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Spanish Royal Academy rejects changing language to anti-colonial ‘Ñamericano’

An Argentine author had suggested the name change because the majority of Spanish speakers live across the American continents, not Spain.
Santiago Muñoz Machado, speaks at the Real Academia Española in Madrid
Santiago Muñoz Machado speaks at the Real Academia Española in Madrid on May 21.Alberto Ortega / Europa Press via Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The director of the Spanish-speaking world’s top linguistic institution on Monday rejected an Argentinian author’s suggestion to rename the Spanish language to “Ñamericano” to reflect the continent where the majority of its speakers now live.

The Real Academia Española or Spanish Royal Academy, founded in 1713, is best known for compiling the authoritative Spanish language dictionary. It also acts as a gatekeeper for correct usage and linguistic changes.

It has issued past edicts against employing feminine or neutral terms for words that are traditionally gendered as male. The Academy also frequently acts as a bulwark against the entry of “unnecessary” Anglicisms into the Spanish language.

At a conference on the Spanish language held in March, Buenos Aires-born journalist Martín Caparrós proposed renaming the language “Ñamericano” to remove its colonial origins. Caparrós’ 2021 book about Spanish speakers in the Americas was titled “Ñamérica.”

“The letter ñ is an ‘archetype’ that modifies the idea of ‘American’ to make it ours,” he said.

“The globe is overflowing with countries speaking languages that still bear the name of the colonizing country. English and French, of course. Spanish, too,” Caparrós added.

However, the director of the 46-member Spanish Royal Academy, Santiago Muñoz Machado, was asked Monday to consider the writer’s proposal. He flatly rejected the idea.

“It’s a witticism, which is fine as a witticism,” Muñoz Machado told Spanish news agency EFE.

“No one doubts that the language is called Spanish or Castilian. Our constitution says Castilian, and in the Americas they say Castilian or Spanish,” he added.

While the academy has made efforts in recent years to include the study and usage of Spanish in Latin America in the institution’s work, its headquarters remain in Madrid and its top officials are Spanish.

Caparrós and others have argued that under 10% of the world’s half-billion native Spanish speakers actually live in Spain while the country retains a disproportional level of control over how the language is taught and regulated.

The Spanish Royal Academy frequently finds itself embroiled in debates about “inclusive” Spanish, which might mean addressing a group of men and women with the feminine “todas” instead of the male “todos” to mean “everyone.”

Last year, Muñoz Machado dismissed as a “political manifestation” an emerging trend to make the language gender-neutral — for instance, replacing “niño” (boy) and niña (girl) with “niñe” (child).

“It is not part of the grammar, it is not orthodox, and probably in many places it will not be understood,” he told Chilean media. “It is an expression with no practical reality.”