Hamline News

April 27, 2012

The Politics of Lexicography: An Examination of pre-Franco, Franco, and post-Franco Dictionaries

Benjamin Del Greco, Advisor: Russell Christensen

Are there general differences between the morphological structures of Spanish and English words? This project seeks to compare the structures of 200 Spanish words and their English counterparts. The 400 total words have been divided into their respective morphemes. The sample contains a variety of words from Latin, Arabic, and Anglo-Saxon roots. The Spanish samples contain on average 1.9 morphemes per word while the English contain 1.27.
Evidently, Spanish tends to use more morphemes to construct its words. The use of a gender-determining suffix is one reason for this. Indeed, Spanish also has the option of adding a diminutive suffix to the end of nouns to form new words whereas English often uses a separate adjective. Take the term “little house” in English, for instance, which is formed in Spanish by adding the suffix “ita” to the stem “casa” forming “casita”. Since this is not possible in English, it is confirmed that Spanish, in some cases, forms words using more morphemes than English because of this use of descriptive suffixes.

Then, too, the project looks at morphological change over time. For this, Spanish dictionaries from different time periods will be studied to see how the morphology of Spanish words changes with different views of their etymologies in a different time period. In its history has there been an attempt to “purge” the Spanish language of other influences such as Arabic, Catalán, and Basque? Indeed, was this especially the case under the censorship laws decreed by dictator Francisco Franco?

Methods for this research include using various dictionaries from a timeline between the pre-Franco era and the present time. A comparison of etymologies and structures of 50 Arabic sample words reveals changes that have taken place throughout the last century. Of the 50 word sample, 36 words are given a non-Arabic etymology in the dictionary published under the dictatorship of Franco. These alterations in the etymologies of words over the last century suggest an effort by Franco to revive a "pure" Spain and Spanish language by way of purgation.