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Thursday, December 28, 2006 (read 7803 times)
An interview with Victor Garcia de la Concha, director of the Real Academia Españolaby Erin
"To learn Spanish well, it is wise to choose an accredited center and, if possible, a center in a Spanish-speaking country, in order to pick up the everyday language".
Back in March of 2004, our director of studies, Caridad Santana, spent some time talking with the director of the Real Academia Española about Spanglish, the future of the Spanish language, and what advice he would offer to students looking for a Spanish language school and teachers entrusted with the teaching of the language of Cervantes:
Interview with Victor Garcia de la Concha, director of La Real Academia Española and Recipient of the Prince of Asturias Prize, 2000 Salamanca, March, 2004
by Caridad Santana, Director of Studies, don Quijote
Given the current atmosphere of linguistic "politics" in Spain, do you talk about "Spanish" or "Castilian"?
Although by the 13th century King Alfonso X (Alfonso the Wise) was speaking about the "language of Spain" - even using "Spanish" to refer to our language, throughout the Middle Ages Spanish was alluded to as "Romance", "Romance of Castile" or "Castilian Romance". The term "Spanish" spread from the 16th century onward, coexisting with the term "Castilian". The Royal Academy's first dictionary referred to the "Castilian language". Today in Spain, which is now a multilingual country, we should say "Castilian", to distinguish between Castilian, Catalan, Galician and Basque. Internationally, however, we talk about "Spanish", the language common not only to Spaniards, but also to 400 million speakers, most of them in the Americas.
You have asserted that Spanish is in the hands of the people who speak it. In this sense, wouldwe speak of a Latin American language and a Spanish language specific to the USA?
Emphatically, no! Spanish is a very united language, as a hybrid language, it has always had many variants - as Juan de Valdés noted in the 16th century in Diálogo de la Lengua. What is occurring now in the USA is this: Because many Spanish speakers who emigrate to the USA know very little English, they use what is technically called "code switching" - a conjugation of codes in which they graft English words onto the Spanish syntactic norms. This so-called Spanglish, which varies enormously, is far from being a structured language, although without a doubt Spanglish terms and expressions of Spanglish can become part of the language of some regions or be exported to other regions.
How would you assess the influence of Spanish in the growing Latin American emigration to the USA? Do you believe that the economic and cultural strength of Spanish speaker in the USA is affecting the permanence of Spanish?
Without a doubt. Spanish speakers in the USA already constitute that country's largest minority and their social importance continues to grow.
Languages, from a linguistic point of view, are not "finished" systems - but are systems in a state of continual change. How would you define the current situation of this aspect of the Spanish language?
Effectively, languages, like living organisms, are continually evolving. Globalisation accentuates the pressure exerted by the powerful languages on the weaker languages. For a language to gain strength as a language of international communication, it must have 4 things: a large number of speakers, a single, coherent system of language, a presence in the new technologies, and wide recognition in the world of international relations and diplomacy. Spanish has attained the first 2 factors but it could still advance a lot in the other 2 factors. In any case, Francois Mitterand said many years ago that in the Western world, after English, the future belongs to Spanish.
Do you believe that the great influence of audiovisual media and the declining promotion of reading, particularly among young people, is contributing to a deterioration in the health of spoken Spanish?
Yes. Linguistic richness is acquired and empowered through reading and writing. If reading and writing are missing, or are not adequately cultivated, the impoverishment will be progressive. These days many young people can barely construct a simple sentence.
The new technologies - Internet, cell phones, etc. - are changing habits that could negatively influence the written word. How do you view this development?
I don't believe that these technologies are able to have this effect. When we take notes or write an informal letter or send a note to someone, we all use conditional abbreviations, we shorten our phrases, etc. In another situation, the same person is able to express himself correctly and fully.
Do you believe that the age of language education in person, with books, will continue for years to come, or do you believe the contrary: that its days are counted?
For some time now language education has used interactive and audiovisual methods. Always with the aid of books, naturally. With these methods and books the student is able to reach an acceptable level of communication. However, to my mind, it cannot substitute for in-person tutoring; a good working knowledge of a language will always require contact between teacher and students in a group.
Lately, the interest in Spanish language and culture has increased dramatically. To what do you attribute this interest?
2 of every 3 college students in the USA choose Spanish as their 2nd language and when asked why, they answer "because it is practical." Practical to understand and connect with 400 million people who are native speakers. The demographic axis of Spanish has shifted from Spain to America, and Hispanic America - or Latina America as they prefer to say, Ibero-America if we include Brasil - is a continent with enormous possibilities for prosperity.
Do you foresee that this interest we've discussed will continue to grow?
Yes. As a result of all that I have just told you.
What advice would you give to people who want to learn Spanish? And to teachers of Spanish as a foreign language? Would you advise that they teach the norms of the language or the colloquial language?
That is 3 questions in 1. To learn Spanish well, it is wise to choose an accredited center, and, if possible, a center in a Spanish-speaking country - in order to pick up the everyday language spoken in the streets. Education using a communicative method that starts from the everyday, colloquial, living language ought to be completed with education in some standard norms that help to record the language's basic system in the mind of the person learning the language. The closer these rules learned in class are to the language the student hears in the street or on the radio, or that he reads in the newspaper, the better. On the other hand, learning the basic norms does not have to be complex, and has even less reason to be abstract.