Lords of our Language

In Spanish speaking countries there is a lot of controversy every time a foreign word manages to enter the lexica of the Royal Academy of Spanish. However, new words are not the only controversial issue, there are also debates about pronunciation (Llave pronounced by Argentinians and Mexicans), about conjugation (the use of ustedes in Latin America and vosotros in Spain), about usage (coger vs.agarrar) and so on. Many people ask themselves… what is correct? Nobody would want to admit that their language, the way they were taught to speak and write is wrong… and guess what? You’re right.

We, as speakers of the language, shape it – we are the lords of our language. Our verbs, nouns and pronunciation, and what now we read in celebrated books were probably once how less educated people expressed themselves. The majority has the biggest influence and what was once considered unrefined now covers the pages of dictionaries and encyclopedias. An example of that is the use of the personal pronouns vos (2nd person singular), vosotros (2nd person plural), (2nd person singular) and ustedes (2nd person plural). At some point the use of vos was widespread in Spain, but then came along, and people began to mix them and after a while became the standard in most regions of Spain. Vos, however, had already arrived and prevailed in some areas of Latin America (especially in the Southern Cone). Nowadays vos is not really used in Spain where was replaced by , now considered the “correct” form, but saying vos is perfectly normal in Argentina; again, what was once the standard is now deemed incorrect and vice versa.

Perhaps the problem is that we think the Academia dictates how a language should be used, when in reality people are the ones who have the last word. Dictionaries and encyclopedias are just an archive with all the words used at a moment in time by a certain group, like some sort of photo album with snapshots from the past and present.

Languages evolve, and luckily for us they do, since that is a sign that our societies are also changing and evolving. Not so long ago the word ‘internet’ was not cited in our dictionaries or used in our daily lives. If Latin hadn’t evolved, if it hadn’t been used and abused, if it hadn’t mixed up with all the dialects there were in Roman times, we would be missing out on languages like Spanish, French and Portuguese. I do think that rules are necessary; however, grammar rules shouldn’t be imposed. Rules are just an explanation of a pattern observed in a certain group of speakers as a means to understand why we express ourselves like that. In my opinion usage should prevail over rules, we can’t create rules just to speak about correctness; correctness in language will always be subjective.


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