Spanish speakers get help -- from Germans
MADRID, Spain (AP) -- Argentines, Cubans and Spaniards who are puzzled
with each other's way of speaking can flip through some new dictionaries
compiled by -- a couple of Germans.
The two linguists, who've spent decades studying the language of Don Quixote,
are offering the books as the first fruit of a bold project: to hopscotch around
Latin American countries gleaning a European Spanish vs. local Spanish
dictionary for each.
First off the press were the dictionaries on Argentina and Cuba. Next in
works on Spanish as spoken in Bolivia and Uruguay, probably next year. Books
for Chile, Costa Rica, Peru and others will come later.
Daunting as it sounds, the idea of documenting all or part of a tongue
spoken by 350 million people in 19 countries stretching from Tijuana to Tierra
del Fuego is not new. As far back as 1836, a Cuban scholar named Esteban
Pichardo penned a tome on Spanish spoken with a Havana twist.
Through the years there have been other dictionaries with an all-encompassing,
Pan-American approach, and another is in the works in Madrid at the Royal
Spanish Language Academy, official referee in things espanol.
But Reinhold Werner and Gunther Haensch -- dean and dean emeritus of applied
linguistics at Augsburg University in Germany's Bavaria region -- say modern
Spanish features such vast variety that it's better to take one Spanish-speaking
country at a time.
"We feel it is impossible to fit all the richness of 19 very different
just one book," Haensch said from his home in Alicante on Spain's east coast.
"So we dedicate a volume to each one."
With so many people speaking Spanish in so many places, the transatlantic
differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation go beyond the
you-say-tomato, I-say-tomahto dilemma faced by Americans and Britons.
Many slip-ups are harmless. Haensch points out that a Spaniard who orders
"tinto" and a "bocadillo" in Bogota, Colombia -- expecting a glass of red wine and
a sandwich -- will get black coffee and candied guayaba.
While a Spaniard wanting a zipper will ask for a "cremallera," an Argentine
for a "cierre" and a Cuban for a "ziper." A lollipop is "piruleta" in Spain,
"chupeton" in Argentina and "chicharo" in Cuba.
But other goofs can cause acute embarrassment. For instance, the verb "coger,"
which for Spaniards means "to take," as in take a bus, is a four-letter word in
The new dictionaries were released in January by the Madrid-based publishing
Haensch, 77, started studying Spanish in Barcelona in 1947 and since the
mid-1970s has traveled to Latin America several times a year to do research. He
is a guest member of Spain's language academy and belongs to eight others in
Werner, 53, has also traveled and studied extensively in Latin America
in Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina and Cuba.
The Cuban-Spanish dictionary, which has 7,362 entries, is brand new. The
Argentine-Spanish one, with 9,169 entries, is an updated and expanded version
of a smaller book published in Colombia in 1993 with the Instituto Caro y
Cuervo, a prestigious research center in Bogota. That year the Germans also
released works on Colombia and Uruguay.
The latest dictionaries are much more ambitious than the earlier books,
because they use an innovative approach in which a word's etymology plays
second fiddle to how people use it today in the streets of Buenos Aires or
Barcelona, Werner said from Augsburg.
He and Haensch got financing from the German government after convincing
state-backed scientific research body that their work amounted to just that:
Haensch said the new books improve on previous single-country dictionaries
because, among other things, they are exhaustive and don't shy from any kind of
speech -- like swear words, slang or terms describing sex -- while earlier ones
Also, these books try to be painstakingly practical, concentrating on everyday
words that, say, are common in Cuba but nonexistent in Spain or exist in both
but mean different things.
Earlier dictionaries wasted ink on outdated words or ones with the same
on both sides of the Atlantic. "That cheated the readers," Haensch said.
Or those books dwelt on things so exclusively Latin American -- like tropical
fauna or indigenous folklore -- that for Spaniards were essentially lists of exotica
and not much use, Haensch said.
Werner said Spanish and Latin American scholars generally received him
Haensch well, and did not feel their turf was being invaded by outsiders. "At least
if they did, they didn't say so," Werner said.
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.