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Why, oh, “Y”? PDF
Wednesday, 08 December 2010 21:00

Incredibly the Real Academia Española has recently decided to change the name of the letter y.

Yes, the denomination i griega, which has been used in castellano for centuries for the letter y, in order to distinguish it from the Latin “i”, is to go and be replaced by ye, if the Academy gets its way!

This change is apparently being introduced because in most Latin American countries where Spanish is also spoken ye is the name of the letter y

So what?  What about historical purity, linguistic standards and protection of the noble language which originated in Spain, all things which the RAE is supposed to be there to uphold?

I’m not against change – languages change daily, borrowing words from other languages, for example - but to tamper with something so fundamental as the name of a letter, is beyond the pail, and I suspect 99% of Spaniards will agree and ignore the ruling.  After all, the Spanish are famously anarchic and disobedient.

Other changes, which are due to come into force on 28 December, are less controversial.  Some stress marks, eg on demonstrative pronouns like éste, ésta, éstos, éstas, on adverbs like sólo, on dipthongs such as guión and on ó between numerals, will disappear. Two letters are being downgraded as separate letters in their own right, namely "ch" and "ll", so the Spanish alphabet will only have 27 letters from the end of this month ("ñ" is separate from "n") instead of 29.

Going back to the "y" situation, would the English accept being told to pronounce the letter “z” as “zee” rather than”zed”? I think not!

© Paul Whitelock


To read an excellent article about this by Troy Shaheen on the Olive Press website, click here.

For a background article in Spanish in El País, click here.

Tags: Real Academia Española, RAE, y, i griega, ye, castellano, stress mark, ch, ll, ñ, Olive Press, Troy Shaheen, El País, Paul Whitelock,



Paul Whitelock

Paul is a Joint Honours graduate in Spanish and German, a qualified teacher (PGCE) and has a Member of the Institute of Linguists (MIL) qualification.

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