TMCNet:  Internet database of spoken Spanish to debut in 2011

[September 24, 2010]

Internet database of spoken Spanish to debut in 2011

Santander, Spain, Sep 24, 2010 (EFE via COMTEX) -- By Lola Camus.

).- The first sizeable database of spoken Spanish will be on the Internet in 2011, 15 years after the birth of a unique project of international cooperation in the field of linguistics, in which 17 countries on both sides of the Atlantic have taken part.

The specialists participating in the project will meet next week in the northern Spanish city of Comillas to give it the finishing touches and clear up any doubts.

The Comillas Foundation is sponsoring, together with the Royal Spanish Academy, the Project for the Sociolinguistic Study of the Spanish of Spain and the Americas, or Preseea, coordinated by the academic director of the Cervantes Institute, Professor Francisco Moreno Fernandez.

Preseea started up in 1996 and since then has added 40 research teams that have compiled materials for the use of lexicographers, sociolinguists and all others interested in the use of the Spanish language in any corner of the world.

Its analysis, Moreno said in an interview with Efe, will help us understand the degree of differences and similarities among speakers of one language, which the expert defined as a "collection of variables," and to understand also "where the Spanish language is going, both in terms of pronunciation as well as in grammar and speech." Spanish speakers will be more and more united as a linguistic community, because media reach and the increase in travel mean that the 450 million people who share the language will have ever more contact and will get to know each other better, he said.

Some said that the birth of the new American republics would "shatter Spanish into a thousand pieces," as happened to Latin, but that fear has been left behind. "If that was a threat in the 19th century, now it's just the opposite," he said.

The raw materials for the project come from Spanish speakers of all ages, social classes and educational levels.

"Right now it is the greatest project of international cooperation on linguistic subjects anywhere, thanks to the number of researchers it has brought together and the ambition of its goals," Moreno said.

Some of the information compiled can already be accessed on the Internet, and in fact it is being used in doctoral theses, memoirs and "an infinity of research projects that will gradually be published," the expert said.

Preseea materials also make up part of the Corpus of Spanish of the 21st Century, the giant database being prepared by the Royal Spanish Academy that will be available in 2013.

Linguists say that it takes 50 years to be able to discern a "different state of a language," Moreno said.

"If we think about how our grandparents talked, we see differences, not just in vocabulary, but also in grammar, in turns of phrase, in some syntactical aspects. Their language seems dated, and that which we perceive as ordinary Spanish speakers can also be measured from a linguistic point of view," he said.

Moreno said that syntactical changes in a language take place "very slowly," but the changes in vocabulary that most separate some Hispanic regions from others can occur "very quickly." The project is based on the way Spanish is spoken at the beginning of this century, though the idea is to progress to a second phase in order to determine whether the tendency to change is confirmed. That would mean studying "live" how a language evolves, something that has never been done before, the scholar said.

For now, the researchers have found that spoken Spanish is losing subjunctive verb forms, which are better preserved in Latin America than in Spain, and with them, some grammatical subtleties.

But that is a trend common to all languages, which aim for simplification "to be more economical, to say the greatest number of things with the least possible effort," Moreno said.

He suggested it would be "pretty difficult" to find in the Anglophone or Francophone worlds an experience like Preseea, which is more feasible in the sphere of Spanish, where a sense of linguistic community exists that is "very powerful." "Our natural tendency is to understand one another and eliminate differences to strengthen what we have in common," he said. EFE lcj/cd

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