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Thursday, November 15, 2012 (read 3669 times)

Spanish dictionaries: “Diccionario de Uso del español”, Maria Moliner

by Lauris

In the field of teaching and learning Spanish, when we talk about dictionaries, the topic of Maria Moliner's  "Diccionario de uso de español" will inevitably arise. Many of us have used it to answer questions and why not, just to enjoy flipping through the pages of this monumental book.

To appreciate this magnificent work, which has been a turning point in Spanish lexicography and has laid a path still traveled upon today, it is important to know the person behind the cover of this book.

Maria Juana Moliner Ruiz was born in 1900 in a village of Zaragoza, Aragon. Maria’s parents moved to Soria and almost immediately to Madrid when María was just three years old. The relocation permitted their three children – of which María was the middle child – to attend the “Institución Libre de Enseñanza”, a school recognized for its innovative teaching techniques, open mindedness and liberalness. It was probably in the classes of Américo Castro that María first became interested in grammar and linguistics.

When María was about 15 years old, her father abandoned the family so the children and their mother returned to Aragon. While studying at the General and Technical Institute of Zaragoza, María gave private lessons in history, mathematics and Latin to help the family’s precarious financial situation.

When María finished high school in 1918, she began studying philology and lexicography. She also assisted in the completion of the Aragones Dictionary between 1917 and 1921. The experience she gained during this period would have a defining influence on her lexicographical work later on. In 1921 she graduated with honors in History, the only specialized subject that existed at that time at the University of Zaragoza. In 1922 she passed the necessary examinations to become Archivist General of Simancas and the Archivist of the Treasury in Murcia. In the early 30s, María managed the Library at the University of Valencia.

María Moliner’s library work during the Republican period has been widely recognized. During this period, she stood out for her work and for the publication of library and archival science reference books such as “Bibliotecas rurales y redes de bibliotecas en España” (1935) (Rural libraries and Spanish library systems) and “Instrucciones para el servicio de pequeñas bibliotecas” (1937) (Instructions on providing the services of small libraries). María was responsible for school libraries, a subsection of a general council of archives, libraries and artistic works of value created by the Republican Government in 1937.

At the end of the Spanish Civil War María was ostracized for her involvement with the Republican Government. She had to return to the Financial Archives of Valencia with a significantly lower level in the hierarchy. Her husband, a physicist, was also a victim of the purge that came with the post-war period. However, in 1946 he was appointed as Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Salamanca. The couple moved to Madrid, where María became a librarian in the “Escuela Técnica Superior de Madrid”, where she would provide her services until she retired.

In 1952 María’s son brought a book home from Paris that immediately caught her attention: the "Learner's Dictionary of Current English" by AS Hornby. María, who had already begun to make a list of the words from the "Diccionario de la Academia" that weren’t – in her opinion – defined accurately enough, decided to get to work on creating a Spanish dictionary similar to her son’s English one. The project took María fifteen years to complete, 13 years longer than she had originally anticipated. With the sponsorship of academic Dámaso Alonso, María was able to sign a contract with the publisher “Gredos” in 1955 for the publication of her dictionary when it was finished.

María’s dictionary is not just a dictionary of definitions; it also enters into the fields of synonyms, idioms, expressions and word families. It seems that María predicted the future format of the Royal Academy’s Dictionary by including words that began with “LL” in the “L” section, and words that began with “Ch” in the “C” section (until 1994, the Royal Academy had listed words beginning with “LL” and “Ch” under separate sections). María later added sections on syntax and grammar to her dictionary.

Her dictionary was published in two volumes between 1966 and 1967. In 1981 Maria Moliner died after years of remaining isolated within the company of her family after the sad loss of her husband in 1974. The second edition, which also includes a CD-ROM, was published in 1998. The third and final edition was released in 2007.

Being a woman and not a philologist probably kept María out of the Royal Spanish Academy – arguably, she should have been the first female representative. Perhaps as compensation, María was awarded a prize in 1973 "for her work on behalf of the language", which she rejected, causing a great official scandal and great approval in feminist circles. Years later, Carmen Conde, a writer and the first woman to join the Royal Academy of Language, referred to the injustice committed against Maria Moliner in her entry speech to the Academy.

The Dictionary has opened a door that is still entered by Spanish lexicographers and linguists today. Notable works include: "Diccionario del español actual" written by Manuel Seco, Olimpia Andres and Gabino Ramos  published by “Aguilar” in 1999 and “Gran Diccionario de la lengua española” written by Francisco Rico and edited by Anaya in 2000.

Keywords: spanish dictionary,spanish words,spanish vocabulary,spanish synonyms,moliner


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