Lexical Change In The Field Of Information

Technology In The Spanish Language Essay, Research Paper The rise of information technology is the single most important technological development of the 20th century. It has revolutionised almost every facet of modern life. Areas as diverse as stock-holding, banking, publishing and personal communication have been transformed thanks to the computer.

Technology In The Spanish Language Essay, Research Paper

The rise of information technology is the single most important technological development of the 20th century. It has revolutionised almost every facet of modern life. Areas as diverse as stock-holding, banking, publishing and personal communication have been transformed thanks to the computer. As a result, computer jargon is one the fastest and widest-reaching areas of lexical change in Spanish, in that a whole new area of terminology has evolved. How has the Spanish language coped with this influx of new terms, for which a need had never previously existed? My main aim in this essay is to give a general survey of common (and some less common) computing terms in Spanish, firstly concerning hardware and software, and secondly concerning the Internet. I intend to analyse throughout the lexical processes involved.

There are two main processes by which new words are being adopted into Spanish. Firstly, it has utilised the process of ?borrowing?. This means that it has adopted words from other languages, in this case, primarily from English. Secondly, it has used ?neologism?. This is where it has taken existing words and roots from its language stock, and altered them to endow them with new meanings. The more common of the two, in the sphere of information technology, is borrowing. Since the vast majority of technological development in this field takes place in the USA, the majority of technical vocabulary devised is in originally in English. Therefore, it takes a deliberate effort to hispanicise such terms. Although such efforts do take place, English terms do tend to ?catch on? earlier than their neologised Spanish counterparts, since technology is currently developing at such an incredible rate that Spanish often struggles to keep up.

One of the areas in which Spanish language terms hold sway is in the names of the physical hardware of a computer system. For example, in Peninsular Spanish the term for a computer is ordenador, despite the existence of a word similar to its English counterpart. Other hardware terms derived from Spanish roots include teclado for keyboard (although this is not a new term, as it was used previously to refer to typewriter keybofer to typewriter keyboards) and impresora for printer. Both of these terms are bona-fide neologisms. Teclado is derived from the noun tecla, meaning key. Impresora is probably derived from the verb impresionar, meaning ?to leave an impression?. The suffix -or(a), which suggests functionality, has been added to the root of the verb impres-.

When talking about hardware, we also see examples of ?loan translation? or ?calquing?, whereby foreign terms are translated verbatim, giving an authentic Spanish term. For example, the English term ?mouse?, itself a metaphorical neologism, is given in Spanish as rat?n, and hard disk is given as disco duro. (Floppy disks, on the other hand, are generally referred to as un floppy, despite the existence of terms such as disquete or disco flexible).

A headline taken from the website of the highly respected Madrid-based daily newspaper, El Pa?s: (?Parlamentos, escuelas y hospitales instalan un software que interfiere la se?al de los tel?fonos m?viles para evitar la poluci?n sonora’. [Ciberpa?s, 25/1/2001]) highlights the dependence of borrowed words in the field of information technology. The Oxford Spanish-English dictionary informs us that the only equivalent English ?software? is the borrowed software. However, Fern?ndez Calvo?s on-line terminology guide offers two alternatives: componente l?gico and programa. It is difficult to imagine however, either of these two terms becoming commonplace, the former being too long-winded, and the latter being too vague. Nevertheless, when software does appear in printed media, it is more often than not italicised. Clearly then, the word has not been fully assimilated into the Spanish vocabulary. (Interestingly, specific varieties of software tend to have neologised terms. ?Desktop publishing? is given as autoedici?n [note the use of the prefix auto- conveying the ?autonomous? nature of desktop publishing]. ?Spreadsheet? is translated as hoja de c?lculos, and ?word processing? as procesamiento de textos).

The use of borrowed English terms is also evident in more recent developments in hardware. For example, scanner is rendered as esc?ner. Clearly, this has been adapted to suit Spanish spelling rules, which forbid an initial ?s? when followed by a consonant. The borrowed noun, however, has also spawned a verbal form, escanear, through the addition of the infinitive suffix -ear. The modem is also a relatively new device (new, inasmuch as it has only recently become accessible on a large scale). It is rendered in Spanish as m?dem. (Clearly this is an English term which has been adopted. Were the word derived in Spanish as it was in English, we would see a slightly different result. The term modem is derived from two English words – an abbreviation of ?modulator/demodulator?, which in Spanish would be modulador/desmoduladora giving us m?desm).

The modem leads us to an area of rapid lexical change in Spanish, which is the Internet. Change, both technologically and linguistically is more rapid on the Internet than in any other area of information technology. In the last few years, we have become accustomed to a wide range of vocabulary, such as e-mail, homepage, website and so on. More so than in the area of hardware, Spanish is facing something of a struggle to constantly invent equivalents to common English terms. Due to the rate at which Internet terminology is changing, it is difficult for dictionaries to keep up, although the appearance of on-line glossaries, which are much more easily and cheaply updated, have helped to address this.

There are many highly technical terms which are not altered at all in order to preserve international uniformity. Terms such as TCP/IP, FTP, HTML, etc are the preserve of programmers and web designers and for pragmatic reasons remain unchanged. However, it is not only in these areas that borrowing from English occurs. There are many English terms which have permeated the Spanish lexis through the Internet.

The Internet itself can be defined in several ways in Spanish. The first and most common way is simply the use of the English term ?Internet?. This has, of course, upset many who feel that Spanish should devise its own name to avoid language pollution. The are now several competing Spanish terms to describe the Internet, such as la malla and la urdimbre. The most popular term in Spain is la red (literally meaning ?net?, or ?network?). The Spanish quality press, of course, favours this term, but in conversation with Spaniards, I have noticed that Internet is by far more common. The same occurs with ?e-mail?. This can be rendered in two ways. The ?standard? version, to be found in dictionaries and the quality press, is the Spanish-derived correo electr?nico. In terms of spoken, and increasingly, written Spanish, the loan word e-mail is common.

However, the quality press is not immune to borrowing (see the example of software above). On examination of El Pa?s?s homepage, we see examples of borrowed terms. The computing section of the newspaper?s web site (Ciberpa?s) uses the prefix ciber- (an adaptation of the English ?cyber-? which in turn is borrowed from Greek) to indicate that it is concerned with the Internet. El Mundo?s website also offers examples of borrowing: ?EEUU, Inglaterra y Australia, v?ctimas de un ataque a webs gubernamentales?. Web is the most common term for a website in Spanish. The weekly satirical magazine, El Jueves used to offer a jocular alternative, j?mpeich, although this too has given way to El Webes.

One of the most worrying aspects of the Internet is the rise of ciberespanglish . This derogatory term is, as the name suggests, an Internet based for of the Spanish/English hybrid Spanglish, which is common among poorly educated speakers of Spanish in the USA and some Latin American countries. In certain Internet communities, especially amongst youth, English is seen to be more modern and fashionable than Spanish. As a result, hispanicised English forms appear. For example, the terms hablar or charlar por internet have almost been superseded by the term chatear, formed from the English ?chat? with the -ear suffix. Miranda Stewart offers several other examples of this: printear, deletear, and downloadear. It is strange that these words have been created in spite of existing Spanish ?norms?: imprimir, borrar and trasvasar. I believe that this is merely an example of young people creating their own slang to distinguish themselves from the norm. This is also be the case with terms such as un hacker and its derived verbal form haquear.

There are, thankfully, several instances of calquing in the field of technical Internet terms, which to some extent displaces the dominance of English. Netglos, for example offers us anfitri?n as an equivalent to the English ?host?. Also the English term ?bandwidth? (which concerns the speed of file transfer) is given as ancho de banda.

We have seen that in trying to adapt itself to the linguistic necessities of the information age, the Spanish language mainly uses two forms of creating terminology. The first of these, and the most widespread is borrowing, especially from English. Spanish has some difficulty dealing with the more vague concepts of information technology, such as software and hardware. Likewise, more recent hardware terms such as m?dem and esc?ner have been borrowed from English and assimilated into Spanish. It is in the Internet that we see the most usage of terms being borrowed. English terms are also seen as having an air of modernity, which is why terms such as web appear in the press. Thankfully, for the Spanish language, lexical change is not limited to borrowing English words. Neologisms are being created all the time and in many cases are becoming commonplace.


Batchelor, R.E.; Using Spanish Synonyms; Cambridge UP, 1994

Ciberpa?s; http://www.ciberpais.elpais.es

El Pa?s Digital; http://www.elpais.es

El Mundo, Diario del Navegante; http://www.elmundo.es/navegante/diario/

Fern?ndez Calvo, Rafael; Glosario b?sico ingl?s-espa?ol para usarios del Internet; http://www.ati.es/publicaciones/novatica/glointv2.html

Netglos; http://wwli.com/translation/netglos/glossary/glossary.html

Oxford Spanish-English Dictionary; OUP, 1998

Stewart, M; The Spanish Language Today, Routledge, London, 1999