Spain News Roundup of the Week(s): March 4 – March 17, 2012

Another 2-weeker for you all. It has been fairly quiet on the national news front over here in Spain as of late. Regional elections aren’t until the 25th, and there haven’t been any remarkable happenings apart from the same sorts of stories about legal cases, unemployment, la crisis . . . But I do have 5 stories for you, dear readers, so let’s get to it.


Article #1 deals with an organization called La Real Academia Española, or the Royal Spanish Academy. Sometimes it is called La Real Academia de la Lengua Española (Royal Spanish Language Academy), and they are the ones who publish the official dictionaries and usage guides. It’s a very interesting organization to follow if you are a linguist because, like most official language groups, they try to balance between proscriptive grammar (telling people how to speak) and descriptive grammar (explaining how people really speak). Some people find them too conservative – for example in their insistence on using Spanish words for Englishisms like email. Few people in daily speech are going to say “el correo electrónico” when they can just say “el email”. And some people find them too free with language use – which is how I felt a year and a half ago when I read that the new edition of the Ortografía (spelling and accentuation manual, basically) would propose the pronunciation of the letter y as “ye” and not “i griega”. They are very protective of their status as the keepers of the Spanish language, and so it should come as no surprise that the RAE has denounced 9 language usage guides, composed by universities, unions, and corporations, on non-sexist language. The issue is that it isn’t just a case of saying “salesperson” instead of “salesman”, like in English. Spanish also has grammatical gender, where every noun is assigned either masculine or feminine gender, and the articles and adjectives used with that noun all have to agree in gender. There isn’t really a non-gender-specific way to refer to things, and definitely not to refer to people, so if you want to refer to a group of people of uncertain gender, the default is to use masculine words. RAE’s argument is that to follow the recommendations in the guides means that you almost can’t speak, because it makes language more complicated and ignores the history of the Spanish language as a language with gender. The writers of the language guides argue that it is much less sexist to say “unemployed people” (therefore using the grammatical gender of the word people) than to just say “the unemployed” (using masculine gender by default).


Article #2 moves us from linguistic science to medical science. Spain has typically been at the forefront of medical advances; the first full-face transplant took place in Spain in 2010. 2 years later, Spain is making medical news again by performing the first lung surgery on a fetus. Yep, a fetus. At only 26 weeks, doctors discovered that the baby was suffering from a paralysis of the bronchial tubes, which is a rare birth defect (sidenote: would this still be a birth defect? I mean the baby was a good 2.5 months from being born . . .). The defect is fatal in 90% of cases because it impedes the lungs from developing properly, so the doctors decided to operate in utero. The operation was a success, and the baby, now 16 months old, is alive and well.


I’ve mentioned the Copa del Rey in this blog before, which won’t be played until May (the big soccer news right now is the Euro League). In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about where the final match, between Athletic Club de Bilbao and FC Barcelona will be played. The ideal stadium would have been Santiago Bernabéu, due to size and location, and both the Basque and Catalán teams wanted the match there. But Real Madrid, the football club that plays in Bernabéu, refused to let the final be played there due to construction at the stadium on the date of the match. Theories as to the “real” reason for not letting the teams play in Bernabéu abound, considering that both teams playing in the Copa are from separatist regions – the Basque Country and Cataluña. Vicente Calderón stadium was finally chosen, but the separatist vibe has not disappeared from the championship, because according to article #3, at least 2 groups are going to be protesting at the match to highlight their struggle for regional independence – Catalunya Acción from Cataluña, and Esait from the Basque Country.


Another news bit close to my heart is article #4, which discusses educational technology. Like everywhere else in the world, the use of and access to technology is a big deal to the government of Spain, especially in education. All the 6th graders at my elementary school have little netbooks in Junta-de-Andalucía green, and the school recently won a grant to give netbooks to the 5th graders as well. The article I’ve linked to might seem like common sense, because the gist is that technology alone does not improve education, and that the use of technology by the teacher is the key element in success. Personally, that is not a shock to me, as a teacher who uses technology, but my anecdata have been upheld by a study of technology in Spanish schools from 2010, where the previous conclusion comes from. The article claims that the previous administration hid the results of the study so as not to affect the program as a whole, called “Escuela 2.0”. Bonus article is this one, discussing another technology study which found 35% of teachers don’t use TIC (educational technology like SmartBoards and the like) and 5% don’t even want to. Veeeeeery interesting.


And finally, some weather for you. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if “the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” (it doesn’t) since I have been here. The truth is, this year it hasn’t rained hardly at all, and most of Spain is suffering from drought. Article #5 is like a game of “Good News, Bad News”. The good news is that rainfall is projected to return to normal this spring, which means that we will be seeing more showers. The bad news is that it won’t be enough to overcome the deficit we accumulated this winter. There’s going to be a meeting on the 20th of March of the major agricultural groups and government officials to discuss the impact of the drought, which will probably be severe.


Hasta la próxima, readers. Don’t waste water.


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