understand spoken Ladino from studying Spanish and Portuguese. But when I speak, it ends up as Spanish. I believe your friend is part of the Ladinokomunita group I visited last weekend on Zoom!


    1. Coming from an English background, it’s unexpected for a language to have an academy deciding language usage and grammar. Yes, Ladino is super cool. If you’d like to hear it spoken, there’s a movie with Tom Hanks in it (1986!) called Every Time We Say Goodbye.

      Liked by 1 person

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