Much is made in the media and popular press—articles, comedy, jokes, criticism, observations, etc.—about the immigrant population butchering the English language. As a first language Spanish speaker, I’m one of millions of case studies. But as Spanish grows in importance in the United States—by some measures we are now the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world—so should the popular press’ observance of Spanish grammar.
And it seems that addressing two areas of written Spanish would make ‘mucha diferencia’: the ‘ñ’ and accents. Unbeknownst, seemingly, to many publishers, missing an accent in some words or the tilde over the ‘ñ’ can vastly, and sometimes, grossly, alter the meaning of a word.
Take the word ‘year,’ which in Spanish is año. Take the tilde out and año is now ano, or rectum, to put it mildly, as in, Happy New Rectum. We don’t have to go to extremes either. Take Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, who has been in the press repeatedly given the upcoming Mexican elections. If you read the Associated Press, Reuters, the HuffPost (ran the AP story), you would see his name as Enrique Pena Nieto. And guess what? ‘Pena’ means ‘pity.’ Not exactly the first word association that Mr. Peña Nieto would want.
Same goes for accents. Not only do they help Spanish speakers know where to enunciate, but missing one can also alter the message. Take for example President Obama’s successful, Yes we can! campaign slogan, which was translated as ‘Si se puede.’ While it did not seem to affect Mr. Obama adversely in 2008, for 2012 they should be aware that as translated, it means something like,‘If it’s possible.’ Solution? Simple, accent + comma + exclamation sign at the beginning of the sentence, another common culprit = ¡Sí, se puede! Bingo. Election won.
As Spanish grows in popularity, importance, and influence, it can be expected that so will publishers and editors focus on writing it correctly. In the meantime, be careful of what you think you’re saying…