In one of my first Spanish lectures, my lecturer told us that when she first arrived at Durham she was told to ‘purify’ her Argentinian accent. Fast forward 30 years and she was instead told it would be better if she spoke with her original accent – of course, it was too late.
This discriminatory attitude has existed in the Spanish speaking world ever since the official Spanish grammar was published in 1492. Technically, the correct term for the Spanish that we tend to learn is Castilian (castellano). The publication of this official grammar gave Spain the same kind of linguistic prestige as the other romance languages, matching its powerful imperial expansion under Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. However, it also alienated those who didn’t, and don’t, speak Castilian or with the Castilian accent.
The Real Academia Española (RAE), which ensures the stability of Castilian, has historically been criticised by Latin American linguistic institutions for being too slow to include regionalisms, demonstrating a certain conservative attitude towards dialects that don’t conform to Castilian’s seemingly high standards.
This is despite the fact that the RAE works with many academies in other hispanophone nations. Although it’s important that the academy maintains Castilian as the most widely spoken language of the Spanish-speaking world, this means that other languages and dialects struggle to gain the same kind of status. The very notion of linguistic purity implies a damaging resistance to dilution, leaving very little room for the incorporation of non-Castilian borrowings.
Castilian’s prominence, as the accent that is traditionally taught, comes from the fact that it’s the easiest for beginners to pick up because all the letters are pronounced, unlike an Andalusian accent in which the -s on the end of words is silent which makes the accent harder to grasp even for native speakers. But because of this, Castilian speakers are under the impression that someone who speaks with the Andalusian accent speaks ‘impure’ Spanish, simply because it’s not the accent they’re used to hearing.
The Spanish film director, Pedro Almodóvar, has tried to address this misconception. Although he tends to base his films in Madrid, the epicentre of the Castilian accent, he frequently includes characters who speak with an Andalusian accent in ‘Todo sobre mi madre’, for example.
Image: Carlinda Hellen via Flickr
This is particularly significant considering the huge role that Almodóvar played in La Movida Madrileña, the cultural emancipation that took place after Franco’s dictatorship prohibited all Hispanic languages except Castilian in a bid to unite the country under one language and one culture. Almodóvar’s inclusion of Andalusian accents and shots of its landscape are essential in putting minority accents like Andalusian back on the map.
Almodóvar’s cinematography reminds us that Castilian isn’t the only accent in Spain, nor is it the only language. Catalan, Basque, Galician, Valencian and Aranese also have official status in various autonomous communities.
However, they’re spoken by a comparatively tiny percentage of the population, since 98.9% of the population speaks Castilian as their first or second language. This linguistic dominance means that writers from parts of Spain where Castilian isn’t the official language find themselves in an impossible dilemma; writing in their own language severely limits its readership, whilst also raising important linguistic awareness.
Durham has since changed its attitude; today the department is called ‘Hispanic Studies’. A ‘Beginner Catalan’ module has also been available for the last 15 or so years. But minimising prejudices towards any language but the country’s official one is a task that can’t be solved overnight. After all, discrimination towards regional accents remains just as prevalent in Britain today as it does in Spain.
Image: 777546 via Pixabay