Sunday, August 26, 2007

By way of a beginning

As one who has lived from choice in Spain for many years, I occasionally find myself yearning to exchange anecdotes in my native tongue, English, with others who have similarly made Iberia their home. As a fluent Spanish speaker, my experiences with the culture include stays in Mexico and Central America. I would also welcome anecdotes from Latin America.
On a visit to Nicaragua this summer, I learned that the country has its own dictionary, titled Diccionario del Español de Nicaragua, by Francisco Arellano Oviedo, in which the language of the Nicaraguans is reflected in a way that the dictionary published by the Real Academia Española does not; indeed it cannot linguistically reflect 400 million native Spanish speakers, most of whom live in America. Nevertheless, Arellano Oviedo's endeavour brought to mind Noah Webster's unsuccessful attempt to write a strictly American English dictionary in the 19th century. He may have suspected that the English language's center of gravity would eventually shift to America. However, faster travel and speedier communication in the twentieth century made the shifting process less predictable. And where the center lies today is anyone's guess, as more and more of the world's linguafranca speakers are finding their voices.
When I travel out of Valencia, where I've lived for almost thirty years, the people in Northern Spain think I speak Spanish the way I do because I'm a native of the Levante region (I'm originally from New York City). The Spaniards who hear me speaking English mistake me for being British. Americans sometimes say I have a Spanish accent. And in Nicaragua I'm taken for a Spaniard, because gringos and other cheles never talk the way I do. Well, almost never. Nevertheless, I rarely go anywhere without two dictionaries within reach, Spanish and English. I use the Merriam-Webster and the RAE dictionaries, not because of their prestige, but because they're on the internet for free.