March 12, 2001

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 line are
                  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 now
                  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 countries in
                  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 a
                  "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 looks
                  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
                  house Gredos.

                  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
                  the Americas.

                  Werner, 53, has also traveled and studied extensively in Latin America and taught
                  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, in part
                  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 a
                  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 meaning
                  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 and
                  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.